Apple TV: Imaging a better UX

One can create a folder of apps, why not a folder of films?

There is no denying the Apple TV is a remarkable device. Its only significant flaws can be attributed to Apple’s negligence toward iTunes — first in macOS which has trickled into iOS and tvOS. The iTunes experience hasn’t improved in a meaningful way since the birth of the iPod. For a film lover like me who has chosen iTunes as my digital film provider, actually browsing my own library is remarkably frustrating. Not only is the Apple TV slow to load larger libraries, its options for browsing your library are seriously limited. You can scroll down an alphabetical list or browse by Apple’s awful genre categorization. Why is that all that’s available?

Purchased screen, Recent Purchases (how recent?).
Purchased screen, All Movies (alphabetical)
Purchased screen, All Movies (alphabetical)

No streaming service or paid-for digital video service allows users to curate their own collections of films.

I propose that Apple, with all their clout in the industry, be the ones to change this glaring oversight. Give Apple TV users the ability to create their own “collections “ of films in their library. Say you love Christmas films and wish there was a way to easily browse all the films you personally qualify as “Christmas films”. You could create such a list and label it to your choosing. Then you could add films to it and browse this library collection by that unique grouping. This functionality is nothing new—it’s analogous to playlists in iTunes. Why don’t we have this ability yet? Who wants to go through the arduous task of remembering what films you own, browsing them alphabetically and ultimately succumbing to paralysis by analysis. If only we could create meaningful groups of films. For a film lover like me who watches films annually and by season/holiday, this is just a sad experience.

Imagining what Collections might look like on the Apple TV

Along with showcasing how such a UX change might be executed I’ve introduced some minor but important UI improvements along the way.

This redesign strives to:

  1. Provide better library management through the creation and management of user-curated collections of films.
  2. Give users better defined active states. In my experience using the Apple TV it’s not always clear which item is actively selected.
  3. Provide clearer actions throughout. Give users defined actions to manage their list. This is shown below in the “By collection” sidebar for “Manage collections”. One could also edit the active collection they’re browsing by clicking the “Collection actions” button above the grid of items.
  4. Surface some extra details that may otherwise be buried in settings
Redesigned sidebar with clear active states and an action to change which library you’re loading (say you have Family Sharing enabled or you’d like to sign into your iTunes account at a friend’s house) and provides a way to manage your collections.
When your collection is expanded to browse the movies that make up the collection, the sidebar is collapsed.
Users can manage their collection using the Collection actions button above the item grid.

I only wish Apple allowed developers to execute custom iTunes library applications on the Apple TV. If they did, I would seriously consider creating this experience or working with a group of people who could make it happen.

iTunes dead? All hail TV/Movies app?

I’m hoping that Apple addresses some of its legacy ancient code over the next few years. It’s only a matter of time before someone else comes along and makes something better. Well, one can hope, right? The reality is that no other ecosystem offers such a robust library. Google Movies is getting better all the time but still falling short in comparison. The same could be said for Amazon. As I am editing this post now (June 2019) Apple has announced its plans for the end of iTunes (except on Windows). Maybe the new Movies app will finally give us a more modern experience and management of our purchased media?

Owning media versus streaming?

We are living in a time in which owning digital collections might not even make sense. I choose to invest, digitally, because one can never count on favorite films being available on streaming services and one only has so much physical space for DVDs. In the media management and the streaming world, Plex is the one service in which you can make playlists out of your own purchased media (TV/Film/Music/Podcasts in one playlist). It’s great, but not all my media is in Plex nor is it practical. What I really want is for Plex to merge with iTunes and/or Netflix. That would be kind of amazing. Plex has already collaborated to bring Tidal to Plex on the music side, so perhaps they are working on an equivalent on the film/tv side? One can only hope.