Apple sets out to change the way the nation watches TV with the launch of its Apple TV 4th generation. Ian Macrae takes a look at it from an access point of view.
There was a time when Britain had just three TV channels from which to choose what to watch. Some of us are old enough to remember when watching television was a national pastime. On Christmas night 28 million people would sit down in family groups to watch comedy duo Morecambe and Wise’s latest Christmas Special.
Now it’s all very different. While it’s true that some families may still gather round the telly for the seasonal episode of Dr Who, in many front rooms everyone will be doing something different. Dad reads on his iPad while his daughter watches YouTubers on her phone and the boy is playing a new game on his own hand-held device, leaving only Mum watching the box.
And it’s in this climate that Apple has made it its stated mission to further revolutionise the way we consume television.
The Apple TV 4th Generation, launched earlier this year, has been developed to enable and encourage us to watch not via channels with linear schedules presenting a range of programmes across the evening but via apps.
We may already have got this habit from using phones and tablets. The BBC iPlayer gives access to an increasingly large raft of archive and contemporary shows. Sky Go means we can choose what we want to watch when we want to watch it from a wide variety of output. And now Netflix has come to the app party offering a subscription-based slew of films and shows across a whole host of devices.
And now the Apple TV gives you the opportunity of accessing this multiverse of content through your domestic TV set. Put simply, it turns any TV into a smart TV.
The little black box connects to your TV via the HDMI socket. Like all Apple products, the device comes with both Voiceover, Apple’s text-to-speech screen reader, and Siri, which means you can give verbal instructions by using a button on the remote. Once set up, the Apple TV is pretty easy to use, particularly if you’re already familiar with working with touch screen devices.
But it was with the set-up that I, as a sight impaired user, had difficulty. In fact I’d go so far as to say that I wouldn’t have been able to achieve it without the sighted assistance of my son.
The main problem is that Voiceover was not enabled for the set-up process. The toggle for this feature is pressing the menu button on what Apple calls The Siri Remote three times but this was not enabled as default. It would be really helpful if people who didn’t want VO had to turn it off or at least the triple click toggle was enabled by default.
The next problem came with the on screen keyboard which is required to enter info to create or confirm an Apple ID. Although the format of this is quite familiar, a couple of rows of letters and symbols, it is difficult to use with little or no sight and hopeless to use without guidance from Voiceover. Again, for the future, it would be very helpful if the Apple TV was able to connect to a Bluetooth keyboard and operated via that.
Having said all this, I have heard from other blind users who were able to perform the set-up on their own but they all had similar gripes to mine.
The Siri Remote has typical Apple style. It’s narrow, slim and long and feels comfortable in the hand. There is a dedicated Siri button, but unlike with other Apple products, the button has to be held down while you are talking and released when you’re done. In addition to other buttons for Menu, Home, Play/Pause and Volume, the remote also features a trackpad. This is operated very much like the touchscreen in other Apple devices with the exception that you push to click on an icon rather than double tapping when working in Voiceover.
There is no question that Siri is one of the biggest selling points for this device although currently options for using it remain limited. It’s possible to search, for example for films and TV shows by name, star, even character. Not only that, you can ask it to find James Bond movies and then refine that search to say “Only the Sean Connery ones”. It’s not presently possible to search your music – anything you’ve bought from iTunes on other devices is available through the TV – neither can Siri launch apps from the home screen. My understanding is that both these limitations will be addressed in future versions of the operating system.
Apple is sometimes accused of bringing products to market too early. Their argument would likely be that in putting stuff out there they not only commit to that product and its development but also begin the process of using the boundaries. This generation of the Apple TV really could shape viewing habits in future and, with some tweaks to its accessibility, become a useful addition to our home entertainment options.