Saturday, June 12, 2010

Inhuman Apples

I recently acquired an Apple TV. This was mostly a result of the simple fact that my iTunes library has grown large over the years and, assuming I can still get a good deal on them, I'd rather have TV shows take up hard drive space than shelf space. At this point, I have much more of the former to spare than the latter.

As much as I like iTunes and my iPod Touch, however, I am convinced that Apple is out of touch with, well, humans. There are some very basic issues with the Apple TV that I am convinced could not have been made by a rational human being, but rather by some creature that has only a rudimentary idea of what humans are like.

For one thing, the Apple TV didn't originally come with video playlists. The XBox 360 had (and probably still has) this problem as well, so let me set the record straight: humans want video playlists. Seriously, it's standard operating procedure now for DVDs to have "play all" functions, and the option to make video playlists exists in iTunes. Why wouldn't we want it on the TV, too?

Apple TV does now has the option to use video playlists, but again, the lack of humanity is highlighted. When I first started using the Apple TV, I thought there weren't video playlists. Why? Because they aren't accessible by default. You have to go into the options and set playlists from "music only" to "all". The playlists aren't in the way or anything once there, so why even have the option? I consider the video playlists important to the point that I was considering returning the device prior to finding the option. Let me highlight this: a lack of video playlists is a deal breaker for some people. Do not hide them.

What's also lacking is a shuffle option for video playlists. Humans get bored with monotony and often enjoy a bit of unpredictability. Yeah, watching certain shows in a random order might not work well, but that's no reason to not allow the shuffle option. It's optional, and the programming already exists for it. If I want to watch Lost on shuffle with episodes of Fringe randomly interspersed throughout, that should be my mistake to make. This isn't a deal breaker for me, but it's still stupid.

Another sign of inhumanity are the photos. Unless your photos are sized just right, they will be cropped and zoomed too far in. Not by a lot, but enough to be annoying, particularly if syncing comics with any text near the edges. It does this for certain videos, too. None of their official stuff, of course, but I subscribe to various video podcasts. I know people complain about having black bars around stuff, but it's preferable to being zoomed in too bloody much.

Speaking of zoom, there are plus and minus buttons right there on the remote. They do not zoom. When viewing photos, you cannot zoom out, in, rotate, etc. You view them at the size Apple has decided to be appropriate and it sucks to be you if don't like it.

And then there's inputting text. Let's say you're doing a YouTube search for "Arizona". Ask a human, and they'll tell you that pushing left while at the far left of the screen, A, pushing left on the remote should take you to the far right, Z. This makes it much faster and easier to input text through a remote. If a human pushes left at the A and stays there with only a beep noise as evidence of the button being pressed, the human will wonder "what the hell is this" and be annoyed by all the additional button presses they have to make.

Don't get me wrong. The Apple TV accomplishes what I got it for, which was a means to view my iTunes library on a TV and in HD. It's connected with an HDMI cable, and now my entire library can easily be moved from HD TV to HD TV. It is something I am glad to have. That said, it is basically accomplishing the bare minimum of what I expect from it, and this is supposed to be a high-end device. As much as I like my iTunes-related Apple products, it's easy to see why some people hate and refuse to use them.


  1. although i am looking forward to the next gen iPad ( if they do add all the things people are asking for), and i really dislike the all iProducts so far.

  2. I'm happy with my iMac... It's effectively the TV with a computer...

    I wouldn't mind getting an iPhone, but I can't afford one. I'll probably wait for my step-mum to upgrade hers and ask if I can have her old one...

  3. "You view them at the size Apple has decided to be appropriate and it sucks to be you if don't like it."

    Isn't that how EVERYTHING works with Apple products? I love my iPod Touch but if Apple decides it doesn't like something that I do, it dissapears. Eg, I liked being able to double tap the home button at any time to get a music overlay. Now it only works when there's music playing, otherwise it takes you straight to the albums which is annoying if I want to change what I'm listening to or turn down the volume without using the buttons. (or on a 1st gen iPod Touch which has no volume buttons) Why not give users the option for this sort of thing rather than the Location Services switch which is pointless on the iPod as it has no GPS?

    Bleh. Rant over. Just annoys me and haven't ranted at Apple recently.

  4. It's generally been my experience that Apple products are not meant for people who know what they want or what they are doing. Apple caters to people who want to use electronics without understanding them. Every default they set and every UI feature they use is certainly tested and shown as the one that confuses the least people.

    The video playlist thing? Consider that Videos/DVDs mean "movies" to a lot of people rather than "tv shows". Music almost always comes in albums so people will expect playlists; videos not so much. By extension, people expect to play music on shuffle but only a minority will have reason to play videos on shuffle. To the rare average user who actually enables video playlists and wants to watch a TV series with it, the only possible reaction to shuffle is "Why won't this stupid thing play them in order?" when he accidentally turns it on.

    Not saying I don't understand the frustration... I have pretty high expectations from my various software and devices as well. I just don't have high expectations of Apple products because they are designed for and marketed to people who don't even know what they're buying half the time.

  5. J37 - I would need evidence to convince me that your average person isn't used to TV on DVDs these days. The impression I've gotten is that it's fairly big business, and "play all" has been pretty standard for years now.

    Frankly, I view the Apple TV as being the iTunes product that should be the LEAST dumbed down, and the options I speak of are all available on the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. While someone is likely to be just starting out on iTunes with one of those devices, the Apple TV suggests someone who has already been using iTunes and who has a large enough collection to justify it.

    I could get on board with the keeping it simple argument if the portable devices were the same way, but the relatively stationary Apple TV should at least be able to match the basic playlist options found on the portable devices. One is logically more likely to want "play all" for a TV show or movie trilogy when sitting at home than on the go, after all.

  6. I, too, now have an Apple TV and I love it. However I don't use it's built-in functionality. I use something extra, something better, something marvelous.

    You must do this (and know that it will not interfere with the basic functionality and is easily reversible in a heartbeat so there is no downside to trying it):

    Although, it's not about Boxee. Boxee can't do RSS anymore, which is a deal-killer for me. It's about XBMC, which is brilliant.

  7. Dan -

    Looks like you're probably right on the TV vs Movie thing. While I know plenty of people who own various movies on DVD, I don't personally know very many people who buy TV shows on DVD, apple store, or similar options. In fact, I only know one person who has anything that could be called a 'collection' in that category (and one other guy who just has all of Southpark...).

    On the other hand, actual sales statistic seem to show TV and movies being similarly popular on DVD. Can't find any solid numbers, but "top selling" lists month to month consistently include both. Of course I pulled these from a handful of online sources; it'd be interesting to see the numbers for retail stores vs online, or compare big cities vs smaller towns, etc.

    As to features: It definitely makes sense to expect one Apple product to be at least as functional as most other Apple products if only for consistency. I'm so sure I agree, however, that buying an Apple TV implies any more or less involvement with iTunes. For example, it's easy to imagine someone with a Windows PC and a regular cable subscription or DVD collection who hears about this great "Apple TV" that can make everything so much easier so they pick one up and install iTunes for the first time. In that case it's more appropriate to compare Apple TV to a DVD player, digital cable box, or DVR since anybody who isn't really familiar with Apple's products will compare the Apple TV to other common TV accessories.

    Of course I don't know how common such a scenario actually is. It's more likely that Apple TV's problems trace back to it being one of their less popular product lines and, as a result, a much lower priority on the "fixing our stupid mistakes" list.

    (P.S. I may have changed my nick from 'J37' to my real name since my previous comment. I didn't even remember having a Blogger profile when I chose 'Google Account' on my last comment o_O)

  8. (P.P.S. Whoa super comment O_O. Number one reason I should stay away from comment threads: I talk too damn much.)

  9. I like our setup: xbmc and mythtv running on a linux box. One really cool thing xbmc has is a web interface. Instead of using a remote, I just open it up in Opera (or firefox or whatever) and click on what I want to watch instead of hitting the down button 20 times (or more).
    And I have bluetooth on it, so I can hook up a wiimote with it and control it that way if I wanted. Much fun.

  10. Out of touch is an understatement. Considering Apple has two antitrust investigations going right now and they're working themselves into a third. Apple's evil makes Microsoft look Saintly.

  11. I don't mean to point this out, but when I read over this, I happened to find this> "Apple TV does now has the option to use video playlists" <, It made me forget what I was mad at. Thank you for your grammar mistake =).

    never thought I would be so happy to see a mistake.