New Apple TV makes cutting cable that much easier

"The future of TV is apps."

This is what Apple CEO Tim Cook told a room full of developers, journalists and Apple employees during the company's most recent keynote back in September. While the sentiment is debatable, it's crystal clear from the moment Apple TV boots up for the first time that Cook's beliefs would be what either made the microconsole a success or failure.

Because the Apple TV, if nothing else, is a hub of app activity.

Approaching it from an entertainment perspective, there were a few apps that demanded to be explored, but none more so than Netflix. For any console, digital media box, or microconsole, having Netflix built in as a third-party app has become the new definition of basic standard. As more and more people move away from traditional cable television packages, which is what Cook alluded to with his earlier television prediction, Netflix has become the go-to replacement, followed closely by streaming services like Hulu and Amazon Prime.

The new, fourth generation Apple TV doesn't just provide a standard Netflix experience, though. Working closely with the platform, Apple has completely integrated its own technology into their Netflix app. The result?

One of the best Netflix experiences available.

The most impressive feature of Apple TV's Netflix app comes at the hand of Siri's integration. When you're setting up the microconsole, the box will ask if you want to activate or disable Siri on the device. The only answer is activate. The ability to ask Siri to do a variety of tasks may seem gimmicky, or even plain annoying, but in choosing to disable the feature, you're also choosing to ignore the best part about the system.

In Netflix, for example, you can not only ask Siri to fast forward to a specific time in whatever show or movie you're watching, you can also ask Siri to rewind a scene you just watched and clarify what the character said. Picture watching The Dark Knight, for example, and trying to figure out just what Christian Bale's Batman asked Heath Ledger's Joker during the infamous interrogation scene.

Not only will Siri rewind it and give you a second chance to decipher Bale's cryptically menacing tone, but it will also provide subtitles for that one specific scene before dropping them from the screen completely so as not to interfere with the rest of your viewing experience.

It's not the only nifty little trick that brings a whole new feeling to an otherwise standard app. One of the features I found most interesting was the ability to ask Siri to switch to a different movie or show while in the middle of watching something. The transition is seamless, with Netflix jumping from one program to the next within seconds and without having to return to the title screen.

Getting even more specific, if you ask Siri to bring up all the available Nicholas Cage movies, for example, Siri will pull the movie posters for each and display them at the bottom of the screen while your movie is playing in-app. Unfortunately, Siri can't decipher what's available in Netflix and what's available through iTunes, so there are times when Siri will jump from Netflix into iTunes and ask if you want to rent or purchase the new Nicholas Cage film (and why wouldn't you?). However, simply hitting the Menu button — which works as the back button on the remote — returns you to the movie you were watching on Netflix, picking up exactly where you left off.

Speed was the other notable aspect about Netflix on the Apple TV that I didn't find on other streaming devices, including Google's Chromecast and the Roku, which runs on Android technology. It's incredibly fast. Almost unbelievably fast. With an update to the actual user interface that far surpasses previous versions of the app on earlier Apple TV generations, it looks and handles like Netflix's desktop client. It's just as easy to navigate and the time it takes to load up a movie is almost nonexistent. Built around Apple's entirely new A8 chip (that can also be found in its iPhone 6 and 6S series), the new Apple TV was built with speed in mind over anything else. As superfluous as the concept of speed seems when watching a movie on Netflix or streaming a concert on one of their many music apps, not having to wait a couple of minutes for an app to load or for a video to load within that app creates an entirely new experience.

In a way, Netflix is just the starting point for Apple TV and those looking to cut the cable cord completely. After spending hours with it, although it's clear that this won't replace traditional television boxes you'd get from your provider, for someone who gets the majority of their TV and movie fixes through streaming services, Apple TV provides the best convenience on the market.

It should be noted that there aren't many exclusive apps available to Apple TV just yet as far as home entertainment goes, but after comparing Hulu, Showtime, the newly enabled Plex and Netflix on the microconsole to other streaming devices like the Roku and Chromecast, it is undoubtedly the smoothest option. Jumping from Hulu to Netflix takes mere seconds, and if Siri is enabled, doesn't even require much playing around with Apple's new TV remote.

When I was playing around with it, the one thought that ran through my head constantly was that the microconsole would be perfect for someone heading off to college or moving out on their own for the first time and trying to cut costs. It's a small device that takes up hardly any space and the only thing it requires is a constant wi-fi connection and an HDMI slot on the physical TV or monitor being used. If you're someone who shares Netflix or HBO Now passwords with friends and family members, and you're just looking to continuously stream your home entertainment, the Apple TV is a pretty good and fairly cheap option.

But that's about all Apple TV is really good for. I downloaded almost every single entertainment app available in Apple's App store and explored each one, trying to find a hidden gem within its back catalogue. Unfortunately, there aren't any related strictly to traditional entertainment. The apps that seem important to have, like ABC and NBC news services, are wonky and tedious to navigate. Vimeo's interface is uninviting, Funny or Die's content is sparse and Vevo would often not even load on occasion. Unlike Roku, music streaming services like Spotify and Rdio weren't available to download, and considering this will essentially become an entire entertainment system for some people, I found that  incredibly strange. There are various radio stations that Apple has available for those looking to get some kind of music app on their device, but none that compare to the aforementioned streaming services.

The issue with the entertainment apps is that it makes it appear like Apple doesn't know what it wants their TV service to be. There are gif-making, cat-watching and photo collage apps that aren't cohesive with the user interface the company has set up. What's the point in having a gif-making app or even an app dedicated to displaying gifs if you can't share your creations? As of right now, there are no plans to bring social media services like Facebook and Twitter to the TV, but that's the only situation where it makes sense to have these apps available.

While these apps are supposed to provide a bit of extra entertainment for Apple TV users, it comes across like an empty promise. Here are these apps that could potentially be fun and interesting to have as part of an interactive television experience, but instead their gimmicky nature and lack of design change to incorporate the microconsole's new interface just clutters up the space you have on the box.

The only other app that was mildly interesting, both in concept and execution, was Madefire Comics and Motion Books.

The app is already available on iOS and Android devices, but the move to Apple TV makes the cinematic experience of a motion comic far more interesting. The sound effects are well done and the ability to just swipe across the top of the remote to get to the next panel works extremely well, but even then, the app feels like an extra something for users that deters from the actual point of the new system: streaming.

When everything else is stripped away, when all that's left are the various streaming apps, there's almost nothing out there like the Apple TV for that price. Unlike Chromecast, I didn't experience one connection drop when watching different shows (for the record, it was mostly Archer) and I didn't have problems connecting to the service. Unlike Roku, the navigation is simple and being able to ask Siri to do everything for you sounds incredibly lazy, but actually enhances the entire experience.

The future of TV is not apps, as Tim Cook suggested a couple of months ago. The future of TV is providing fast and reliable services for people to watch their shows. Right now, Apple TV is cluttered with useless apps that distract from what it's actually built to do, but for those looking to finally cut the cord and pick up a microconsole that will supply them with a decent home entertainment package, the new, fourth-generation Apple TV is a pretty good place to start.

StoryStream: The new Apple TV