While Apple customers were lining up Sept. 20 to get their new iPhones or downloading iOS 7, one of the companies less prominent products, the Apple TV set-top box, experienced a rocky start with the release of its new operating system.
Apple TV 6.0, which added the same iTunes Radio functionality as iOS 7, plus some unexpected new convenience tools, was released the same week as that mobile operating system. But the system update was completely withdrawn shortly afterward when some customers reported losing some of their digital library items, slow download speeds and, in a few instances, a horrible phenomenon in the personal computing realm known as “bricking.” This is when corrupted firmware basically renders a piece of technology totally dead, and some Apple TVs were reportedly no more functional than square, black hockey pucks after the upgrade.
For those who are relatively new to the concept. Apple TV, Roku and Google’s new Chromecast dongle are unassuming and relatively inexpensive components for streaming content to high-definition televisions. Google’s unit is by far the cheapest at $35, allowing users to stream YouTube, Netflix and Google Play purchases, and it’s barely bigger than the average USB flash drive. Roku recently released new versions of its small cubes, which offer a vast collection of channels in addition to the Netflix and HBO Go portals. Apple TV is the usual choice for people whose media resides in the iTunes universe, and it offers a user interface that makes navigation almost completely uniform on services such as Hulu Plus, Netflix, Vevo, YouTube, WATCH Disney Channel and HBO Go, plus it can play content from iPhones and iPads through the AirPlay function.
Ups and downs
After some retooling, Apple TV 6.0 made a quiet return Sept. 24, and thankfully my two players powered up smartly after taking a chance on the new download. The biggest addition is iTunes Radio, which I reviewed last week. Since the streaming music service is tied to Apple ID, users who have been listening to iTunes Radio on their phones or tablets will find the same stations and channels they programmed on those devices on their Apple TV units, but now they can play that music easier through their home entertainment systems. There is also playback from iCloud, so Apple TV users can stream content directly from their cloud storage, and a new function that allows users to physically tap the Apple TV with their phone or tablet to set up their Apple ID and iCloud settings.
The downside of all this is that those slow uploads that many people encountered on the truncated initial release of Apple TV 6.0 still seem to be happening. When I tried to watch iTunes Festival performances by the Pixies and Haim, I experienced more buffering than I ever did on the old operating system. So far, the Netflix app is working just fine, but a lot of the native Apple software was spotty — the Haim concert stopped completely once and I received an error message. Streaming content will only work if it truly streams. Hopefully, Apple has an update in the works, because sleek interfaces only matter if they provide the entry point to smooth operations.