Apple TV

The Hidden Cost of the New 4K Apple TV

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Before you rush out and buy the latest and greatest Apple TV (the 5th generation Apple TV that supports 4K and HDR video) you need think about the additional data this new device is going to consume. If you have an Apple TV now and use it with a TV that can display HD video (720p or 1080i) then you are already needing to have an internet data connection capable of at least 5 Mb/sec in order to stream video of that quality. But if you want to stream a 4K movie or TV show you are going to need a faster internet connection and that means you are consuming more data for every minute you are watching the higher definition video content.

How Fast Does Your Connection Need To Be?

Netflix recommends that if you want to stream 4K content that you have at least 25 Mb/sec internet speeds (some sources are even recommending a minimum speed of 50 Mb/sec but let's just stick with 25 Mb/sec for now). If you watch 1 hour of 4K video using a 25 Mb/sec internet connection you are going to consume up to 11.25 Gb/hour. If you assume you watch 2 hours of 4K content per day that means you could easily end up using 675 Gb of data each month just to stream 2 hours of 4K content per day (that doesn't even count all the other things you use internet data for).

Data Caps

So why is this such a big deal? Most cable companies put a data cap on your home internet whether you are aware of it or not and some of these data caps are quite small. I use AT&T currently for my home internet service and we have one of the larger data caps, which is 1 Tb (terabyte) per month (or 1000 Gb). Over the last several months I have either run over this data cap or come very close to doing so. In June I went over the 1 Tb limit and the way AT&T handles the data cap is they automatically add on an additional 50 Gb of data at a cost of $10 to your monthly bill. Before the month of June was over I had to add on 3 of these 50 Gb packets of data for a total overage cost of $30. I had 3 kids at home all summer (one of them being an online gamer) so it was no wonder I went over the limit in June. In July and Aug I was able to stay under the limit, but just barely (853 Gb in July and 985 Gb in Aug).

What Does All This Mean?

I have a 4K TV in my house and I would love to take advantage of the higher video resolution, but if I start streaming 4K content to my TV I will with 100% certainty go over my monthly data limit. So if I want 4K content I am either going to have to start paying for these 50 Gb add-ons or switch to an unlimited internet data plan with AT&T for another $30 a month. Given the amount of data 4K streaming takes up my only real option is to go with the unlimited data package. But at $30 a month that is an extra $360 a year I am going to be paying just in home internet data charges alone.

There is a war brewing with internet data providers and it has been brewing for quite some time. Most of the companies (and you are lucky if you have more than one available to you) in your area that offer home internet are also often the same provider of cable TV. They don't want you to buy your movies and TV shows from someone else and stream that content using the data they are providing you, they want to sell you that content instead. So they have structured their "internet data only" plans in such a way as to penalize you if you stream a lot of content. It is their way of getting money out of you in one way or another. But with more content being made available to stream in 4K the average home consumer is going to start using more and more data and start running into these data caps. People are going to get really angry when they realize why these caps are there to begin with and that these internet providers essentially have a monopoly on home internet data services. The only real solution to this problem is for the government to step in a start regulating home internet service like a utility to ensure companies like AT&T are providing internet data to you at fair price regardless of whether you choose to purchase your video content from them or from someone else. Why is this necessary? Because companies like AT&T and other local cable providers have been arguing for years that the cost of putting in place the cables and equipment infrastructure to support internet and cable are so large that they have to be allowed to essentially run the business/service as the sole provider of that service in a given area (the definition of a monopoly). So until the dust settles on this looming data war I think I am going to just try and stay under my current data cap and pocket that $360 a year. It's just not worth that kind of money for a better video resolution.

iPhone Nano?

The new Apple TV remote or is it the new iPhone Nano? 

The new Apple TV remote or is it the new iPhone Nano? 

My son grabbed our new Apple TV remote the other day to charge it and as I saw it laying on the desk plugged in I had a flashback to 2008. Remember all the rumors not long after the original iPhone had just come out and everyone thought Apple would come out with a smaller iPhone (i.e. "iPhone Nano"). The new Apple TV remote form factor makes me think of what I conceptualized as that device. It is interesting to look back at those rumors and contrast them with Apple's recent push to grow the iPhone screen larger and larger. Now with the iPhone 6s Plus and the new iPad Pro, it seems like Apple is only pushing for larger screens instead of smaller screens. However, there are pretty strong rumors that Apple is developing a new phone with a smaller 4" screen size (think iPhone 5 and 5s form factor with iPhone 6 capabilities). My wife will be one of the first ones to buy one of these smaller iPhones if Apple does indeed start selling them. I've been told that girls pants pockets are a little on the small size, although my wife and daughter are telling me that there are some new women's clothes coming out now with an extra pocket sized specifically for the iPhone!

We are starting to see Apple diversify both the iPhone, iPad and Mac Laptops lines. I would love to see Apple go even smaller than a 4" iPhone. I think they need a form factor very similar to the new Apple TV remote and make it a kid phone. Pre-program it with parent, grandparent, a few freinds and "911" speed dials. Impliment a limited "kid friendly" Siri and have it use "Find My Friends" and you have a very limited and inexpensive cell phone that actually makes sense to give to a younger child. I think my youngest daughter, who is 10, is in the minority in her class at school because she does not carry a cell phone. I know there are kid friendly phones out there, but I would love to have one that works in the Apple ecosystem. Maybe, just maybe with Apple diversifying the iPhone lineup they will consider doing something like this. One can hope...

Apple is Using Us as Beta Testers

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It has become evident to me with the last few major product releases from Apple that they are using us a beta testers. If you think about it, it is a rather brilliant move. By shifting the beta testing phase over to the general public you move the product release date and therefore the time to first profits earlier. Apple has a very strong following of "bleeding edge" technology adopters, and these adopts are willing to spend their disposable income on new technology products. So why not use them as beta testers. Not only is Apple not paying us as beta testers, but instead we are in fact both paying Apple for the product and providing them a free service! Below are my reasons for coming to this conclusion:

Apple Watch

I love my Apple Watch, but let's be honest...this is still very much a product in development. Even after Watch OS 2 the complications are still quite slow. If a glance can't be display the information you need to quickly see in less than a second then it is no longer a glance, it is now you holding up your arm uncomfortably starring at your watch hoping that any second now that glance will FINALLY load the information you are wanting to see. Glances are a key feature of Apple Watch and I would argue that they still don't work. As if the glacier speed of glance loading wasn't enough there is also the bluetooth connectivity of the Apple Watch. Bluetooth connections are so painful and finicky that I have given up trying to pair my bluetooth headphones to my Apple Watch for running and just use my iPod Nano instead. It isn't just initial connection that is unreliable either. When I'm out on my bike I will drop the connection between my Apple Watch and my headphones on average 4 or 5 times over the course of an hour and my Apple Watch has a direct line of sight to headphones. I don't have these drop outs when using my iPhone tucked into the back of my jersey or with my iPod Nano strapped to my arm. Despite these frustrations, I wouldn't give up my Apple Watch for anything. The one thing for me that it does really well is this...it allows me to totally silence (both sound and vibrations) on my important iPhone notifications go to my watch and all other notifications are silently sent to lock screen notifications. No more phantom iPhone vibrations and missed texts or calls. Totally worth the price of admission for me.

Apple TV

The new Apple TV is another example for Apple releasing a Beta product. First off, the old Apple TV had a companion iOS app that would allow iOS devices to be used as a remote control. This made it super simple to enter in long passwords on your Apple TV. But not with the new Apple TV. As of this writing, there is still no companion iOS app for the new Apple TV. So you have to manually enter in your passwords by scrolling back and forth across the TV screen...excruciating! I can't imagine how Apple could have justified NOT having an app like they had available for the previous Apple TV available at launch unless they were treating the new Apple TV release as a beta release. Then there is Siri. Siri actually works really well on the new Apple TV, except that it has no functionality with Apple Music. Apple is only a few months into it's new music streaming service, yet it's brand new product doesn't work well with that service.

Most people just want tech to "work," a phrase that Apple has used to describe the Mac and iOS devices for many years. I am enjoying both the Apple Watch and Apple TV products, even though I personally believe they are both very much still a work in progress. I like fiddling with technology, but it makes it hard to try and explain these shortfalls to people that DON'T like fiddling with technology. I will continue to buy new Apple products without hesitation, but I am going to be a little more reserved about recommending other people do the same. The average consumer doesn't want to be a beta tester and I certainly don't want to have to help walk my frustrated friends and family through all the steps to troubleshoot these "beta" products.

Apple TV 3rd Gen Wifi Issues

Quite a while back I purchased 6 Apple TVs for use around Kennedy Space Center. I set them up in conference room mode in lobbies and in the Starbucks cafe as a way for people to collaborate outside of the conference room. The only problem with this was that the Apple TVs were dropping their wifi connections within 24 hours and since they were setup in conference room mode without remote controls there was no way for users to reconnect to wifi. So the Apple TVs weren't getting used.

So I did a little bit of digging online and found a 9 to 5 Mac article that talks about an internal Apple memo authorizing the replacement of 3rd generation Apple TVs that have wifi connection issues. So I called up Apple and at first they said my Apple TVs were outside of their 1-year warranty. I then explained the dropped internet wifi issue and that I was pretty sure it was a known issue and that Apple had an out of warranty replacement program. The person on the phone was extremely helpful and said to bring in the Apple TVs to an Apple Store Genius Bar so they could verify they had wifi issues and they would be replaced. So I took them into Apple all 6 Apple TVs were replaced.

If you have a 3rd generation Apple TV that is having issues connecting to wifi networks or is unable to stay connected it is possible you have a unit that is covered by Apple beyond the original 1-year warranty. Check your Apple TV's serial number against the 9 to 5 Mac article. Although, keep in mind that the article is incorrect. The memo shown in the article says that the "third and fourth alphanumeric characters of the serial number" but it's not the 3rd and 4th characters it is actually the 4th and 5th.

There isn't a ton of data out there on this issue so I wanted to write short post about it confirming that Apple is really replacing 3rd generation Apple TVs units that are having these problems.

Using Flickr Photos for the Apple TV Screen Saver

This week I spent some time setting up a couple of Apple TVs in conference rooms and building lobby areas at work. While doing this I encountered a problem I needed to solve. I wanted to run the Apple TVs in conference room mode so that when the screen saver kicked in there was also a set instructions displayed showing the user how to stream data from their device to the Apple TV. What do I use for screen saver photos? This is a work environment so I wanted make sure the photos were both appropriate for work and that they also were also photos that all had a similar theme to our line of work. The Apple TVs are not linked to an iCloud or Apple ID so streaming photos from a connected computer or an iCloud account was not going to work. My best option was to use Flickr, but how? I found a Flickr user that posted photos that worked perfectly for our work environment, but how do I link that user to the Apple TV screen saver. Here's how you do that:

First, browse through Flickr and find a photos from user would like to use as your Apple TV. Once you have found a user go to the Flickr Find User Page and perform a search for that user to make sure you have the exact Flickr user name (proper case and spacing). Once you have that, go into Apple TV:

 Settings  > Screen Saver

...and from within the screen saver menu you will have an option to use Flickr photos for your screen saver photos. Now, instead of doing a search for Flickr photos you want to "Add Flickr Contact" a nd enter in the exact name of the Flickr user that you found and want to use for your screen saver photos. After the Apple TV finds that Flickr user you then have a choice of selecting either groups/collections of photos within that user's account or using all of the most recent photos. The Flickr user I went with was NASA on The Commons. What ever photos you choose try to stick to official looking Flickr accounts, especially if you are worried about the types of photos that may end up being added to that account in the futur and displayed on your Apple TV. In my case the NASA on The Commons Flickr stream is a great collection of historical NASA photos...just what I was looking for.

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