My Thoughts on the Apple TV

A few months ago my father-in-law let me borrow his first generation Roku. I hooked it up to the smaller TV in the basement our kids normally use to play video games. I was surprised to find them using it more than I had imagined and decided to purchase one of the newer Roku models for our larger TV upstairs.

While at Best Buy I checked out the Roku 3 they had on display and was impressed at how much more responsive the menu was compared to the older model at home. That’s when a Best Buy associate asked if I watched HBO. I told him that yes, we do watch a number of shows on HBO, such as Game of Thrones. He then asked if I was a Comcast, Dish or DirecTV customer. When I told him DirecTV he cringed and I figured there must be a catch.

Of course, there’s a catch. There’s always a catch when dealing with cable or satellite providers.

What I found out was that DirecTV doesn’t allow HBO streaming over a Roku device. Of course, they do allow it over Xbox and Apple TV (and probably other similar devices) but not Roku. I have no idea why. I had no reason not to believe the Best Buy associate but did a quick Google search on my iPhone to confirm the bad news.

So I ended up buying the $99 Apple TV even though it has fewer apps than the Roku. I was disappointed, but that didn’t last too long. When I got home, I plugged the Apple TV into the back of my Samsung TV via HDMI cable and began the setup process.

And here is where Apple schools everyone – they make the setup process as painless as possible.

As you begin the setup process, the Apple TV asks if you own an iOS device. I have an iPhone so, once I select the automatic setup link, the Apple TV connected to my iPhone and pulled off data to connect to my iTunes Store account, configured itself for my Wi-Fi network and chose my language, region, and format preferences. I assume the Apple TV came with an instruction booklet but I didn’t need it.

I wish it could have transferred over my Netflix account and password but otherwise, the entire setup process is brilliant.

Using the Apple is like every other Apple product I own in that someone has taken great pains to make sure even the smallest of details are clear and easily understood. The remote has three buttons and the best testimonial I can give it is that my 5-year old can use it. That’s not the case with the DirecTV remote which must have been designed by someone who hates life.

Everything works as you expect it to work and is a joy to use. Since I added the Apple TV, our Xbox and horrendous “Genie” DVR from DirecTV haven’t been used as much. The Xbox sounds like a jet engine once the fans spin up and DirecTV seems more interested in placing more and more ads inside their guide than delivering a quality product. If it were not for live sports, I’d get rid of DirecTV today and I still may do that soon.

I’m not going to cover all the features of Apple TV. A full list of available channels is available here. But I wanted to mention our favorite feature called AirPlay. In short, it allows me to stream pictures or video from my iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad to the Apple TV. This sounds geeky but is freaking awesome in practice. Tonight, my daughter took pictures of her brother who turned 1-years old today and then sent them to the TV for us all to see.

So, although I was initially bummed about the Roku 3, I’m thrilled I ended up with the Apple TV.

Apple Support

While at a friend’s birthday party last Friday evening, Luca dropped her iPod Touch and the screen cracked. She was almost as devastated as her father.

I went to the Apple website and was quickly able to determine what support options were available. Since the nearest Apple store is two hours away in Las Vegas, I decided to send the broken iPod Touch to Apple. The whole process took less than five minutes.

Apple provided the address to the nearest UPS Store where we’d drop off the iPod. UPS would take it from there which included the boxing and postage which is a very nice touch. That was last Saturday.

On Monday Apple sent me an email saying that had received my daughter’s iPod and would follow up shortly. On Tuesday I received another email saying I should expect shipment of the replacement iPod by Thursday.

Today, another blue iPod Touch arrived in the mail. It took about 20 minutes to restore the backup from my PC to the iPod. It was an expensive $150 lesson to learn, but Apple’s support is nothing short of fantastic.

Last week my friend told me how it took him a month to get Samsung to replace a damaged Galaxy 4 phone. No way could I go back to typically crappy support like that.

Apple is one company where you might pay a little more but, in return, you receive a lot more too.

Devices! Devices! Devices!

Steve Ballmer, in an email to Microsoft employees today:

“Going forward, our strategy will focus on creating a family of devices and services for individuals and businesses that empower people around the globe at home, at work, and on the go, for the activities they value most.”

Now that’s interesting.

The CEO of the world’s largest software company says Microsoft will focus on devices and services.

Translation: Ballmer wants to morph Microsoft into a mix of Apple (devices) and Google (services).

Where does Windows fit into Ballmer’s plans? Well, Windows is already running on Microsoft’s three primary devices: Surface tablet, Xbox, and Windows Phone. And the current head of Windows and Surface engineering, Julie Larson-Green, is now in charge of the new Devices and Studios group.

Microsoft still builds a crapload of other products. But none are as important as those Larson-Green is now tasked with growing.  Microsoft has seen clear success with the Xbox, and with the Xbox One on the horizon, should maintain their lead in the cutthroat console business.

But the Surface and Windows Phone are basically non-players in a game being dominated by Apple and Samsung. If Larson-Green can turn them around to become a bona-fide competition in the smartphone and tablet markets, then Ballmer should turn over the CEO keys to her.

How much are two well-known devices worth to Apple?

The iPhone, which Ballmer famously mocked, has been around since 2007 while the iPad didn’t show up until 2010. These two products now drive more revenue and profit than every Microsoft product and service combined. In fact, the iPhone, on its own, is larger than Microsoft in terms of revenue and profit.

Ballmer finally appears to realize that mobile is the future, even for the company that built the desktop.

Fact Checking the WSJ

About ten days ago the Wall Street Journal reported that “people familiar with the situation” said that Apple cut iPhone 5 component orders in half. According to their anonymous source, demand for Apple’s flagship phone “haven’t been as strong as anticipated”.

Luckily we now have Apple’s Q4 financials along with those from AT&T and Verizon to fact check the WSJ’s anonymous source. Two days ago, Apple announced they had sold 47.8 million iPhones during the last three months of 2012. I’m not sure what this anonymous person considers strong, but that sounds like strong demand to me. But that’s not all the data we have because today AT&T released its Q4 2012 financial report including the following smartphone sales figures:

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That gives Apple 84% of all smartphones sold on AT&T, which isn’t surprising given the iPhone has been available on their network since day one.

So what about Verizon, where the iPhone has been on sale a little less than two years? I mean, you can’t walk by a Verizon store without seeing wall to wall DROID ads. Surely, all those DROID and Samsung Galaxy ads must be driving massive Android sales at Verizon, right?

Well, let’s take a look at Verizon’s Q4 2012 financial report and see what we can find:

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So the iPhone is outselling Android and everyone else by a 2 to 1 margin on the network that pushes DROID on potential customers like Best Buy pushes extended warrantees.

And where are all those Samsung Galaxy phones being sold? At least once a week someone tells me it’s outselling the iPhone. Maybe it’s the nearly $12 billion Samsung spent on advertising, commissions, and sales promotions in 2012 that is clouding their judgment. I don’t know. They must be selling like hotcakes somewhere.

Just not on America’s two largest carriers.

I’m sure the WSJ will publish a follow-up story about how Apple needs to release a “cheaper iPhone” in order to remain competitive. Just like they needed to build a netbook.

Keep up the good work, WSJ!

I Bought an iPhone 5 at Walmart

Kim has been begging me to purchase a better camera than what she currently uses which is the camera on her iPhone 4. When I read online that Walmart was selling the iPhone 5 for $127, I decided the time had come.

I wasn’t sure if Walmart had phones in stock or if they were still running the promotion so I decided to call two stores in my area. Here is my experience:

1. Called, transferred to Electronics where nobody answered.

2. Called, transferred to Electronics where nobody answered.

3. Called, transferred to mobile services where nobody answered.

4. Called, transferred to mobile services where nobody answered.

5. Called, transferred to Electronics where a man answered but said I needed to speak with mobile services. He transferred me to mobile services where nobody answered.

6. I went to Walmart and made my way to mobile services which is located inside the Electronics department. Asked woman if she sold the iPhone 5. She said they were in stock but she could not sell them to me because, “the system goes down in five minutes" but I could return tomorrow. “What system?” I asked. “The system where you buy an iPhone.” she replied.

7. I went to the same Walmart this morning where four Walmart associates were helping customers. I asked if the system was up and the woman asked, “What system do you mean?” I said, “The system that lets people buy iPhones.” which resulted in a strange look on the face of the associate.

8. The associate was courteous as she took down my account information. Two other associates, standing less than five feet from me, were talking potential customers out of any phone that wasn’t a Samsung Android phone. I had a difficult time keeping my mouth shut when one of the male associates told a customer who had inquired about the iPhone that one “couldn’t do anything with an iPhone until it was jailbroken”.

9. After my account information had been entered into the system, the printer decided to crap out. The women asked me to wait a few minutes until she could figure out the problem. She tried turning it off and back on again. Nothing.

10. All the while, several more customers came to the counter to inquire about the iPhone 5. When the male associate couldn’t talk them into an Android phone, he asked them to stand in line behind me.  At one point, he flashed his Samsung Note at a couple and said, “I have an iPod and an iPad, but I won’t buy an iPhone. This here is the phone you want.” Around the time where he pulled out a stylus, the couple had seen enough and got in line behind me.

11. The printer was still refusing to print. The women helping me was getting frustrated and began clicking around her screen. When I was about ready to ask if I should come back later, the printer came to life!

12. I signed my name and dated four sheets of paper.

13. The woman handed me off to one of her coworkers who offered to help setup my phone.  By now, there were at least a dozen customers waiting to put their details into the system that would allow them to buy an iPhone. “I can set it up at home.” I told her.

When I got home, I plugged the new, white iPhone 5 into Kim’s PC and restored her applications and settings. That took less than 10 minutes.

Is it any wonder why Apple wisely decided to build their own stores?