Apple has done such a good job of improving the iPhone, iPad, and Mac upgrade experience in the last few years that I’ve come to take it for granted that when I buy a new piece of Apple hardware to replace an old one, I will be able to fairly quickly transfer all my stuff and go about my business.
Unfortunately, the Apple TV is still woefully behind on this front, as I discovered last week when I set up a new third-generation Apple TV 4K in my living room. Apple’s got some work to do here.
The setup starts promisingly: You can bring your iPhone near the Apple TV, and it will automatically log your Apple ID in. If you’ve got the One Home Screen feature turned on, all your apps will load and appear in all the right places. It will feel like you’ve done a data transfer.
But it’s all a mirage.
One Home Screen is a nice feature, but it’s not an iCloud backup of your Apple TV, nor is it the Apple TV equivalent of Migration Assistant. It is exactly what its name suggests—a home-screen-syncing feature and nothing more.
So after setting up my new Apple TV, I then had to log into every single streaming app. And I’ve got a lot of streaming apps—you know, for my work.
Not only is this process tedious, but it’s also inconsistent. Things aren’t as bad as they were in the olden days when you had to laboriously enter user names and passwords by typing them in on the on-screen Ouija Board by clicking a remote. These days, most streaming apps have you use your phone to log in on their website and enter a pairing code to validate your Apple TV.
But not all. Some would prefer that you enter a username and password manually. At least Apple TV remembers your email address and suggests it, so you don’t have to retype it, and if you’re using a password manager (either Apple’s or third-party apps like 1Password) on your iPhone, you can generally auto-fill your password from right on your iPhone via its Apple TV remote control capability.
And then there are a few apps that have cleverly built “local log-in” into their iPhone or iPad app. These apps, like Disney+, claim that you can open the app on the same network as your Apple TV, and the app will sense it and log you in automatically. I have tried this on multiple Apple TVs and have never gotten it to work.
Along the way, I was also forced to create a new password for Hulu (a part of Disney’s ongoing account merging and migration), enter the name of my local Channels server, and a bunch of other small items.
The end result was that I spent almost half an hour setting up this new Apple TV to work with the stuff my old Apple TV worked with. There’s got to be a better way! Yes, I know authentication is difficult, and even iOS migrations tend to lose certain connections with outside services. But right now, I’m not seeing any attempt by Apple to make migration easier.
In the past few years, Apple has ironed out most of the wrinkles of the experience of buying a new iPhone. I realize that the Apple TV is never going to be the company’s highest priority and that Apple TV boxes don’t get upgraded very often, but the current experience is just not up to Apple’s standards.
Whether it’s an iCloud restore, a device-to-device transfer, a new method for storing authentication (iCloud keychain?) connected to your Apple ID, or something else, Apple ought to do something to make this process a lot smoother.