Steve Jobs Hated The New Apple TV UI, But Apple Changed It Anyway (updated)


The Apple television set won't arrive until 2014, according to one analyst, but you can look forward to an awesome set-top box before then.
Is this the Apple TV user interface Steve Jobs never wanted you to see?

Complementing the launch of the new Apple TV, an iOS software update made some significant changes to the Apple TV user interface after the new iPad keynote. Over the last couple weeks the new UI has received a heavy dose of criticism from fans who feel like the new interface is a step backwards, and it turns out that those criticisms may be true. Literally.

According to one ex-Apple TV Engineer, the new Apple TV UI has been on the table for about five years, but Steve Jobs himself allegedly didn’t like it and rejected its implementation. Now that Jobs isn’t around “to say no to bad design,” the UI was resurrected.

The ex-Apple TV Engineer, Michael Margolis, shared this yesterday on Twitter:

Margolis’ LinkedIn profile claims he was a former “Professional Hobbyist, AppleTV” at Apple, so it’s very possible that he’s telling the truth. If true, one has to wonder about the current design progression Apple plans to make with their software and if we’ll see other forms of regression. On the other hand, Apple had yet to introduce the App Store back in 2007 when this Apple TV UI was rejected. It’s possible Jobs rejected it and then later embraced it towards the end of his time with Apple, because of Apple’s future plans to bring apps to the Apple TV.

Many analysts believe Apple will release a full-fledged Apple branded television-set later this year that will be the true Apple TV Jobs told biographer Walter Isaacson about in his book.

You can read our full review on the Apple TV right here.

Update: In a comment from The Next Web, Michael Margolis clarified the UI and the elements Steve Jobs took issue with:

The new UI shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. There is a clear effort at Apple to make everything match the look and feel of their popular iOS products – starting with Lion and increasing momentum with Mountain Lion.

To be clear – he didn’t like the original grid. This was before the iPhone was popular and before the iPad even existed.

Given that the iPad is far more successful than the AppleTV, migrating the AppleTV to look more like the iPad was probably a very smart move – even if some of the users of the old UI don’t prefer the new one.

What do you think of the new Apple TV UI? Is it a step back, or do you like that it’s similar to the iPad and iPhone UI? Let us here your opinions in the comments.

[via Macgasm]

  • Machiel Groeneveld

    Agree with the non-Appleness of this UI design. Why is it so hard for a CEO to say: ‘not good enough, try again’?

  • Hal Summers

    It’s too busy.  Simple is the way to go.

  • James S

    I find the new UI hard to navigate with the tiny remote. It is a step backwards in my opinion. 

  • Andy Murdock

    I agree, the UI is ugly and garish, and way below Apple standards. The colors are too bright and overwhelming, the rounded rectangle ‘buttons’ are unnecessary, just have the icons floating on black, or make them like iPad icons. There is no need for the ugly grey metal background, get rid of it. The blue hi-lighter selection glow rim is also hard to see when placed over the ugly buttons.

    Solution: Make it look like an iPad interface, people like that!!! Give users an option to select their own backgrounds, like the iPad. The rest of the interface is good enough.

  • DaReality

    And who is to say that Steve didn’t approve of this interface before he died.  This interface very likely was in the works before he passed and he approved of it. 

    Most people believe that AppleTv will offer apps soon and the previous interface were mostly words for options, and that would not have cut it.

    I liked the previous interface more, but the new one is growing on me and I love the posters at the top.  This idiot probably tried to get his job back and Tim said no.  Obviously a wise choice if true, because he runs to the media and talks too much.  Since we do we listen to “former employees” about their criticism of their old employer.  You know you have to take that with a grain of salt….right?!?!?!

  • DaReality

    James S……I don’t know if you have an iOS device but if you do, use the app from Apple called Remote.  It works really well with the AppleTv.

  • DaReality

    I don’t know if you have an iOS device but if you do, use the app from Apple called Remote.  It works really well with the AppleTv.

  • Gregintosh

    I personally prefer the new interface to the old one. I just wish Apple let me remove icons I did not want from the home screen since I don’t use almost any of them except Podcasts, Netflix, Movies, and TV Shows. Just adds to the clutter.

  • Adam Locascio

    I have the new Apple TV,  but never had the old one. I actually like it. Seems easy enough. I like how the artwork from iTunes scrolls on the menu and the screen saver is even interesting. I’ve been raving about it since I got it! I am already talking about getting one for every room!

  • Mario Barreto

    Just ugly. No advance. The same thing in a busy interface.

  • Christopher Scott

    agreed, not a good UI at all…

  • Andy Murdock

    I agree there is too much clutter. I will never ever ever ever ever ever in a million years watch any sports on the Apple TV, why do I have it rubbed in my face every time I turn it on? I just want to have the ‘channels’ I want on my home screen. Apple, don’t make this like cable tv where we have 5000 channels of crap that never gets watched, let the user decide what the home screen looks like. Be innovative, and take this thing seriously.

  • ChadwickWill

    I think that the new interface is an improvement on the old one. The main reason is with the increase in the number of “channels,” the ‘internet’ tab was becoming a laundry list on the old interface. I wouldn’t get too worked up about this. It is a stepping stone in The Apple Unification Master Plan.

  • Shane Bryson

    You need to read the Steve Jobs book. It is pretty clear in the book that Jobs had something entirely different in mind for Apple TV than this mess. Steve Jobs didn’t have a track record of changing his mind on anything. If he didn’t like it, he didn’t suddenly like it later. It just didn’t happen.

  • Steven King

    I like it just fine but I never used the older UI.

  • prof_peabody

    The first comment I made when I saw it was “That’s hideous, Steve Jobs would not have approved.” All the commentators at that time said I was crazy but here it is right from the horse’s mouth.  

    The fact is that it’s a poor design with garish icons.  Any UI on a 40″ TV that only allows room for five icons on the homescreen is a FAIL from a design standpoint.  Any UI that uses garish purple and orange icons next to each other is also a FAIL.  

    It’s awful, plain and simple. 

  • larrymadill

    I don’t have any problem with it. Both the old and the new UI are fine, but neither one is great. No one has ever really made a set-top UI that I fell in love with. Xbox 360 has been a persistent mess and Sony’s PS3 navbar is elegant but not functional, AppleTV works fine for me. 

  • Buster

    Actually, he would change his mind like that. Except when he changed his mind on something he pretended it was his original idea all along

  • Bruce Miller

    Its better than the old one. If you use your iPhone for airplay you can see how building on that idea will make things even better!

  • Alberto Hernandez

    Apple doesn’t like people removing things apparently. I never use stocks or compass on my iPhone but I am forced to keep them.

  • Matunos

    “Margolis’ LinkedIn profile claims he was a former “Professional Hobbyist, AppleTV” at Apple, so it’s very possible that he’s telling the truth.”

    Good lord, is that what passes for journalism these days? Looking up someone’s profile on LinkedIn? I know this is a blog, not the New York Times, but jeez, can you pick up a phone?

  • Alfiejr

    the new UI is better than the old, but not great. and its Remote App update was minor, it still sucks – it’s a trackpad when it should be all buttons.

    Jobs never got Apple TV right, period. the function we need most of all is input switching, which requires adding some HDMI inputs. that’s all.

    i think Steve just hated TV.

  • Daniel Hertlein

    As Michael Margolos himself pointed out today, there’s going to be a trade-off in simplicity and ease of use in that comes with opening the OS up to third party apps, but this is still bad UI with made worse by the use of garish and outdated colors.

    If this was a one-off instance, I’d chalk it up to growing pains between the original “hobby’ AppleTV and the one SJ referred to in his biography. But coming right on the heels of cheesy, un-maclike design decisions like the embellishments to Lion Calendar and Address Book, I’m a little worried. 

    I had to borrow a friend’s who was still on Leopard after spilled coffee on my LIon-installed MB last week and was surprised by how much I preferred the old look. I haven’t put my finger on it exactly, but it just seems quieter. 

    I get that Tim Cook isn’t a design guy and Jonathan Ives is more on the industrial side, but I hope this isn’t a precursor of things to come.  Apples competitors at Windows (Phone 7 is tight) and Google are finally waking up to the importance of good design in their products. 

    Apple has a big lead in the shift to mobile devices because of the interface and the App Store, but it’s not so large that it can’t be squandered by forgetting what got them there. 

    Hopefully, the powers at Apple will see the need for a design dictator to step in and “say “no” to bad design.”

  • Hondamaker

    This could be the start of something bad. SJ had reasons for rejecting ideas. His intuition was usually spot on. Apple needs to remember— WWSJD.

  • Cold_dead_fingers

    Lol blame the remote, not the UI. Yeah, the remote that SJ approved of was not so hot on a functional level.

  • Cold_dead_fingers

    Everyone need to stop saying “Steve Jobs wouldn’t approve of…” You remember when Steve asked Tim NOT to ask “What would Steve do?” Steve Jobs was great at what he did. It never seemed like he took someone’s word as truth; he always wanted that truth to be proved to him. However, opinion isn’t always right. Steve wasn’t always right. People need to stop saying what they “know” Steve Jobs thought. Steve had changed his mind about a number of things, there’s no proof that says he didn’t do the same exact thing here.

    I like the new Apple TV interface. It fits in more with iPad and iPhone GUI without being as tedious. Can you imaging having to scroll to an app – with the un-functional Apple Remote – clicking on it, scrolling down to a setting, clicking on it, then scrolling down to a specific preference? THAT’S BEST LEFT TO THE IPAD AND IPHONE AND TOUCH INTERFACES.

    Stop acting like Apple is now full of brainless morons, contradicting Steve’s wishes! All you assholes are going to start an Apple civil war lol

  • DaReality

    Oh you mean like when he decided to change from PowerPC to Intel, after he seemed content with PowerPC? Or when he said that Amazon eBook Reader would fail because “people don’t read books”, but he goes ahead anyway and open iBooks (smart reversal)? Or how about when he didn’t want any apps on the original iPhone other than the Apple stocked apps and jailbreakers forced him to open an App Store with the launch of the iPhone 3G (App Store was one of his better reversals).

    His book has nothing to do with the interface for AppleTv.  Steve Jobs was human and evolved just like everyone else.  He also changed his mind and has done it many times.  If you need more examples let me know.

    Anyway, I stated earlier the older interface was better, but it would not work if they make an App Store for AppleTv (which everyone believes is coming).  The new interface would work a lot better for apps that are purchased for your television.

    Michael Margolis has now sent in updates to other sites stating…

    “The new UI shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. There is a clear effort at Apple to make everything match the look and feel of their popular iOS products – starting with Lion and increasing momentum with Mountain Lion.
    To be clear – he didn’t like the original grid. This was before the iPhone was popular and before the iPad even existed.
    Given that the iPad is far more successful than the AppleTV, migrating the AppleTV to look more like the iPad was probably a very smart move – even if some of the users of the old UI don’t prefer the new one.”

    This basically tells me even more that he should have never commented in the first place because the original interface for AppleTv predates any App Store from Apple so Steve Jobs probably didn’t know that AppleTv would get 3rd party apps many years later from an upcoming App Store, because they didn’t even want one for the upcoming 2007 iPhone at the time.

    As I said before I am sure Steve Jobs was aware that this interface change was coming before he passed.

  • nschultz

    I cannot begin to imagine what happens if you click on the icon that has a house with a musical note on it, called “Computers.”  House Party?  Make All My Computers Sing?

  • flyboybob

    This thread is exactly what Steve Jobs didn’t want to happen at Apple. One of his fears was that upper management would always ask the question, what would Steve do, before making a decision. This attitude took years to overcome and stymied new thinking at Disney after Walt died. Steve knew this and didn’t want a repeat at Apple. Steve’s gone and the people who he put in place know what they are doing. They don’t need to conduct a seance with Steve’s spirit to or worry about his approval before making a decision.

  • JamesRave

    Weird.. As soon as I saw it for the first time I thought the same thing… Steve Jobs would never have let that out… It’s really amateurish and looks like a bad copy of something apple would actually produce.

  • JamesRave

    Completely agree. Also, all over the web, even on professional news sites, the spelling and grammar mistakes are embarrassing. Spell check must evade the new breed of lazy e-journalists

  • howie_isaacks

    I like it.  While Steve had great taste and he was usually spot on with good design, the current CEO and management team need to do what they think is best.  Otherwise, why have them there? It would be silly to constantly hold up every decision and compare it to what Steve would have thought.  I didn’t really see a NEED to change anything with the UI, but I don’t have a problem with it.  I think we need to be looking closer at this Michael Margolis.  What ax does he have to grind with Apple, and why would he even give a damn?

  • howie_isaacks

    Totally right!

  • howie_isaacks

    You forget that he wasn’t always right about everything. Sometimes he had to be convinced.  They can’t spend all their time worrying about what he would have done.  Otherwise, nothing new will ever come from Apple again.  What makes you think he wasn’t persuaded to like this new interface?  This guy who says Steve rejected it wasn’t around when Steve left!  The guy left in 2008.  Therefore his statement is meaningless. He probably decided to stir up crap just to get his name out there.  Who has ever heard of this guy anyway?

  • howie_isaacks

    If this was the New York Times, they would have done even less investigating!  Journalism is dead!

  • MacintudeConnor

    I don’t get why people are hating on the new design. It’s good. It’s iOS-like. And it’s making it incredibly clear that third-party apps are coming soon.

  • HerbalEd

    Jobs sure didn’t have that problem. 

  • Phil

    It might work for a Touch based device but not for a remote that you have to click like 10 times to get to something. Apple should do one of two things either redesign the remote or redesign The UI so that it is a little bit more easier to navigate through with the remote they currently have.

  • Hondamaker

    Ok, good point!

  • Southofthetexasborder

    Andy I couldn’t agree with you more. The selection glow rim is hard to see, I noticed that right off the bat. I hope they change it. It’s ugly, just plain ugly.

  • SupaMac

    Jailbreak your device! Then remove stocks and compass… I had the same annoyance so I got rid of them

  • mlahero

    It just doesn’t scream “Apple” to me. It has brushed steel and reflections and rounded icons sure….. but it looks like a fan creation to me.

  • snkrsfx

    Good grief the new UI is horrible. With using parts of the old and adding the new, it”s like 2 different UI’s. It’s SO INCONSISTENT!!

  • BreinVanMartijn

    Yeah, it is freakishly ugly. Nobody should need Steve Jobs to tell them orange, purple, green and blue don’t go together. Still, I don’t spend my time looking at the menu when using my Apple TV.

  • Max Walker

    i completely agree… i was in awe when i saw this design launched last week… the icons are horrible and not very Applesque…. decidedly, Jobs was right.

  • holidayhanson

    The text entry method is still terrible. Scroll and click with a wheel is not too far removed from “the Mac Wheel” as debuted on the Onion. “Its shiny and made by Apple, therefore it’S great.” look it up.

    I think the click wheel is the first thing that needs to go. The GUI input device should be a point the remote at the letter you want or the tv should pick up signals from a wifi keyboard. Maybe it already does.

    I was demonstrating the tv to a friend and spelled out a long YouTube search word and inadvertently hit clear and we were back at square one. He was not impressed.

    I do love the airplay feature! Play from the phone or pad direct to the tv is so handy and makes me chuckle at how slick that feature is.

  • dale2000

    I think you have interpretted the comment incorrectly. He was clearly saying that the UI was a step backward.

  • Garfinkel

    Let’s not confuse how something looks with how something works. Visually, yes, the new GUI isn’t very attractive. I like how it looked prior to this update, but find that this version is a little easier to use, and does open it up for more third party options.

    I’ve always found Apple’s industrial design to be much slicker than their visual design. Functionally, it is generally excellent, but there have always been some goofy graphics to their software.

  • KaleoK

    A mess. The proportions are wrong. The vertical competes for attention with the horizontal. The colors of the buttons are too bright, etc.

  • ClickMe

    This is terrible. This space belongs to Google TV, hands down.

  • Willie

    How do you know? And what makes you an authority on all things apple? SJ was on his dying bed, I’m sure he was not aware of every single detail and nuance concerning every product as everyone would have us believe. I happen to hate the new interface and do not understand why it was changed and quite really find it confusing and garish. You can’t speak for me or convince me or anyone else, since everyone else has their own likes and dislikes. So get over stand stop trying to change peoples minds, cause you can’t. DaReality!

  • Bascomb

    Steve was right. The new Apple TV UI is a mess. The large “icons” are garish and ugly to me. Why in the world don’t they wrap when you get to the end of a line? And why don’t they auto-size to the screen so you can see the whole icons on the bottom row. To me, it’s a clear case of changing something just to change it.

  • Jabjabs Lefonte

    New design is awesome, much easier to find everything quickly. I could be weird here but so be it.

  • Unis Zuurmond

    I won’t comment on whether it’s easier or not to use. But I will say that it’s not easier to look at. In fact, I find it so inconsistent and unlike Apple, that I’ve gone completely off the AppleTV. The icons are ugly, the colours terrible and the layout a mixture of metaphors…

  • Fearless_fred

     I definitely would like to be “allowed” to remove icons. What’s the point of having the MLB and WSJ options there for those of us in Europe. MLB has little or no following in Europe (don’t get me started on the so-called “World” series!). Give us the option to get rid of things that we don’t want, or at least to hide them. Until recently we wouldn’t have needed the Netflix icon there either.

    I know that we have the option to Jailbreak, but to my mind it should be an out of box option from Apple themselves. Apple is supposed to be “it just works”, not “install this custom firmware not designed by the company if you want to do a simple task like hiding un-used options”.

  • venasque

    I like it actually. 

  • theocritus

    My problem is that at least half of the time it doesn’t play 1080p videos that I have imported into iTunes. The importation of which is not illegal, immoral, or bad. 

    Some will play, some play eventually, some don’t. Period. At all. Don’t load. You can press forward and it will go grab the scene there, but won’t load so that you can watch it.Desperately need a software update so that I can play 1080p movies.

  • JDDurrant

    I don’t think this UI is very good. It’s not bad, but there are a billion improvements I could think of.

  • Arnold Newman

    The problem with it is that it is clutter with cr@p that Apple wants me to spend money on. No, I don’t want a subscription to the NBA, hockey, or baseball. No, I don’t want to buy heavily compressed TV programs and movies. I don’t subscribe to Netflix or Hulu Plus. I have no problem with Apple offering these services; just get them out of my face—or at least give me the option to do so. All I want my Apple TV to do is serve as a wireless conduit to the audio/visual material I have stored in iTunes or on the web.