"I finally cracked it," Steve Jobs says in the final chapter of his biography by Walter Isaacson.
"I'd like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use. It would be seamlessly synced with all your devices and with iCloud. It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine."
Jobs' biography — and this quote — was published three weeks after the Apple cofounder's death, in late 2011.
Many considered this TV concept to be one of the final Apple products directly influenced by Jobs. And in the four years since his death, Apple repeatedly hinted at a TV solution similar to the one Jobs envisioned.
"TV is one of those things that, if we're really honest, it's stuck back in the seventies,"Apple's CEO Tim Cook told Charlie Rose in September 2014.
"Think about how much your life has changed, and all the things around you that has changed. And yet TV, when you go in your living room to watch the TV, or wherever it might be, it almost feels like you're rewinding the clock and you've entered a time capsule and you're going backwards. The interface is terrible. I mean, it's awful!"
One year after that Charlie Rose interview, Apple officially revealed its new Apple TV — with a brand new user interface, a new remote control powered by Siri, a new App Store, and even the ability to play games.
The new Apple TV promised many different things when it launched three months ago. You could sum up those promises with this grand pronouncement that still hangs on Apple's website:
"The future of television is here," Apple says.
But why doesn't it feel that way?
The new Apple TV is both better and worse than its predecessors.
It's snappier. It loads apps and content more quickly. Videos look great, and buffering is almost nonexistent. Since most people only care about streaming video, Apple's solution knocks it out of the park in this regard.
But some of the other new features are a mixed bag. I've tried playing a few games on the Apple TV, but this won't replace any $300 game console. Apple TV games play well and look beautiful, but I'm not convinced this is the device's main purpose. The offerings are mainly mobile games blown up to fit the big screen: not complex, with only a few, basic controls. It's cool the Siri remote has a touchpad and accelerometer to play these kinds of games like you would on an iPhone, but I've still never booted up the Apple TV just to play a game.
I don't mind the existence of games on the Apple TV; they neither benefit nor detract from the overall platform. But there are other features lack polish.
For example, I'm no fan of the new Siri remote control: Using it to type or search is cumbersome (a step backwards compared to the previous Apple TV remote), its touchpad is overly sensitive to non-human contact like couches, and Siri still rarely gets my commands right. I highly recommend using your iPhone's free Remote app over Apple's hardware.
So to recap, the features that should work well — like watching videos from a wide array of apps and sources — indeed do work quite well. This is the best part of the Apple TV. But the newest additions, like the Siri remote and the addition of gaming, still need major improvements before they can become truly useful. Thankfully, most of these issues are software-related, meaning they can be fixed easily and soon.
Its biggest feature is stuck in development limbo
For years, many believed Apple would eventually roll out a live TV service for the Apple TV. Apple reinventing the way we watch television sounded too good to be true.
As it turns out, Apple is still reportedly working on a service like this — a solution that delivers live TV to the Apple TV via the internet. But this monumental effort continues to hit roadblocks.
Apple has been in discussions with networks like 21st Century Fox, Disney and CBS in recent years, but talks to license those companies' programming have repeatedly stalled, according to Bloomberg.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal this week, the president of Disney-owned ESPN said Apple has "been frustrated" by these discussions that continue to fall through.
Apple is still reportedly trying to launch this service this year, which would offer over a dozen channels and cost $30 or $40 a month, but it wouldn't be surprising to see even more delays. TV companies have been notoriously resistant to change, and many companies get a lot of money by bundling their services with cable providers like Time Warner or Comcast. Unless Apple chooses to buy one of those companies, it lacks the upper hand in negotiating content for its live TV service.
What the Apple TV really needs: Updates, and developers
At least one report suggests Apple is already working on a new Apple TV. Citing supply chain sources, DigiTimes says Apple is working on a faster model that will make streaming and gaming even better. Faster hardware sounds great, but we're hoping to see more software updates sooner than that, in order to address issues like the remote control's hypersensitivity.
There's also the live TV service to consider. If it actually happens and Apple signs all the necessary deals to offer a package of channels for a monthly fee, it would change the landscape of TV programming for the better. More competition among services means more choices and lower prices for consumers, which is always a good thing.
Of course, Apple's live TV may never happen. It would be a total shame, but at the same time content makers would still probably insist on selling standalone subscription-based apps a la HBO Now or Netflix. It allows them to honor their deals with cable companies while also selling an extra over-the-top service for a monthly fee.
The important thing to keep in mind is that the Apple TV is only three months old. Sure, the product has been around longer than that, but this Siri-powered touch-sensitive iteration is just getting started. There's no reason to believe the Apple TV won't be a must-buy product soon; Apple is great at creating great products, but even better at refining them every single year until they approach perfection. Both the iPhone and iPad are great examples of this.
But Apple has its hands full. And the TV is a difficult device to disrupt — even the remote control is difficult to shrink down from 40+ buttons to just six. And when it comes to providing content for the TV, there are many vested interests that benefit from keeping things the way they are, by limiting the ways people can watch TV content.
Apple can still revolutionize the way we watch TV, but it will need two things: creativity, and content. Both of those things will most likely come from developers outside the company.
So, as it did with the iPhone, Apple needs to focus on giving developers more tools to play with. It also needs to create more reasons for developers to build creative, unique apps on the Apple TV. So many popular apps like Netflix are cross-platform, but if there was a great tvOS exclusive app out there, it'd be a great reason to own an Apple TV over the rival set-tops from Amazon, Google and the like.
The Apple TV insists it is "the future of television," and so far, it hasn't lived up to that initial promise. But it has enormous potential, and it's constantly evolving. It'll be interesting to see if Apple ever releases its live TV service, but whether or not that happens, Apple needs its developers more than ever to fill the App Store with apps people will talk about. It worked for the iPhone and iPad, and it could certainly work for the Apple TV.