We are in peak shopping season for dedicated streaming devices from Apple, Roku, Google, and Amazon. There are seasonal sales, they make for a relatively affordable gift, and streaming services tend to get many new subscribers, spurning streaming hardware buys.
My advice: if you’re buying a dedicated streaming box, most should buy an Apple TV. Alternatively, if you are happy with your streaming life but have a few quibbles (like a missing service app on your setup), spend the bare minimum necessary to make your streaming experience tolerable. That latter scenario may mean spending nothing, bypassing existing hurdles by watching select content on a different device or casting from a phone (via Airplay or Chromecast) to your TV.
All other streaming options from Amazon, Google, and Roku are generally a substandard compromise. Yes, you’ll save a solid $80 to $100 in the short run. But you’re also shortchanging the longevity of the device, app availability and quality, and a host of other benefits unique primarily to Apple’s streaming box:
I’m a fan of my new Apple Watch Series 8, but it packs too much computer on the wrist. Thanks to WatchOS’s increasingly busy UI and burgeoning case size, it’s becoming a harder sell as a fashion accessory.
There was a time when Apple felt like they were making a genuine fashion play with the Watch; worn accessories project someone’s sense of style in a way a phone or tablet never could. The venerable tech company tried to market high-end “edition” watches from pricey materials, and the strategy flopped.
Since then, it feels like stereotypical Silicon Valley executives have overtaken Apple Watch’s design sensibility. These are decision makers drunk with the power of having everything a tap away and losing sight of what makes a watch distinctive and fashionable. They’ve copied the strategy for iPhone and iPad as they blew up in size: more icons, more widgets, more glanceable information. Complications overload the Apple Watch’s default watch face configurations. Symbols and text are everywhere, manifesting in more distraction than an aid.
Apple Arcade is a no-brainer investment for devoted iPhone gamers; for five dollars a month, you get a wealth of top tier, original mobile titles. But if you’re not already actively invested in mobile gaming today, Apple Arcade may not be the service that makes you a believer. As an already devoted console gamer, the service didn’t provide enough to keep me paying.
That caveat shouldn’t distract from the quality of games offered here. Given the usual knocks against mobile as a gaming platform — lack of genre variety, monetization in the form of annoying microtransactions — Apple had an uphill climb. But as a credit to the high bar Apple has set, I found many quality titles within a few hours of play.
I’m skeptical of how well Apple’s upcoming streaming video service will perform. A Netflix clone with Apple-produced programming could become the HomePod of the streaming video market; Apple’s install base and marketing clout keep the service limping along but otherwise struggles for mainstream adoption.
I’m bearish on Apple’s video plans because they don’t align with the company’s strengths. Apple’s excellence in design won’t keep a streaming video service afloat. Consider the UI that powers existing services. Even with rapidly growing user bases, their interfaces are at best pedestrian (Amazon Prime), at worst an unintuitive mess (Netflix, Hulu). Frankly, most viewers don’t care; 95% of the time in-app is focused on watching, not browsing.
Two of the Macbook Pro’s most hyped improvements – the Touch Bar and more compact profile – have little benefit to many professionals. I’m worried Apple is increasingly hawking consumer level tech that’s missing the high end market.
At least half of the developers and designers I know work primarily with a Macbook Pro hooked to an external display and paired with an external keyboard and mouse. Ergonomics improve with both displays at similar height and distance. It’s more efficient to scan and drag content given the screens’ proximity. And by driving the setup through a laptop, you still get the flexibility of a portable device for meetings or work on the go.
Therein lies the rub with the Macbook Pro’s Touch Bar. With the aforementioned setup, the Macbook’s distance makes the Bar out of reach and hard to see. Ironically, a setup for serious work nullifies the Bar’s purported productivity benefits. And based on Apple’s pricing segmentation, we’re paying a premium for it as well.
Once Apple Music’s free trial ended, I deleted all my files and resubscribed to Spotify Premium. The turnaround was surprising; this is Apple we’re talking about here. From Macs, to an iPhone, an iPad, and an Apple TV, I’m a convert. But after several weeks of heavy Apple Music usage, I was done with the service.
I’m not alone on this turnaround. Though 11 million subscribers (in a free trial period) is a decent start, I’ve seen many across, tech and design migrate elsewhere. There’s several reasons why:
As I wrote weeks ago, Apple TV needed several key factors to challenge console and PC gaming. Based on the keynote and what we’ve learned since, they missed on all counts. Traditional console or PC gamers won’t be flocking to Apple TV. Yet some wildcards could upend the casual gaming market in the long run.
Apple TV’s problems start with the included remote. A touchpad and single available button won’t give the precision needed for most traditional games. And add-on controllers are unlikely to make headway. Apple didn’t release a first-party option, and developers can’t require external controllers for play.
Then there’s the issue of a fairly weak starting library. Granted, several games look entertaining. Yet it’s mostly small scale entertainment — diversions alongside other apps and streaming media.
Tomorrow Apple is expected to announce an updated Apple TV with a dedicated app store and more powerful hardware. That positions the device to compete directly with the existing PC and console gaming space. Yet it’s premature for console manufacturers and PC gamers to be worried. Nor is it a surefire success for casual gaming in the living room.
We’ve been down this road before. First, smartphone and tablet games were predicted to kill consoles. It didn’t turn out that way. PS4 and Xbox One sales have been strong, even better than the PS3 and Xbox 360 during its opening sale period. PC gaming is booming through eSports and on Steam. And while casual gaming is successful on mobile, it’s fallen flat elsewhere. The Ouya, Fire TV, and the existing Apple TV through AirPlay have all been gaming duds.
Granted, a revamped Apple TV is a step in the right direction. An Apple-based living room platform is bound to take some attention away from traditional PC and console gaming. And like most forms of tech, we can’t quantify Apple TV’s impact until months or years from now. Yet several early factors will telegraph the Apple TV’s success against the exiting games market.
As a publishing platform, the web is on hard times. Paywalls and subscription plans are rarely successful. That makes ads and trackers the primary source of revenue. Yet ad tech is usually poorly designed, intrusive and inefficient. It slows down pages and pisses off users. That’s been underlined in recent articles highlighting the performance of The Verge , iMore and others. An otherwise simple news post bloats into megabytes of data, with ads and trackers taking the overwhelming share of that weight.
In the face of web bloat, users are opting out. Many strip out ad and tracker content with tools like AdBlock and Ghostery. Or they abandon the web for faster native publishing platforms like Facebook’s Instant News and Snapchat. Along these lines, Vox’s Ezra Klein predicts publishers morphing into a wire service, where the web becomes just one of many content platforms to publish on. Large publishers like Buzzfeed and The New York Times have already moved in this direction.
This is concerning. In reality, the web can be performant with ads, a subject matter for another post. A weakened web presence makes for an ugly future for publishing. It hurts the publishers themselves, and us, as readers.
Apple Music shares a lot of the same DNA as other streaming platforms. There’s a huge music catalog, the ability to save a collection offline, curated playlists, and radio stations. Yet its UX feels distinct, more segmented and compartmentalized compared to its streaming peers. That’s a plus for streaming newbies and more casual users. But it comes at the the cost of comprehension and cohesion in the long run.
It’s easiest to cover Apple Music’s UX shortcomings through example. Say you browse through playlists in New on iTunes, and then jump into the For You segment to browse further. At this point, there’s no way to jump back chronologically into your previously accessed playlists. Each segment has a separate state and history. Or you want to find the source (e.g. album, playlist, radio station) of the currently playing track. It’s often awkward if not impossible to do so. Even search adds a binary toggle between My Music and Apple Music to further separate results.