Because the world continues to grapple with the COVID–19 pandemic and states, like my house state of California, issuing indefinite shelter-in-place orders, streaming video companies have gone from being luxuries to close requirements. Folks all of the sudden have a great deal of time to binge-watch tv reveals and films on Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, and extra once they’re not on Zoom calls or trekking exterior to get groceries.
As a freelancer—and as a proud introvert, no much less—spending tons of time at house isn’t a overseas idea to me. Governor Newsom’s mandate hasn’t been practically as disruptive because it has been for others. The extra issues change, the extra issues keep the identical. I’ve spent the final 7 years working from house, and I spend loads of time in entrance of our 65-inch Samsung 4K TV. Till a 12 months and a half in the past, we had an previous standard-definition tv in the lounge, so having this big, high-resolution display has completely been a real revelation.
Think about going from a non-Retina iPhone 3G or 3GS to quadruple the pixels on the then-breakthrough iPhone four show. “Folks haven’t even dreamed of a show like this on a telephone,” Steve Jobs mentioned whereas introducing the Retina Display in 2010. That’s how dramatic the change has been for us, by no means thoughts the truth that our TV is a decidedly entry-level mannequin with solely 2 HDMI ports on it. I do know academically our TV’s display is not so good as these on higher-end fashions, however in observe, it’s orders of magnitude higher than what we had earlier than. And realistically, my visible impairment is such that any discernible distinction in display high quality can be nigh imperceptible to me.
I purchased the Apple TV 4K in November 2018, a bit of over a 12 months into its life, to coincide with the acquisition of our tv. It was monumental not solely as a result of we’d lastly embraced 21st century TV expertise, but in addition as a result of I may expertise (and canopy!) Apple TV for the primary time. tvOS is as accessible as Apple’s different platforms, and it’s thrilling to really be capable to use and critique it in significant methods. In a nutshell, I just like the Apple TV loads. Though our house just isn’t completely Apple-centric—for the entrance door, driveway, smoke alarm, and thermostat, we’re huge followers of Google-owned Nest products, that are very Apple-like by way of aesthetics and ease of use—we’re predominantly Apple customers. (If solely Nest’s iOS app supported Dynamic Sort, however the tvOS app is nice for watching the door and driveway.) Thus, the Apple TV’s sticky hooks into the better Apple ecosystem make it a good choice as to our most popular streaming field.
Regardless of our happiness with Apple TV, Amazon’s Fire TV platform has develop into an space of curiosity for me. I’ve been a Prime member since 2011 and adore it. Particularly these days, the flexibility to get quick, free delivery on important gadgets like meals and bathroom paper is especially useful. Whereas it’s honest to query the corporate’s dominance over small enterprise and commerce on the whole, Amazon’s companies actually do make life extra accessible in myriad methods. I’m in a high-risk group for contracting COVID–19, so not having to masks up and enterprise out for requirements just isn’t solely handy but in addition life-saving.
I point out this as a result of Amazon’s Fireplace TV merchandise can be found to me as a Prime member with quick, free delivery, and I’ve taken benefit of it. I really like expertise so I’m naturally curious, however on a sensible stage, such curiosity is wholesome as a result of I can write about firms and applied sciences except for Apple. I purchased a Fireplace TV Stick 4K at a reduction in February of final 12 months as a part of an Oscars promotion. There’s a lot to understand concerning the Fireplace TV person interface, based mostly upon Android, when you can avert your eyes to the barrage of adverts and shameless plugs for Amazon stuff. From an accessibility perspective, textual content dimension and icons are sufficiently giant (for me, at the very least) and distinction is excessive in all places due to the blueish-black background of the system. Due to this, I choose a few of Amazon’s design selections over Apple’s tvOS; the Fireplace TV Settings display is a standout. By and huge, nevertheless, the minimalist nature of Apple’s UI and the robustness of their accessibility software program wins the day. Nonetheless, it’s solely proper to commend Amazon for a job properly completed. They consider accessibility too, as they need to.
The place Amazon has a determined edge towards Apple is with Alexa. However on this case, her usefulness goes past asking random questions. A number of months in the past, I picked up a Fireplace TV Dice—once more, on a budget as a part of a Tremendous Bowl sale—to see the way it in comparison with the Fireplace TV Stick and Apple TV. The Dice is functionally no totally different than the Stick—content material is precisely the identical, as is the interface. The key distinction between the 2 is whereas you should use the Alexa Distant to regulate the Stick, you alternatively can use solely your voice to regulate the Dice. Not solely can use voice to navigate the UI, it additionally works for controlling your property theater setup. In my testing, it really works fairly properly. Saying “scroll proper” or “scroll down” strikes the interface accordingly, as does instructions for leaping into Settings and opening apps. You clearly can ask for a sure movie or present and Alexa will dutifully oblige. Though Amazon doesn’t formally name voice management an accessibility characteristic, the reality is that’s the place it shines brightest. Tright here’s no motive to decide on the Dice when you’re not occupied with voice management. The Stick does all the pieces else for much less cash in a smaller footprint.
The Alexa Distant comes included with the Dice, after all, and works simply wonderful. However the voice management functionality is the star attraction right here. Even when you, like me, are Apple-centric technologically, the Dice is undoubtedly a compelling machine. For these with physical-motor delays who can’t use a distant, the flexibility to regulate the Dice and your audio-video gear by voice certainly could also be sufficient to decide on it over an Apple TV, regardless of the familiarity of the based-on-iOS tvOS interface and the niceties of the ecosystem.
This is the reason Apple’s resolution to place their TV app on different streaming platforms and on sensible TVs is noteworthy. Sure, it’s self-serving insofar because it helps Apple by boosting publicity to TV+, nevertheless it’s equally helpful for customers. On this case, somebody may select a Fireplace TV Dice as their set-top field for the voice management but nonetheless have entry to their iTunes purchases and TV+ content material within the TV app—it’s additionally key to notice a Fireplace TV Dice is, at $119, considerably cheaper than a $149 Apple TV. What’s nicer nonetheless about that is selecting a Dice over an Apple TV doesn’t imply shedding your footing on Apple floor; Amazon can play the lead within the leisure middle while Apple performs the supporting position. It’s an ideal instance of a win-win scenario.
All of this culminates into my broader level, which is Apple ought to make the Apple TV just like the Fireplace TV Dice. Extra particularly, the corporate ought to deliver its Voice Management characteristic, introduced last year in iOS 13 and macOS Catalina, to tvOS 14. In an analogous vein to how one can management an iMac or iPhone with simply the sound of your voice, so too may you management your Apple TV and residential theater peripherals.
A February report from 9to5 Mac claimed there are references to a brand new Apple TV 4K within the now-current tvOS 13.four codebase. In response to the report, there’s a totally different mannequin quantity than the present machine, final up to date in September 2017. Separate tales with extra reporting, additionally from 9to5 Mac, have said the forthcoming Apple TV refresh may also characteristic more storage and a new remote. The subsequent model of tvOS presumably can be proven at Apple’s virtual WWDC next month, and it’s my hope Voice Management can be among the many headlining options.
Given Alexa’s strengths, it was tremendous sensible of Amazon to harness them the best way they did within the Dice. For Apple’s half, it makes strategic sense for them to attempt to match them competitively. There’s an excellent likelihood Apple would even exceed Amazon resulting from their prowess at making high-quality accessibility software program and the nicer high quality of tvOS general. If something, Voice Management on Apple TV can be a pleasant complement to Switch Control, added in tvOS 12. Whereas each options are distinct and serve distinct functions, they roughly do the identical job by way of enabling distant management of a pc display. (And sure, the Fireplace TV Dice and Apple TV are indisputably computer systems for televisions.)
Apple has a novel alternative to additional differentiate and advance Apple TV and tvOS by including its personal taste of voice management. There’s loads you can do with Siri on tvOS at present—the “What did they are saying?” characteristic is intelligent—however Apple may take it to the subsequent stage. To reiterate an earlier level, it’s not solely the interface. As with Apple’s HomeKit, which is actually another story, the flexibility to regulate one’s house theater by voice is assuredly an enormous draw for individuals with fine-motor situations who can’t press buttons, flip switches, or flip knobs on parts equivalent to an A/V receiver. Amazon has innovated first, however Apple has traditionally by no means been first to something. It’d be textbook Apple to “just walk in” and alter the interplay sport for current and potential Apple TV customers, however in an accessibility-first context.
If nothing else, such an development would make sheltering in place extra bearable by making binge-watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (it’s so good!) simpler to seek out for a section of disabled Apple TV customers.
I assume we’ll discover out what’s been behind Apple’s tvOS curtain in a number of weeks.