Ever since TV the app was announced on stage in October, I’ve been very skeptical of what Apple would deliver — especially what Apple would deliver by the end of the year. Every project overseen by Eddy Cue seems to be a management disaster, with a few good ideas executed poorly, adorned with asterisks, and infested with bugs. Which is why I was so skeptical about what Apple wasn’t saying in the lead-up to TV the app shipping.
TV the app for iOS was unresponsive when it first launched, I guess it was caching artwork from my library. After force-quitting it seemed to perk up. Not a great start. The app has four icons at the bottom for Library, Watch Now, Store, and Search. The version of TV the app for tvOS has the same four options in an upper menu, but flips the order of Library and Watch Now for … reasons.
The iOS version’s Library view has iPod-like menu widgets for TV Shows, Movies, and my iTunes Library from my Mac, which happened to have iTunes open. If I closed iTunes on my Mac, the widget for that library stayed up, but tapping on it recursively takes you to the Library screen you were just on, but without the iTunes Library listed. However, because I had navigated to that, there’s a navigation Back button in the top left of the screen that takes me to the exact same screen with the iTunes Library still listed there. Yup. I had to force-quit the app and relaunch it to get rid of the iTunes Library that was no longer accessible. If I open iTunes again, it’s not added back to the Library screen in the app, requiring another force-quit and relaunch. I don’t rely on this feature very often, but I know there are people that make extensive use of Home Sharing, so they’re probably not thrilled — Also, it’s the first third of the screen the app opens to so it should probably work or something.
Below the iPod-like widgets is “Recently Purchased Shows” with a horizontal-scrolling list of TV show artwork, chronologically organized by purchase date. Ditto for “Recently Purchased Movies” under that. Unfortunately, I rarely purchase TV shows on iTunes, and most of the category has a few free episodes of shows that had promotions at one time or another. So that’s why the only two things displayed are the first season of My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Comedy Central’s Moonbeam City pilot. “Recently Purchased Movies” is less sad, but because of where it’s placed on the screen, only the very top of Al Pacino’s head is visible.
It’s possible to hide purchases from showing up through an iTunes web interface available to you on a desktop computer, but that wouldn’t really let me alter that layout.
The version of the Library view for tvOS is uninspired, with a pair of buttons on the screen-right side for “TV Shows” and “Movies”, both are displayed alphabetically, not chronologically, and there’s no Home Sharing here. Home Sharing is located on the Home screen for tvOS still, which gets into the weird Home-but-not-Home feeling of TV the app on tvOS. It reproduces some things you find elsewhere in tvOS, but not this.
I appreciate what Apple was aiming for with Watch Now — a unified interface to access media buried in siloed-off apps, and keeping track of where you left off with what you were last watching. Unfortunately, they haven’t hit what they were aiming for yet. The only compatible app I had on iOS was HBO Now. It asked to “connect” and share data with Apple. I accepted and had to sign in to iTunes. Then it populated a screen with HBO shows and movies that HBO had streaming rights for. This concludes the list of applications I use that are supported.
I paid for HBO Now to watch Westworld, and HBO Now keeps track of what episodes I’ve seen inside of it’s app. Apple, however, doesn’t have access to that data because I didn’t watch Westworld from TV the app so as far as Apple’s concerned I’ve never watched anything, including Westworld. This is a problem if you use apps outside of Apple’s ecosystem. Some episodes of Westworld I watched on my Fire TV Stick, some on tvOS, one on iOS, and all versions of the HBO Now app know what I’ve seen regardless of platform, but not Apple’s new, preferred method for me to track what I’m watching. That thing has no clue.
Westworld is recommended to me under:
- What to Watch
- TV’s Biggest Shows
- Lights, Camera, Action: Thrill-a-minute rides, coming right up.
- Top TV Shows
But I guess it’s hard to fill out all the categories if there’s only HBO to draw from? Still, there are a lot of repeated entries for things I’ve seen — and things I have no interest in seeing. There’s no way to mark that I’ve watched something already, or that I have no interest in seeing Divorce even after I’ve been pitched on “Witty Sarah Jessica moves on to conscious uncoupling in the suburbs.”
Also, in case anyone is wondering if maybe Apple only has access to tracking data going forward from the point I agree to “connect” HBO Now, I started up an episode of a HBO show on my Fire TV Stick and it’s not appearing under “Up Next”. However, if I open the iOS HBO Now app, and resume playback from where I started, then it appears under “Up Next” on both iOS and tvOS. So however Apple is connecting to HBO Now, it appears to be on the Apple device itself, and then the data from that on-device connection is shared with my other Apple devices, rather than connecting to HBO directly. At least that’s the only explanation I can come up with for the behavior. It didn’t mark Westworld as watched either, so it’s not like it just flushed some cache or something.
Another peculiarity is that I had the CBS All Access app on my Apple TV because I had used a trail period of the service and never deleted the app. When TV the app started up for tvOS it asked me to connect CBS, and I approved to see what would happen. It wasn’t great, because Apple shuffled in CBS recommendations with the HBO ones, but I had no active subscription so any attempt to play a CBS entry would kick you to a screen where you could pick subscription payment options. This was unpleasant, so I removed the CBS app from the device thinking it would remove CBS from the Watch Now recommendations, but it didn’t. Turns out that’s hidden under the settings for the TV app.
Home > Settings > Apps > App Settings > TV > Connect to TV > CBS > “Remove CBS” or “Remove CBS and Clear Play History”
That was fun to find that. At least I didn’t have to use a desktop computer’s web browser. Small victories.
The storefront interface is pretty annoying because there’s no personalization at all. Top row features Westworld (HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT THIS SHOW?) available from HBO Now (HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT THIS APP?), followed by Star Wars: The Force Awakens which is available on Starz, but I already own the movie through iTunes so why should an advertisement to pay for a subscription service to watch a movie I already own be displayed to me? The rest of the row is populated with a prominent piece of media available on other apps that are also featured in a row directly below.
Star Watching Now:
- HBO Now (Already installed and connected)
- CBS (Intentionally disconnected)
- Tribeca Shortlist
- CW Seed
Watch with your TV provider has a variety of other media that’s inaccessible to me at this time. Then, buried at the bottom are “New Releases on iTunes” and several categories to buy and rent on iTunes.
I absolutely loathe entering text on the Apple TV. That persnickety little row of letters is there, but you can use the Remote app, or voice dictation. Yes, the Search here does produce different results than using Siri to search. Why? I don’t know! My current favorite example: “The Thing” with voice dictation in this field will display the 2011 prequel/remake/whatever, and then the 1982 classic. That’s not bad. Siri will produce a string of Fantastic Four properties, Addam’s Family movies, a Cat in the Hat cartoon and Alfie.
You can trick Siri if you say “The movie The Thing” but the assistant seems to have no common sense to produce the same search results as this Search field.
By default, trending movies and shows are displayed under search.
The button that looked like a 16:9, flat-panel TV, but was named Home, is now used for TV the app for many functions. If TV the app has been force-quit from the multitasking view, it won’t launch the app, it’ll behave as it did before, but if TV the app was running on the system, then pushing the button mostly takes you to the Watch Now screen. Even if you’re inside of TV the app in another area, it will bring you back to Watch Now. Push it again to go to the actual Home screen. If you push it on the Home screen it takes you back to TV the app. Unfortunately, this muddies the idea behind what this button does. It’s a TV-Home-Multitask-Sleep button — Which is kind of overloaded.
This adds to the weird feeling that TV the app should be the Home interface, but it isn’t. They’re still separate, with some features reproduced, and reorganized. To say nothing of the fact that it’s only available in the U.S., and has limited utility depending on what apps you use, and what TV provider you have.
This … kind of feels like cable box software, but with more fluid movement, and hardly anything to watch. Two of the most popular sources for non-cable, non-satellite, streaming media are Netflix and Amazon and they’re nowhere to be found TV the app. The people who derive the most benefit will be people who can access all of this on another box connected to their TV, which they pay for. I still don’t know what the marketing pitch for the Apple TV is. Own this $150 box because you can keep your cable subscription? Own this $150 box because you can get another interface for HBO Now?