Former Apple chief executive Steve Jobs discussing the first-generation Apple TV at Macworld 2008.
Apple refuses to discuss why the original Apple TV couldn't see the iTunes store for almost a week.
Steve Jobs might have viewed the Apple TV media player as a "hobby" when it first launched, but that hobby added $1 billion to Apple's coffers last year. We're up to the third iteration of Apple's tiny set-top box, but unfortunately Apple doesn't seem too concerned about looking after loyal customers still using the original Apple TV.
When I pressed Apple Australia for an explanation I was simply told "Apple declines to comment". Everything is doubleplusgood, nothing to see here.
About Thursday last week, first-gen Apple TVs around the world lost access to the iTunes store. Unhappy owners turned to the online forums for answers, as not even a reboot or factory reset would fix the problem. As well as losing access to the iTunes store, some people also had trouble connecting to iTunes on their computer if the Apple TV was also connected to the internet.
It wasn't simply the case of a firmware update breaking things. For no apparent reason the boxes just suddenly refused to connect to the iTunes servers, and even had trouble playing back content which had been downloaded from the iTunes store. Local media player features still worked. The original Apple TV is blessed with a built-in hard drive for storing your multimedia library, a feature which Apple abandoned with later models. It's one of the reasons why the original Apple TV is still popular, even though Apple stopped selling it in 2010.
The iTunes problem made itself felt in my lounge room, with both my first and third-generation Apple TVs initially refusing to see the iTunes store. The third-gen model came good with a little coaxing, after I set it to automatically acquire the DNS settings from my ISP rather than using a geo-dodging DNS service (which is handy for sneaking into Netflix). I thought this might be a sign of Apple cracking down on geo-dodgers, but no amount of coaxing could revive my first-gen Apple TV which stubbornly refused to see the iTunes store.
The widespread nature of the problem would suggest the issue was on Apple's end rather than a problem with the first-gen box but, as usual, the silence from Apple was deafening. Its customer support is really appalling sometimes. On one hand you hear amazing stories of the Apple Store genius bar repairing or even replacing broken devices free of charge, even when it's not obligated to do so. But at other times Apple's arrogance is simply astounding as it refuses to even admit that a problem exists. Maybe Apple TV users are simply holding it wrong.
A discussion thread ran on Apple's forum for five days, with hundreds of posts detailing the problems faced by Apple TV owners around the globe. Yet not a peep out of Apple. People feared that Apple had decided to stop supporting the first-gen Apple TV but just didn't have the decency to be upfront about it. Others speculated that a bug was introduced as Apple released new features for the third-gen Apple TV.
One theory is that access was down as Apple patched Heartbleed-related security issues, or perhaps partners such as the Akamai content delivery network. Akamai's Heartbleed patching hiccup seems the most likely culprit, but it's hard to be sure when Apple won't talk about it publicly.
What's particularly frustrating is that Apple wasn't even keeping its tech support staff up to date on the issue or, worse yet, support staff were lying to customers to stall for time. Some people were told over the phone to perform factory resets, or that their hardware might be faulty, when the tech support people should have known that the problem was on Apple's end.
Things seemed bleak for owners of the first-gen Apple TV. Then yesterday, just as mysteriously as it began, the problem went away. No explanation from Apple. No apology for the outage. No recognition that the problem even existed.
When I pressed Apple Australia for an explanation I was simply told "Apple declines to comment." Everything is doubleplusgood, nothing to see here.
Some people might argue that the first-gen Apple TV has been superseded so it's time to upgrade, but they're totally missing the point. The point is that Apple should have the decency to tell its customers what's happening when there's a major service outage. The fact that it's an older device is no excuse, as the affected people are still paying customers of the iTunes store.
At a time when there's more competition to iTunes and the Apple TV than ever, you'd think Apple would treat customers will a little more respect. Apparently that's expecting too much.
Has your Apple TV been on the fritz? When else have service providers left you in the dark?
Read more posts from Adam Turner's Gadgets on the Go blog.