10 Great Things About the New Apple TV

Why Apple’s 4th-gen media streamer is a huge improvement on its predecessors

After making us wait for so long that we were frankly starting to think Apple had lost interest in the world of television, we’ve finally got a new 4th-generation Apple TV media streaming box. And actually, in many ways it’s turned out to be worth the wait, for while it’s certainly not without its faults (which are outlined in a partner article to this one: 10 Disappointing Things About the New Apple TV) it’s by far Apple’s most sophisticated and distinctive Apple TV yet. Here are 10 reasons why.

1. The tvOS interface works well, mostly

Apple has clearly worked hard to make the latest Apple TV interface - dubbed tvOS - more effective than anything any previous Apple TV has offered.

For starters, the box is incredibly easy to set up, especially if you already own an Apple phone or tablet. It can simply pair with such devices and take all your Apple account and broadband login information from them rather than you having to input them into the Apple TV manually.

The interface is built around graphically appealing icons providing links to content and services, and Apple provides some cute and effective graphical effects and cues to help you keep track of where you are in the onscreen menus.

The new tvOS structure places five key apps on the main ‘shelf’ of the home screen (which actually appears on the second deck down from the top) while selected content associated with each of the five key apps appears in the top row of the home screen, with the nature of the content shown there depending on which app you’ve got highlighted from the main shelf.

While there’s a slightly annoying but understandable ‘preference’ for Apple’s own services with the default app set up, it’s good to find, too, that it’s easy to customize the apps that appear on the main shelf to suit your particular preferences.

The way you access content is logical and works slickly, and tvOS also deserves kudos for both the supplemental information it provides on things you might want to watch and its ‘joined up thinking’. By which I mean the way it finds ways - such as cast and crew links, and genre comparisons - to give you more content options based on your initial search criteria and viewing habits.

The new remote control with its track pad harmonizes pretty slickly with the onscreen action for the most part, and the onscreen menus never feel sluggish. 

All in all, while not without its faults (which I talk about in the partner article to this one) the tvOS interface really is one of the best attempts yet to simplify the job of quickly finding your way to the sort of content you love to watch.

2. The remote control is pretty inspired

Despite its small dimensions, the remote with the new Apple TV is packed with tech. It uses a touch pad on its top end which is beautifully calibrated with just the right amount of sensitivity, and lets you control the entire operating system with just your thumb.

Other great touches include the way resting your finger on the left or right edge of the pad can rewind or fast forward a streaming source you’re watching by 10 seconds, and the fact that the whole system can be controlled by just a handful of buttons.

You can also click the pad to select options without your finger slipping and accidentally selecting the wrong option, while built-in gyroscope and accelerometer tech let you use it as a games controller - either horizontally for driving games, or as a Nintendo Wii-style handset you can wave around. 

3. Siri revolutionizes voice control

Many smart TV systems have tried to offer voice control before, and just as many have failed. The Apple TV, though, pretty much nails it at last thanks to its implementation of Apple’s Siri voice recognition technology.

Siri really is great at recognizing what you - and, crucially, other members of your family, even children - say to it, meaning incidences of mishearing are few and far between. It also knows how to extract the information it needs from very conversational speech, so you don’t need to speak to it slowly or in any other unnatural way. 

This makes it an invaluable tool for inputting text into search fields to streamline the process of finding stuff you want to watch or play. Even better, though, it also lets you control some of the Apple TV’s features just by talking to it. 

You can all up a weather report by saying ‘What’s tomorrow’s weather’. You can simply ask the box to fast forward or rewind something you’re watching. You can ask for stock market information. You can instruct it to open a particular app. You can even say ‘what did they just say’ to the box and it will rewind what you’re watching a few seconds and add subtitles.

Basically the combination of its comprehension and thoughtful contextual functionality makes the Apple TV’s voice recognition system the first one we’ve actually quite enjoyed chatting to, at least in the home entertainment world.

4. It appeals to everyone

The Apple TV has the first smart TV interface that’s so attractive, easy to use and varied with its features that everyone in the family will enjoy interacting with it. 

Previously nobody in my own family has ever showed the slightest interest in using any of the many smart TVs and external streaming boxes that have come my way over the years. If they’ve needed to interact with any of those devices, they’ve basically just asked me to do it for them.

With the Apple TV, though, everyone in the household not only feels confident and empowered enough by the interface and range of activities on offer to have a go at using it themselves without my help, but they actually actively want to use it - just for fun! 

This is actually a very big deal for any device that truly wants to put itself at the heart of a home entertainment system.

5. App developers are highly engaged with it

The latest Apple TV’s biggest change over what’s gone before is that it introduces an app-based environment reminiscent of the environments used on other Apple devices. This essentially opens up the Apple TV to the app development community in a way no previous version has, leading to a potential explosion in the amount of content the box supports. In fact, the explosion is already happening.

There were already hundreds of apps available when the box first launched. Within a couple of months this had risen to the best part of 3,000 apps, and analysts predict that there will be 10,000 apps by the end of January 2016.

This turns the Apple TV into, potentially, a vibrant, ever-changing device offering something for everyone.

6. App quality is decent so far

The systems Apple has set up to ensure that only apps properly adapted for a TV rather than smartphone or tablet environment make it on to Apple TV seem to be working pretty well so far. Pretty much everything I’ve seen to date looks attractive on a big screen, and has been properly adapted to the functionality of the new Apple TV Remote.

7. Memory management is clever

Depending on which model you buy, the new Apple TV gives you 32GB or 64GB of built-in memory. This isn’t a huge amount by modern standards (and can’t be expanded via SD card or USB drive). But Apple has introduced some impressive memory handling features that should for the most part keep memory management issues in the background rather than something you’ll have to fret about.

For starters, no single app is allowed to use up more than 200MB of memory at any given time. If any app wants to exceed that limit it has to do so by downloading new sections as and when they’re required at the expense of old parts that are no longer needed. So, for instance, a game might only have installed at any time the level you’ve got to plus the one or two ahead of it.

I can imagine this situation causing some headaches for developers, but it’s a welcome slap in the face for the sort of bloating that’s crept into the app world in recent years.

The Apple TV also manages your memory automatically, deleting old, little used apps to make way for new ones. 

8. It opens up a new world of casual gaming

While not the console beater some people had - rather optimistically - hoped it might be, the new Apple TV’s improved graphical capabilities and app-driven approach do make it a decent casual gaming machine. There are already more than 1000 games available for it, many of which feature crisp, colorful and engaging graphics and some of which also make pretty good use of the Apple TV’s remote. 

Some of the available game titles additionally support multiple players by integrating control into your Apple smartphones and tablets. So, for instance, you can now play Crossy Road with a friend - and push them under a lorry. Which is more fun than it sounds, I swear!

9. It’s clear there’s plenty more to come

Even though the latest Apple TV is already clearly a big step forward from any previous generation and has already attracted the support of nearly 3000 apps, there’s still an overwhelming sensation that we’ve so far only scratched the surface of what the new Apple TV might be capable of. 

App developers will likely think up great new uses for it over the coming months and years, as well as finding ways of eking ever more performance out of its processing chipsets. 

Even more importantly, it feels as if Apple is going to be working more consistently on introducing improvements to the new Apple TV than it has for any of the previous versions. Within a couple of weeks of the box launching, for instance, it rolled out an update that improved the menu handling of your downloaded apps, for instance. 

10. Apple TV fits into Apple’s wider world at last

While no Apple TV has been bad, nor have any of the old generations felt totally like Apple products like the iPhone or iPad. The 4th-generation box puts that right in no uncertain terms. 

The shift to an app-based environment immediately makes it feel closer in feel to Apple’s other devices, especially as many of the apps share the same DNA and come from the same developers as apps on Apple’s other devices.

The sense of continuity between the latest Apple TV and other Apple devices is boosted, too, by some cross-app features. For instance, some games save the progress you make on them on Apple TV across all your Apple devices, so you can continue playing from where you left off no matter which device you’re playing on. And some games allow you to download their mobile versions for free once you’ve downloaded their Apple TV versions.

Finally, it’s great to see Apple bringing its usual flare for innovation and ease of use to the TV space with the exceptionally easy to use tvOS platform and thoughtful Siri integration.