Apple TV 2.0 First Impressions

by Charles Miller on February 14, 2008

The Apple TV 2.0 update was, to the best of my recollection, the worst (successful) software installation experience I've ever had from Apple.

It wasn't that the upgrade took 15 minutes from the end of the download to the time the unit booted into its new interface. Given the entire OS was being upgraded under the hood, I sort of expected that. The problem was that nowhere along the way did I have any idea how the upgrade was progressing, or even if it was progressing at all.

The unit rebooted. A shiny Apple logo appeared and a progress-bar inched from empty to complete beneath it. Then the unit rebooted again, the logo appeared with the progress-bar back at zero and the process began again. By the third repetition I jumped on the Internet to be reassured by various forums that this was, in fact, normal, and after the fifth restart I should have a working Apple TV.

This post was originally going to be a list of all the little things I thought were wrong or missing with the new update of the Apple TV, but in composing the article I realised that such articles generally annoy me, and really the one example above would suffice1.

The installation experience is one of those things that Apple usually gets right. The upgrade of the Apple TV wasn't bad compared to other devices, it just wasn't an Apple experience. (On reflection, this is a sad sign of how little faith I have that software will meet even my lowest standards)

Similarly, my first impression of the Apple TV 2.0 is that it is a perfectly serviceable device that allows me to play media from my iTunes libraries, and allows me to buy and rent movies and music from the iTunes store2... it just feels like Apple outsourced the design.

When trying out a new Apple product you expect those moments of "Wow, this is how this should be done, why didn't anyone else think of that?" The moments where you realise some long-held assumption about how such devices should work is wrong. These moments are what's lacking from the Apple TV. At the same time, so many things feel phoned in, from the cluttered main menu, to the painfully clumsy on-screen keyboard, to the way the photo gallery refuses to let you view your albums as anything but a slideshow.

It just seems that the Apple TV isn't getting the design attention or the commitment to "thinking different" that are the hallmark of the Apple experience. And that, more than anything else, might be the biggest threat to Steve's hobby.

1 OK, so a few more snuck in later
2 Girlfriend with a US iTunes account FTW!

Previously: JSR-666 Extension: Exception Types

Next: Intra-office email