I bought an Apple TV for the AirPlay streaming from iOS devices. How could I live without that? So awesome!
— Martin Weigert (@martinweigert) June 24, 2013
Lately, using AirPlay between iOS devices and AppleTV has become a frustrating experience for me. Lots of small yet frustrating issues.
— Martin Weigert (@martinweigert) August 2, 2015
A bit more than 2 years ago I bought an Apple TV. Shortly after I hardly could imagine living without the black little box. I expressed my enthusiasm both in a tweet and blog post (German only). What amazed me the most was the frictionless and smooth streaming of content from the iPhone and iPad through AirPlay and Apple TV to my TV set. It always worked perfectly and reminded me of why Apple’s legendary promise “It just works” was more than just a marketing slogan.
I am using Apple TV basically on a daily basis, mostly to play back videos, podcasts or music from my iOS devices on my TV set. However, my initial satisfaction with this process has been lost. Because over time, the quality of the interaction between other Apple devices and the Apple TV box has gotten quite bad.
Instead of “It just works”, a slogan like “There is always some issue” would be more appropriate nowadays. In fact hardly any day goes without some minor trouble. Sometimes my iPhone or iPad cannot find the Apple TV on the network (despite being connected to the same Wi-Fi network). Or the connection works, but whenever I try to play a video or music stream, the playback inexplicably does not start. On other days, this process works fine, but then the AirPlay connection is suddenly interrupted for no apparent reason.
If you look at all these issues separately, they do not appear especially noteworthy. But taken together they ensure a rather frustrating user experience. I am especially irritated about that because I still remember how great this whole thing worked in the beginning. A look at this raving tweet from 2013 shows it. I am not sure but I think the trouble started some time a year ago, or maybe only half a year ago. Since then I have been using two different Apple TV devices in two separate Wi-Fi networks and in conjunction with a bunch of iOS and Mac OS X devices, always encountering the same problems. So while my experience obviously is not representative, the fact alone that I started to experience these things is a bad sign in itself. For consumers who want it frustrating, there were always plenty of gadgets and systems available on the market. But so far I was under the impression that Apple’s products do not count into that category, and my initial experiences with the Apple TV actually proved that.
One can speculate about the reasons for why Apple TV and AirPlay have seemingly gotten unreliable and buggy over time. In a few weeks Apple is said to release a new version of Apple TV. At least theoretically increasing issues with existing devices could be a way for the company to push people into an upgrade. This so called “planned obsolescence” is an object of intense debate among experts and something that Apple has been accused of in the past, too. Whether this really is happening here or not is hard to pinpoint, though.
Another explanation could be that Apple’s engineers simply did not spend enough time to improve and optimize the interaction process between iOS/OS X and the Apple TV through AirPlay. So while the latest versions of iOS and OS X brought many improvements, they might have introduced issues and bugs regarding AirPlay which did not exist previously. That could also be seen as a sign that the never-ending pursuit of perfectionism that Steve Jobs was well-known for is not being continued by his successor Tim Cook.
In any case, for me the Apple TV box started as a game changer which impressed me with its reliability and trouble-free usage, but it turned into a source of annoyance and frustration. Despite or maybe because of that, I am pretty curious to see the next generation of the device. Truth be told: Despite my recent dissatisfaction, I would not want to be without the possibilities that come with Apple TV (or a similar device – but obviously due to my Apple-centric hardware, a Chromecast or Amazon’s Fire TV Stick are no option for me).