On Wednesday at a media event in San Francisco, Apple unveiled a slate of new products, including one small, slender one with a touch pad, a button to access Siri, and a built-in accelerometer and gyroscope.
It wasn’t a new iPhone—though that, along with a bigger iPad, was among the announcements. Rather, it was a remote control for the new version of Apple TV, Apple’s contender for managing living room entertainment, which hasn’t been updated since 2012.
That wait may prove a good thing for the company. In the interim, consumers have gotten used to the idea of Internet-connected TVs that use a variety of apps, including video-streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, but no company has really emerged as a leader in tying it all together. The newest Apple TV, which will be available in late October for $149 with 32 gigabytes of storage or $199 with 64 gigabytes, is attempting to do that by combining an interface that has lots of these apps for everything from watching movies to shopping and appears easy to navigate with the new remote.
The glass-topped touch pad is the most obvious way to navigate with Apple TV, as you can just swipe to get from one movie to the next and press down on it to select one.
Siri is clearly intended to be a big part of the navigation, too, as it gets its own button on the remote. Giving a demonstration of the device, Apple senior design producer Jen Folse showed how you can use Siri to look for very specific things like “show me that Modern Family episode with Edward Norton,” which Siri can find by searching through a bunch of services including iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, and HBO (you can also filter searches based on factors like cast, directors, and age ratings).
Apple is also trying to make apps a big part of Apple TV by adding a built-in app store. The device runs on the company’s tvOS, which is based on its mobile software, iOS, and developers will be able to make their own apps, which Apple is hoping will bring a range of activities to the living room. The company showed off several of them on Wednesday, including a shopping app from Gilt and a couple of games that rely on the new remote as a controller by taking advantage of the accelerometer, gyroscope, and buttons (some games will apparently allow multiple players if you use an iPhone or iPod Touch as an additional controller).
In a hands-on demo, I found the Apple TV controller easy to use, while the menu for finding movies, looking at photos, playing games, and so forth is also pretty simple to navigate. A button on the remote is a direct link to Siri, and when I asked her to “find some awesome movies from the ′90s” she complied with a bunch of suggestions ranging from Jurassic Park to Babe (I guess we have different ideas of what “awesome” means).
The touch pad on the top of the controller worked smoothly, though I didn’t get to run it through that many activities. I did try it out with a game, though, in which I played a blocky animated chicken trying desperately to cross the road (I was quickly hit by a car).
Dan Cryan, an analyst with IHS, says the upgrade shows Apple TV has “stopped being a hobby” for Apple, in large part because of the addition of the app store. He also says the app store could mean that a lot more video services have easy access to your TV.
He says cable’s dominance over home video entertainment is unlikely to go away anytime soon, though, adding that while Apple TV is a nice upgrade, “it’s unlikely to tip the world on its head overnight.”