September 28, 2013 at 5:30 p.m. PST
The recent Apple TV 6.0 update created many problems. Apple had to pull the plug and abort the first update. Numerous users experienced device failures and other issues. It was clear that the release was not ready for prime time. Apple fixed these issues within a few days, and Apple TV 6.0 is now worth upgrading. After using the release, I find it to be stable. The 6.0 update adds iTunes Radio, the iTunes Music Store, AirPlay from iCloud, and other features.
How Long Does It Take?
With a 3 Mbps Internet connection, the upgrade process takes approximately one hour. It takes less than 30 minutes to download the software. Processing and installing the update takes another half hour.
Does It “Just Work”?
The 6.0 update that is now available is safe and stable. If you upgraded during the first release and your device was “bricked”, there’s a few things you can do. First, try restoring the device with iTunes. Simply plug your Apple TV into your computer with a micro-USB cable, then launch iTunes. Next, select Apple TV from Devices list and click “restore”. If this doesn’t work, your device is likely “bricked”. Take it back to the Apple store or call Apple’s customer support. They are offering replacements for units affected by this upgrade.
One minor annoyance is that you will be asked to re-authenticate with Netflix or Hulu Plus after restarting post-upgrade. Immediately after the upgrade, Netflix and Hulu Plus will work fine. It’s after the first restart that you’ll experience the issue. Keep your login information on hand if you upgrade.
iTunes Radio is the most notable feature of this update. The new radio service is a Pandora killer and will drive sales for the iTunes Music Store. Having used iTunes Radio on my iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV, I feel the Apple TV version is the best. The simple workflow of iTunes Radio is perfect for Apple TV. The user doesn’t fiddle with assembling playlists. Instead, the user makes a few choices and starts listening to music. From there, one can skip tracks six times per hour. Users can also purchase a song or album with a few clicks. If you don’t have an iTunes Match subscription, you will see an advertisement after a few songs. On Apple TV, these are video ads, and sometimes take a long time to download. If you notice a long pause, it’s not a crash, but merely an advertisement buffering.
iTunes Radio will be the demise of Pandora. Pandora’s stock plummeted due to this reality. First and foremost, iTunes Radio has a much bigger selection of music. iTunes Radio offers 27 million tracks compared to Pandora’s 1 million. iTunes Radio offers better audio quality and the ability to skip more tracks. Apple’s ad-free premium service (iTunes Match) costs less than Pandora and offers much more.
iTunes Match also provides a cloud-based match for any ripped CD in an iTunes user’s library. If you have a collection of CDs and have imported them into iTunes, an iTunes Match subscription will add these to iCloud. You can stream and download them from any device, even Apple TV. iTunes Match is the best way to get your entire music collection in the cloud. As the name implies, instead of uploading your imported CD’s, they match them with iTune’s collection. Only CDs that do not exist on iTunes need to be uploaded.
By default, iTunes Radio does not play explicit content. If you would like to access all music options, press the top navigation button on your Apple TV remote while in iTunes Radio. Next, select “Edit Stations” and then select “Explicit Music”.
iTunes Music Store
Users can now purchase iTunes music directly from Apple TV, even without using iTunes Radio. This is a feature I had been anticipating. When I really want to listen to a new album fast, I will buy it on my iPad, stop the download, and then listen to it on my Apple TV. With every new update to Apple TV, I’m reaching for my iPad less often. Now I can make these impulse buys directly from Apple TV.
Apple sees the writing on the wall. They’re starting to saturate the market for devices. In order to become even more profitable, they need to monetize the users they have. While iTunes sells a lot of music, TV shows, and movies, it’s a very small part of Apple’s profitability. The iPhone is their most profitable product. As they saturate the smartphone market, Apple can only increase profitability by selling more content, be it apps, music, or videos.
AirPlay from iCloud
AirPlay from iCloud allows a user to beam content onto their Apple TV without downloading it. If, for example, you buy an iTunes TV show on your iPad, you can “beam” it to your Apple TV without downloading it on your iPad. Your Apple TV does the download instead.
This feature is confusing and misunderstood. Digital Trends claims this is the most useful feature of Apple TV 6.0. Wired claims this allows anyone to beam an iTunes purchase onto anyone else’s Apple TV. That doesn’t seem to be how the feature works. I don’t blame them, it’s confusing and hard to see the value of this feature. People are liable to dream up functionality that doesn’t exist. The new feature requires iOS 7. It’s just easier to play content directly from Apple TV. The best thing about Apple TV is that with every update, I reach for my iPad less often.
Apple TV has a new easy setup mode. If you have a brand new Apple TV or reset an existing one back to factory settings, this new feature is a real time saver. Simply move your iPhone within proximity of your Apple TV, and it will fill in Wi-Fi, Apple ID, language preferences and other settings. Apple instructs users to touch Apple TV with the iPhone, however, since the feature uses the Bluetooth Low Energy profile, the iPhone only needs to be within 6 inches. The feature works with any device running iOS 7, except the iPhone 4 and iPad 2.
Shortly after the 6.0 upgrade, Apple added Major League Soccer to their growing selection of content channels. MLS has some free content, but in order to enjoy live streaming, one must subscribe to the service. Subscriptions start at $14.99 per month.
With MLS, NBA, MLB, and NHL, Apple TV now has just about every major sport covered. It just needs NFL, but that’s a difficult deal to negotiate. NFL is committed to television and does not offer any live broadcast of regular season games online. At best, you can pay for a subscription to watch pre-recorded games on the web or iPad. The iPad version does not offer AirPlay support. The NFL does offer live streaming of pre-season games.
No New Look
For those expecting Apple TV to look like iOS 7, the 6.0 update is disappointing. Apple TV retains its original look, with the addition of new icons. Settings is no longer locked into the top row of icons. Instead, it is on the second row and can be moved. It is displaced by iTunes Radio. This is a strange design decision, but it shows how seriously Apple takes iTunes Radio. I would expect the icon to be below the first row, much like Podcasts or Radio.
The fact that Apple TV has the same look implies that there will be a future release to bring the UI in line with iOS. It is possible that there will be a big leap forward for Apple TV. I still doubt that Apple will create an all-in-one TV set, dubbed iTV. Set-top boxes are easier to sell, as many people do not want to buy a new TV, especially when a new standard, 4K, is emerging. If Apple launches an iTV capable of 4K, it will be very expensive. Currently, 4K TVs cost about $4000. Apple would also once again be competing face-to-face with rival Samsung. Samsung dominates the flat screen TV market. However, we’re talking about Apple. They could make a $4000 TV set, and people would be camping out for weeks to buy one.
Overall, the Apple TV 6.0 update is quite stable. I have used it for a few days, without any problems. You no longer have to fear this notorious update. From my research, the update is no longer “bricking” Apple TVs. The first Apple TV update did not ruin everyone’s Apple TV. It worked for most people. Some people had to restore their device with iTunes. For the rest, Apple offered new devices. It’s a bad mistake, but they recovered gracefully with a working version within a few days.