The Apple TV setup process is awful, but it’s not any different from the experience on the Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Google’s Nexus Player and any other obscure media streaming box you want to add to the bunch. Having set-up an Xbox One over the weekend, you can add that too. Pretty much everyone is in agreement that cable boxes and the overall TV watching experience is flawed. That’s not going to improve anytime soon, but we should demand better from our streaming media boxes. We can all hope that Tim Cook rides in on his white horse with something that magically transforms TV. In the interim, Apple has an opportunity to rise above the crowded field of media streamers.

4th gen Apple TV

I seem to collect media streamers as if they were Twitter clients. With only two TVs that we watch regularly, I’ve managed to accrue 3 Rokus, 1 Apple TV, 1 Fire TV and a Chromecast. Lucky for me, the Nexus Player lacks an ethernet port or I’d probably add that to my collection. There’s no cord cutting at our house. We have Amazon Prime, Netflix and our cable package is maxed out. Having access to these services and channels on a streaming boxes adds a level of convenience.

Both Amazon and Apple’s boxes have a heavy store presence, which can be confusing for new owners who might not be able to discern free from paid content. They all have apps as channels, many of which are available on more than one box. Of the lot, Roku offers the most channels. Once configured, they all deliver fast, simple access to a ton of movies and TV shows.

Once configured. That’s where all of these boxes hit a speed bump in their simplicity. For each channel you add, there are steps needed to make it work. Worse yet, it’s different for each channel. Have Netflix, you’ll need your login ID and password. Entering this with the ‘simple’ remote is slow and it’s easy to make mistakes. A workaround is to use the ‘Remote’ app, but that too requires setup.

If you think it can’t get any worse, try adding HBO Go or one of several Disney channels. You’ll be presented with a website URL and a unique four-digit code to activate the channel. Do you have a pen and paper handy to that all down? These hurdles are required to ensure you’re a paying cable subscriber. I get that, but there has to be a better way. Apple has allowed the content and cable companies to destroy any semblance of what we expect from a setup process designed in Cupertino. I bought my parents an Apple TV a few years ago and there’s absolutely no way they’d be able to manage the setup.

Apple TV doesn’t stand out. It’s no different than Roku, Fire TV and the rest. I know it’s a hobby and all, but it seems as if no one has thought about how to improve this process. Apple can do better, without reinventing TV (though I still hope they do). Let’s be honest, you need a phone, tablet or computer at some point to properly configure an Apple TV. Why not craft a setup process similar to the iPhone? A string of questions that you can access from your computer, iPad or iPhone. To setup your Apple TV, visit Do you subscribe to cable TV? Which channels would you like to access on your Apple TV? What’s your cable subscriber, login and password. Enter this once and all of your channels are activated. Instead, it’s a free-for-all, with all the channels asking you to run to your computer to activate. Each channel app you select is an exercise in frustration. I’d much rather take 10 minutes out of my life to properly setup my Apple TV.

The Apple TV is great media streaming box, but we’re grading on a curve. Setup on these boxes all grade out with a D and no, that’s not for delightful. They don’t have to make a change to the hardware to drastically improve the setup process. This is a software issue, an experience issue and bringing the ease of setup so commonly associated with Apple products.