Apple TV: Five Core Features Hidden in Plain Sight

With CES is in full swing and the rumor mill running wild about Apple coming out with a TV, it’s time to take a closer look at the current version of Apple TV.

I’ve been using Apple TV for the past few years. First in addition to existing services, then slowly over time exclusively as the replacement to previous solutions.

In addition to Apple TV, I have used a variety of services and devices in the past, including basic set-top boxes through cable providers, Amazon Instant Video that came with a Panasonic VIERA flatscreen, Netflix on my Laptop and PlayStation, as well as Google TV and Slingbox when they first came out.

All had their place in time, and each provided a marginally better solution than the earlier, but neither of them really “cracked” anything.

“It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.”– Steve Jobs

Let’s have a closer a look at what defines the core experience for the current version of Apple TV.

Responsive Interface

This one is so obvious; it shouldn’t even be a called out. But it’s a feature that is easily overlooked and often ignored.

When you press a button on the remote, the interface on screen responds instantly. It’s a big leap forward from any set-top box in the market today.

Traditional set-top boxes experience a noticeable lack of pressing a button and onscreen feedback. It’s a point of frustration that doesn’t encourage you to browse a catalog with thousands of options.

Once you get used to the responsive interface, there is simply no going back. Especially since consumers nowadays are used to responsive onscreen interactions through their touch devices.

Relevant Content

Netflix used to be at the forefront of new releases for movies and TV shows. They had a vast catalog, made it easy to browse the catalog, and had a delivery system in place that was relatively fast and easy for the time. Then Netflix changed their entire model, and all the sudden they became (mostly) obsolete.

Now Apple TV has taken over that role in our home. New movies are available the same day they come out on a disc. It’s easy and fast to browse their big catalog of titles. And of course, they have a delivery system in place — it’s instant!

Our viewing habits have drastically changed over the past two years. From passive viewing of irrelevant TV channels, to active viewing of relevant content. We watch what is relevant to us, not what is relevant to the network.

The Apple catalog is not complete, but adding more content is easy once you have the core user experience and delivery system in place. Expect Apple to add more a la carte channels and services over time.

Incremental (Pay As You Go) Billing

This is a sneaky one, but I am surprised how much I like it. To a point where I lost track how much I spend on movies each month.

With Apple TV, you only pay for what you watch. You get an invoice the next day via Email. Ignoring a bill for a few dollars is easy. It’s the price of coffee. But just like coffee, it adds up over time.

In the past, out of all the monthly bills, the cable bill was always an annoyance. With Apple TV, you never see a monthly statement for channels you don’t watch. Best of all, you are not locked into a long-term contract.

With millions of Apple accounts already linked to credit cards, it’s a market that is waiting to be unlocked for on-demand content and incremental billing.

Rich Experience

With the mass adoption of smartphones and beautifully designed apps, consumers have developed a new appreciation for design.

Apple TV delivers a rich experience that takes full advantage of HD screens and color depth. There is no unnecessary design in the way of the experience. The content is the interface, providing a fast and rich experience that makes it fun to use.

The design is part of the DNA and culture of Apple. It’s baked into all their products. They have years of experience with dedicated teams of designers and engineers that understand the importance of design. The design is more than just the visuals on screen.

That’s not something I would necessarily expect from cable providers. They have been stuck in the tracks for too long with their set-top boxes.

It’s Ready, and It’s Here!

No doubt Apple can deliver beautifully designed TVs, with iSight, FaceTime, WiFi, and WhatNot built-in. But something is disconcerting about it.

A TV sits quietly in the background, something you never touch or feel. It’s not a status symbol that you flash around at Starbucks or school. It’s not an item that you replace every other year because there is a new version with longer battery life or more storage.

A TV is unlike any other Apple product you might own. You don’t have an emotional relationship with the hardware as you do with your phone or laptop. The iPhone is your umbilical cord, and the MacBook Pro is your office. You hold, touch and experience these devices multiple times a day.

The experience of a TV is on the screen, interface and the content.


I have no insights if Apple will release a TV. But, I wouldn’t be surprised if their strategy is to put everybody on a wild goose-chase to figure out what silly features, widgets and gadgets to add to their devices.

Google TV already fell for this when they released their first version. It was so bloated and disconnected that it became unusable.

So maybe while everybody expects Apple to come out with big beautiful screens that ‘seamlessly sync with all of your devices and iCloud’, they quietly partner with network and content providers to roll-out inexpensive set-top boxes to a mass audience.

Apple TV… brought to you by Comcast, Time Warner, Charter, and AT&T. Just a wild guess on my part, though. Either way, I am perfectly happy with a $99 box and a TV of my choice. For now anyways ;-)

in Thoughts Design
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