YouTube on Apple TV Sucks Now Because Google Is Pushing One Interface on Every Platform

YouTube sucks on Apple TV now. The interface doesn’t look like an Apple TV app, and features like the Remote app flat-out don’t work.

Apple fans are noticing. Here’s John Gruber on Daring Fireball, talking after the new version of the YouTube app for Apple TV launched in February:

It’s a terrible, terrible Apple TV app…it looks and feels like it was designed and implemented by people who’ve never even used an Apple TV.

Gruber is exactly right: the YouTube App for Apple TV wasn’t made with Apple TV in mind. I know this because the exact same interface has existed for years: you can use it right now in a desktop browser at YouTube.com/TV.

Seriously: try it. This same interface has been pushed to every platform under the sun, whether it makes sense or not.

Roku and Apple TV Have The Same YouTube Interface

Apple TV users weirded out by YouTube’s “new” interface aren’t alone. Roku users have been dealing with the same interface since 2014. Roku doesn’t adhere to as strict a design philosophy as Apple TV, but even on Roku, the YouTube app is jarring.

This is YouTube on Roku, but if I told you it’s from an Apple TV you’d probably believe me.

The UI elements, typography, and even the sound effects for browsing and selecting items are completely different than any other Roku channel. The “Options” and “Replay” buttons don’t do anything. It really feels like switching to another operating system.

But the biggest problem is performance. I own a high-end Roku box, and this interface lags on that. Apparently, getting this app to run in the first place was a challenge. Roku employees have confirmed that Roku needed to change the firmware in order to support the app. It’s not clear what those changes were, but my guess is they added just enough web technologies to run YouTube.com/TV in a wrapper. It certainly feels that way.

To my knowledge, Roku hasn’t implemented firmware-level changes in order to add support for any other app. Most developers have to use Roku’s APIs to build channels. Google wasn’t willing to do that, and users have been asking for YouTube access for so long that Roku had no choice to play ball. It seems like Google forced Apple to do the same thing.

This Interface Is Everywhere

YouTube on Android TV

Google has been pushing this same YouTube app to every platform they can. I asked my co-workers if YouTube on their TV looked like YouTube.com/TV, and they reported this is the interface used on Android TV and the Playstation. It was also the interface offered on the Amazon Fire TV.

This makes sense for Google. They only need to build one user interface, and they can push tweaks and changes to every platform quickly by simply changing the web version.

And for some users this works out. Integration with your phone app works the same regardless of whether you’re streaming to a Roku, Apple TV, or anything else. Plus, anyone who uses YouTube on multiple platforms only has to learn one interface.

And there’s another benefit: you can get this interface running whether Google wants you to or not. The Amazon versus Google feud is still going, meaning you can’t use the “app” on that device. But but users can access more-or-less the same user interface by installing a web browser—which is what Amazon now recommends their users do.

But this can also be confusing. People who get used to the way their TV box works have to learn a different way of doing things just for YouTube. And some features simply don’t work.

I’m sure Apple and Roku would prefer it if YouTube behaved like any other app on their platforms. I bet they pushed for it. But ultimately, any streaming device that doesn’t offer YouTube isn’t a good deal for consumers, meaning Google has all the cards here. They’re using that power to force companies to offer an alien interface. And if Apple can’t force Google’s hand, no one can.

Justin Pot is a staff writer for How-To Geek, and a technology enthusiast who lives in Hillsboro, Oregon. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, if you want. You don't have to.