October 3, 2016 at 5:37 p.m. PST
Apple TV 4’s user interface can be used in a variety of ways. This article presents the fastest, most efficient and best way to use Apple TV 4.
Apple products used to be simple. Critics often pointed out that there was only one way to accomplish a task with a Macintosh or iPhone. Over time, Apple products have evolved. Their operating systems are much more flexible, offering a variety of ways to interact with the user interface. Apple TV 4 is no exception. tvOS can be used in a traditional menu-driven way. There’s also a better and more efficient way to use Apple TV 4.
Menu Driven User Interaction is Inefficient
Menu based user interfaces are old, ingrained patterns. Most of us grew up using computers featuring menu driven user interfaces. For example, Windows is a menu based user interface. Users launch apps using icons, which are literally like the pictographic menus found in diners. Browsing for files, settings and system resources is also accomplished with menus.
If you’re old enough (or very geeky), you’ve probably used command-line computing. This is far more efficient than menu-driven computing. Most Unix commands are two characters, which can be entered faster than opening, scanning and selecting from a menu. Menu-oriented computing came about because it was difficult to learn terminal commands. As computers became more powerful, on-screen graphics presented contextual operations to the user. If you click on a hard drive, the user interface shows you the contents of the drive. There’s a tradeoff between speed and ease of use.
Command prompts still haven’t been replaced. If you own a Mac, some of the more powerful features can only be invoked using Terminal. Some of the best software developers I know don’t use graphical integrated development environments (IDEs), such as Eclipse and Xcode. They write their code in text editors like Vi or Emacs and compile it from the command line. They do this because it’s faster. Most IDEs are quite slow and actually impede great developers. IDEs offer lots of menus and graphical tools so that developers don’t have to learn or memorize anything. Software development is still difficult, but less talented developers can poke around in an IDE and create something that functions (but probably isn’t optimal).
This may seem like a bit of a tangent. What do command prompts and software development have to do with Apple TV? Most people just want to watch Netflix. The point is that there’s a better way to use Apple TV. Most people use Apple TV in an inefficient way. They navigate icons on the Home Screen to launch apps. They drill down into screens of settings every time they need to make a small change. I can’t blame them. Menu-driven user interfaces are so ingrained in our lives. I also used Apple TV 4 like this for almost a year. To be fair, tvOS 9 was buggy and using the menus, closing apps and restarting were necessities.
Upgrade to tvOS 10
tvOS 10 is a major improvement over its predecessor. The previous version of tvOS was embarrassingly bad. There were severe defects, such as screen flickering. I found myself having to restart my Apple TV regularly. If I didn’t constantly close apps, the whole operating system would slow down. Siri misinterpreted half of my requests. I applaud Apple for cutting out tvOS 10 features, such as single sign-on with cable providers, in order to release a quality product. Since upgrading to tvOS 10, I haven’t experienced any serious defects. It has finally allowed me to use Apple TV the easy way.
You can upgrade tvOS by going to Settings > System > Software Updates > Update Software. If you have Automatically Update turned on, your Apple TV 4 should be running tvOS 10 or later. You can check the version from the Software Updates screen. It is displayed under the image of the Apple TV base unit.
I recommend turning off Automatically Update. Although tvOS 10 is a solid release, Apple sometimes puts out flawed software updates. Not so long ago, many people had their Apple TVs “bricked” by version 6.0 of the Apple TV operating system. I do update apps automatically, but not tvOS. It’s always best to wait a few days before upgrading. Make sure to do a Google search for any problems with the new version of tvOS.
Use Siri to Launch Apps
Apple TV 4 introduced Siri to customers’ living rooms. The personal digital assistant interprets spoken commands and can present recommendations, information and perform tasks. Launching apps is a task that Siri does quite well. Simply hold down the Siri (microphone) button on the Siri Remote and say the name of the app. This works with most apps. You may need to say “launch [app name]” to start a few apps, such as Asphalt 8.
Launching an app with Siri is much easier than navigating the Home screen. Even if your icons are placed efficiently, it still takes a few steps to launch an app. You also need to constantly re-arrange the Home screen, which can be a tedious process.
The best thing about launching apps with Siri is that you can do it within other apps. You don’t need to exit to the Home screen. If you’re in Netflix, just hold down the Siri button and say “YouTube”. YouTube will launch immediately. I don’t use folders or arrange the apps on my Home screen. I don’t care what my Home screen looks like. I really don’t see it often. I just launch apps using Siri.
Don’t Close Apps
If you’re launching apps while using another app, eventually you’re going to have a lot of open apps. Don’t worry about it. These apps aren’t really open. When you switch from one app to another, the previous app is passivated. As new apps require resources (memory, CPU, graphics) the previously used app’s state is stored to flash memory. Resources are freed up for the app being used. When you come back to the app, it will usually be in the same state that you left it in.
There is actually more of a disadvantage to closing apps. For example, if you are watching an iTunes movie, the video is cached while you watch it. If you close the Movies app, the cache is erased. When the Movies app is launched again, the video has to be re-downloaded. I found this out the hard way on a night when my Internet service was very slow!
If your Apple TV or app is behaving erratically, closing apps may be warranted. If this is the case, I recommend closing all of your apps and restarting Apple TV. Double tap the Home button (looks like a TV) on the Siri Remote to launch the App Switcher. A stack of app windows appears. Flick up on the Touch surface to close each app. Next, hold down the Menu and Home button until you see the light on your Apple TV base station flash rapidly, then release both buttons. This will restart your Apple TV.
After the tvOS 10 update, I have been using my Apple TV in the aforementioned manner. I launch apps using Siri. I don’t use the Home screen. I never close apps. So far, I haven’t had any problems. Closing apps and restarting Apple TV haven’t been necessary. I save a lot of time and effort this way, and when I return to an app like YouTube or Netflix, I’m usually back where I left off.
Use Siri to Change Settings
We’re all accustomed to changing settings using a menu. Launching the Settings app and drilling down into the menus is a chore. There’s a better way to change frequently used settings. Siri can actually alter some of the most commonly used settings. Users can turn on dark more or light mode with Siri. Just say “dark mode” or “light mode”. I also use Siri to toggle the Reduce Loud Sounds feature. You can say “turn [on/off] Reduce Loud Sounds” or “turn [on/off] Full Dynamic Range”. Subtitles can also be turned on or off using Siri — “turn [on/off] subtitles”. I’m sure there are more settings that can be altered using Siri. These are just the ones I use frequently.
Not all settings can be changed using Siri. If this is the case, it’s still possible to launch the Settings app simply by saying “Settings”. From there, you can drill down into the Settings menus. Hopefully, Apple TV will evolve to the point where most settings can be altered using Siri, and if not, at least it can take you to the appropriate Settings screen.
Use Siri Remote Shortcuts
The Siri Remote offers convenient shortcuts, saving users from having to navigate the screens and menus. Users can put their Apple TV to sleep by holding down the Home (TV set glyph) button on the Siri remote. This displays a dialog box confirming that you want to put your Apple TV to sleep. If you’re really into automation, just let it sleep on its own. Go to Settings > General > Sleep After to set the time interval. If you have an older TV, this won’t turn it off automatically. You need to turn it off using the Home button or Settings > Sleep Now option, and point the remote at your TV.
As mentioned previously, holding down the Menu and Home button simultaneously will restart your Apple TV. Hold both buttons down until the light on the base unit flashes rapidly, then release both buttons.
If you ever need to access the Home screen, this can also be accomplished using the Siri remote. There are two ways to do this. The best way is to press the Home button once. You can also hold down the Menu button.
I only have one reason to access the Home screen — to launch the Screensaver. When I use Google Play Music over AirPlay, I like to launch the Screensaver immediately. I do this by pressing the Home button to access the Home screen. Then I press the Menu button twice to launch the Screensaver. I tried launching the Screensaver using Siri, but it doesn’t work. Perhaps this functionality will be offered in a future update.
Use Apple TV 4 the Best Way
Menu driven user interfaces are so ingrained in our behaviors. I was using Apple TV 4 the old-fashioned way for several months. It was the only way to use my previous Apple TV 2. With tvOS 9, it was often necessary to close apps and restart Apple TV. For the past few weeks, I have been using Apple TV 4 the best way, and there’s no turning back for me. This is the future of computing. Instead of pecking at icons and menu items like chickens, we can just talk to our devices and tell them what to do. It becomes intuitive immediately and these devices become a pleasure to use. Try it yourself, and I’m sure you will agree that it’s the best way to use Apple TV 4.