Initial Apple TV Thoughts

A few people wanted me to share my thoughts on the new Apple TV. I’d ordered mine opening day but oddly they were available for purchase at Best Buy before mine even got shipped out. The short review is that the product feels rushed. Lots of missing features that will likely get added over the next few weeks. Rather than a real review here are short thoughts on various points.

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Future of TV

Lots of stories that Apple’s TV like service is postponed at best to 2016. Since Apple’s been working on this for years but networks like Fox, NBC & CBS don’t want a deal I think we can probably say the deal will never happen.

The problem is that the economics of TV are all base upon bundling of services. So you buy 20 – 30 channels even if only 5 – 6 of them are channels you want. People say they just want “the channels they want at a reasonable price.” That is, they want their Discovery channel but not ESPN. The problem is that likely is just not economically feasible when you move to ala carte that means fewer people order each channel so the costs go up not down. This is especially true for basic cable channels like ESPN. Speculation is that an ala carte ESPN could easily cost $30 per month.

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Twitter for Apple?

I know there are lots of reasons why Apple wouldn’t buy Twitter. However let’s look at the reasons why they should. 

o Bring on talented cloud employees. While Apple’s definitely doing better in cloud services they still are talent starved according to many reports.

o Bring on an establish social network for Music. The original Ping failed due to Facebook pulling its service integration at the last minute. Right now let’s be honest, Connect is by far the weakest part of Music. Integrate who  you follow with Twitter and push sharing playlists and songs by Twitter will improve the social aspect of Music by magnitudes

o Provide a broader platform for iAds. iAds is the ugly stepbrother right now. By integrating it with Twitter Apple can push it’s privacy philosophy as well as making iAds much more formidable an offering.

o Twitter can offer better ways to do the App Store. There are all sorts of integrations with the App Store Apple could do.

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Biggest Apple Music Annoyance

Overall I’ve come to really like Apple Music. UI problems notwithstanding (and there are a ton) it’s a very good service.

All that said though some things are very annoying. The main one is that wherever I am viewing an artist name in either the iOS Music app or iTunes there’s a good bet that there’s no way to jump to the Music page for that artist. While that’s annoying, you can still jump to search and do it manually. Apple should fix that quickly.

Here’s the most annoying bug though. If you are looking at an artist or a playlist and click “Make Available Offline” all the songs will start to download. However click on an individual song and it’s not smart enough to know it’s already downloading. Further if the song stalls out for some reason such as jumping from WiFi to cellular, Music isn’t smart enough to start the download later. Sometimes the download is completely borked and it’s hard to even convince it to redownload. Worst of all, if I have a playlist where all the songs but a few are downloaded there’s no “Make Available Offline” for the playlist to download the list. I have to manually find and download each track individually.

I should note that iTunes Match, with a very similar function, worked completely correctly for all these offline needs. 

Apple Music

The first thing I had to realize trying out Apple’s new Music service is that you have to rearrange how you think about iTunes. I’m one of those folk who threw up their hands in frustration when iTunes 11 came out with a quasi-iOS look and got rid of multiple windows. I quickly put iTunes back into as much of a classic appearance as I could with this list view. My first few hours with Music was an exercise in frustration because of this.

To really enjoy and make use of Music put your preconceptions behind you. Otherwise you, like me, will be constantly raving about the horrible buggy frustrating UI of iTunes. 

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Controversial Swift Exceptions

There were some big changes to Swift this week. The most surprisingly controversial one was the adding of “exceptions.” I put those in quotes because they are quite unlike traditional exceptions in C++, C#, Java or Python even though I’ve called them Pythonesque at times.1 Whoa. People on both sides of the debate flip out on that!

There have been two types of reactions.

First (the majority) is excitement. Finally we have something to avoid all those nested and hard to read if statements.

Second (a loud minority) are those groups that hate exceptions or think Swift did them wrong. From what I can tell one group are primarily those coming from ObjcC where exceptions were always warned against. (ObjC has long had C++ styled exceptions but few use them) There’s also the Haskell/Clojure folks who also hate exceptions. Both these groups shout the, “Swift isn’t learning from the mistakes of the past and is dominated by C++ folks.” The related group (sometimes also disliking exceptions in general but sometimes a fan of C++ or related exceptions) are those who note that Swift’s exceptions aren’t even really exceptions. 

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  1. I think I called them Pythonesque because it’s fairly common in Python to use exceptions for error handling and not just unexpected catastrophic failures. To be fair not everyone agrees with that type of programming. Also unlike C++ Python’s exceptions are kind of intrinsically tied to an error state and the error state isn’t necessary catastrophic. The calling function is just supposed to respond to the error, fix things up a bit so you can continue and clear the error indicator. (See Python exceptions)

WWDC: How were my predictions?

I knew coming in that the apparent last minute pullout of the new AppleTV would mean a very low key keynote this year. Already we were set to expect a focus on debugging and minor refinement to OS X and iOS. However even so I was pretty surprised. Some parts (especially the watch and the music sections) were really not very streamlined. It was not your typical keynote. It’s too bad since I was very excited about the AppleTV. But I’d rather them do it right than just push it out.

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No AppleTV at WWDC

Well most of my predictions have already been falsified for WWDC. Apple appears to have leaked news that there won’t be a new Apple TV. It’s an odd leak, if that’s what it is. It appears like Apple had planned for new hardware and a new UI but it just wasn’t ready. How much of this was due to content deals (presumably primarily CBS and NBC) and how much was an unfinished OS isn’t clear.

The problem is that Apple now has so many “channels” on the Apple TV that it’s very unwieldily. To be honest very few I use. I have ESPN & Netflix on the second row and I very rarely go to the third row or beyond. Further if you don’t already have cable most of them don’t work anyway. There are ways to hide the unwanted icons but most casual users would never guess how to do it. The whole UI needs a rethink.

If Apple really did have Apple TV plans, I hope they don’t delay them too long.

WWDC Predictions: Hardware

This is the third in my prediction posts. Note I don’t take these too seriously. I’m usually doing well if I bat .500. I’m excluding Apple TV predictions which had their own post as I’m convinced Apple’s updating the hardware.

The real question is whether Apple is going to take its Watch initiative (which I’m lukewarm on) to the iPod. I think it’s a small chance, but I’d be more interested in an Apple Watch inspired iPod Shuffle reboot than the watch itself. Consider a plastic, slightly heavier, shuffle for $150. It has a screen akin to the small watch (but cheaper LCD) and no sensors. What it does have is bluetooth. I’d almost certainly get it. Will Apple do it? And if they do it would they announced it at WWDC or at the iPhone event in the fall? Probably the latter if it happens at all. But I’ll give it a 10% chance.

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Trying to figure it all out a post at a time