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Daring Fireball: Cultural Insularity and Apple TV

John Gruber shares his opinions on the new Apple TV 4K. I see his points, and mostly agree with him, but I have a few nitpicks.

The lack of Dolby Atmos support in the Apple TV 4K was a sticking point in several reviews. Atmos support is supposedly coming to Apple TV in a software update, though, so the obvious difference between these products is price.

The difference is certainly amplilfied by the price difference, but the fact of the matter is that the Apple TV 4K is priced as a premium product, and has far more shortcomings for a premium audience than Gruber mentions here. The very fact that Apple released the Apple TV 4K without Atmos support (or Dolby TrueHD, Dolby DTS-MA, or any other high-quality audio format) is baffling to me. At a bare minimum, if they were planning Atmos support in a future software update, they should have announced that fact. Right now, its still conjecture.

In addition, the Apple TV 4K is missing other features that lower-priced competitors have that are important to the home theater crowd, such as automatic mode switching. If I'm watching content that is created at 60 frames per second, I want to watch it natively in that framerate on my TV or projector. If its 24fps, switch to that. Even cable boxes support this feature.

Another nitpick:

Without ever having looked at the new Fire TV (I did pre-order one, though, so I can), I’m sure that Apple TV is a more powerful device. The new Fire TV doesn’t even have a power cord — it just dangles as a dongle plugged into an HDMI port.

Two things:

  1. No one cares about raw "power," they care about what the device does with that power. I think Gruber is usually a champion of this, so I'm not sure why he points to power as a differentiator.
  2. The new Fire TV does, in fact, have a power cable. They just don't show it in the pictures. As far as I know, you can't deliver power over HDMI, but I could be wrong?

Finally, to Gruber's point about competing on price:

I like Apple TV a lot, but I think Apple is ceding marketshare by not having a box that competes on price. I think there are a lot of people who look at iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks and see them as “expensive but worth it” but who look at Apple TV and see it as “ridiculously overpriced”.

If Apple wanted to go after the consumer market, it would have to do so with the current feature set of the Apple TV 4K, at a price point in the $99 range, which is still more expensive than the Fire TV. If they want a premium product that they can sell at a premium price point like $179 or $199, the box needs to be targeted at home theater enthusiasts with expensive TVs, projectors, and sound systems.

The Apple TV is a confusing product. In many ways, its clear that its still a hobby for Apple. This is where I think Gruber and I largely agree:

It’s not enough to make a better set-top box. It has to be obviously better. I don’t think Apple TV’s current lineup makes that case.

Well said.