Exercising, Apple TV and the Web

At the time of the initial discovery of its SDK, then again now with its recent release, debates have sparked about the presence of a web browser on the “new” (as of 2015) Apple TV, or to be more accurate about the lack thereof. And on the desirability of a web browser on a TV in general. I wish to contribute but one data point to the debate.

For two years now I have been keeping shape by using an elliptical/cross trainer for about an hour three times a week, among other purposes in order to be in shape when doing a week-long mountain trek in the summer. Which has led to looking for ways to fill these hours with some sort of distraction, and unfortunately (most) movies are not appropriate, given that, when combined with the exercise, they tend to make my heart rate go way too high. I did watch a number of works (humor in particular: Monty Python, Blackadder, Kaamelott , Spaceballs, etc.) but also tried alternatives, such as browsing the web, in order to catch up/read from the beginning some webcomics for instance. I tried three ways to do so:

  • attaching my iPad 2 to the trainer using a GorilaPod case (works very well, very much recommended!) and browsing the web with it,
  • using my iPhone as a mouse with Mobile Mouse Remote 1 (recommended too, if you need this kind of functionality) to control Safari running on my Mac,
  • using my Wii, connected to the same computer monitor, and its remote to control the built-in browser.

In the end, except for one aspect which ended up breaking the deal the supposedly terrible Wii browser actually provided the best experience. Indeed, in this constrained environment (remember I have to be holding the handlebars most the time) the Wii remote was the best way to interact, as I could actually hold it, and press the dpad to scroll, while still holding the handlebars, which was not the case with either other method; even when I occasionally had to point the remote (and thus let go of the right handlebar) this was surprisingly usable; moreso, I felt, than using the iPad.

The deal breaker was that the Wii was just way to slow to load and render pages. Any time I gained from its better interface was lost waiting each time for the page to appear. I have returned to mostly watching videos while training. It remains: other than speed, the meant-for-tv browser of the Wii was actually the best web browsing experience I could get while using a trainer.

Now imagine using the new Apple TV instead in this situation. It would simply not have the same kind of speed issue, obviously, and the Apple TV remote could potentially provide an even better experience, for instance by eschewing the pointer (as the Apple TV appears to be doing in general), the interaction with the touch surface on the remove performing both the scrolling and moving the focus from link to link instead; the + and – buttons would zoom in and out, etc. and all of it could be done without ever letting go of the handlebars.

Is it a common case? No, certainly not. Training, and in particular the person who trains being able to monopolize the device to which the Apple TV is connected, is a very specific use case. But it is a non-trivial, non-contrived use case in which remote-based, big screen web browsing makes perfect sense. So maybe the lack of a browser on the Apple TV is less a case of lack of floppy drive on the iMac, and more a case of lack of copy and paste on the original iPhone. I can only hope it eventually shows up, at least.

  1. Interestingly, I used that app from first trying out the “lite” version, then upgrading the the paid version; and I initially (re-)tried the lite version because I still had it installed from back when I tried it out as part of the “try before you buy” featured group, which you might remember I mentioned back in the day, so you see, you never know when someone installing and trying out the demo of your app might bear fruit!