I've experienced the evolution of the Apple TV interface from its early beginnings to the current implementation. Although I agree with some in this forum that the new UI is not as beautiful as the previous iteration, I must say it certainly is more functional. Let me explain.
The previous version was simply gorgeous
. With subdued colours and a simplistic design, it blended into the background as what it was intended to be: the "default" or "home" screen of your TV set. It was never intended to be a destination, just the transient stop that enabled you to make a content selection. And when a selection was made, a movie, a TV show, or even a song, it
took the center stage. There was a clear distinction between the boring (yet beautiful) menu screen, and the content it presented.
Amidst all its beauty and appeal, the default screen had one rather nasty flaw. It was not scalable. What's more, the limits it imposed were painfully felt throughout your daily navigation.
Sure, it was better than many other systems out there, and it was still gorgeous to behold; but the content selections kept growing, and navigating through them was getting a bit tenuous.
At fault, mostly, was the "Internet" section. It seemed that everything that was not strictly an iTunes movie or TV show, or that did not exist in your computer, fell under "Internet." That's mostly because the Apple TV was growing into an access point of Internet services, and that wasn't going stop.
All those services made the list under "Internet" grow beyond what could be displayed, making the user scroll down. Not only did the scrolling prevent easy discoverability of new options, but it forced the user to navigate through all
options in order to get to the ones at the bottom.
What to do, then? The "Internet" section could be decomposed further, but this would expand the number of buttons in the menu bar, and lets face it, that bar would not make things easier if it kept growing outside
the periphery of the TV screen.
In comes the new screen layout, designed for a growing selection of options and services, or like some people call them, "apps."
As I understand the new design, it seems that Apple has classified all available content into the three obvious classes: iTunes content, your own content in your computer, and everything else
. And really, this is just a natural realization from the usage of the previous UI version.
Once this insight is grasped and put in its proper context, the entire UI makes a lot of sense, and its virtues can be appreciated.
To start, the top half of the screen always displays prominently the most common items from the currently selected button or "app," including perhaps most recent selections, depending on the category. This aids navigation, and allows you to easily return to previously accessed or popular content.
Then, the bottom half of the screen, by default, shows the four main
buttons: "Movies," "TV Shows," "Computers," and "Settings." These are the bread and butter of the Apple TV: the content provided by iTunes, and that available in your own computer. They are shown first and foremost in the default screen because they are expected to be the most commonly used ones, and to some significant measure of users, perhaps the only
options they'll need.
Following the main row of "apps" is what looks like half of the next row. This is done in a tasteful way that lets the user know without doubt that there is more to the Apple TV than the main row, but without cluttering the screen with all options at once. Navigating into any of these options will scroll the screen up, filling it with more of these additional "apps." The user can then access any of them at once, or scroll back up to the main row.
This new layout allows for a greater selection of "apps" without hampering discoverability or navigation: the user can see more items at once in a screen-full of "app" buttons than on a narrow vertical menu of the Apple TV 2.0. Also, the user can select any "app" simply by navigating the grid rather than having to scroll through all items to get from one end to the other, as in the previous version.
Thus, I feel this new UI is much more functional and definitely more scalable than the previous one. I do, however, feel there were some questionable choices made in the overall "look." For instance, out is the old subdued colour scheme of bluish grays and white on black, and in come a variety of gaudy colours polluting the screen. It is hard to distinguish at first glance what is content, which is important, and what is an "app," which should just be part of the furniture.
Not only are the colours bright and flashy, but the visual emphasis this causes obscures the selection cursor. It is sometimes hard to tell which item is actually selected; the slight blue "glow" surrounding the selected item blends much too easily with the button colours.
To me the whole thing looks like it was designed for children. If it wasn't for the easy navigation and the very functional approach, I'd be fooled into believing it was designed by Microsoft.
is easily fixed, especially by Apple. Functional
and easy to use
is a lot harder, and that's already there.