Wish-list: Let me back up (and restore) my Apple TV

Apple TV
Apple TV (Image credit: iMore)

I have two Apple TVs: One for my living room, and one for my much-tinier office TV screen to test tvOS betas and take screenshots. I didn't intend to pick up two Apple TVs — a result of my sister and I not coordinating and buying our parents the same Christmas gift — but I'll admit, having one for testing purposes is pretty nice when your job involves writing about Apple TV.

Setting up that second Apple TV, however, wasn't so nice. That's because, unlike your iPhone or iPad, Apple doesn't back up your Apple TV apps and settings to iCloud. If you purchase a new Apple TV and want to set it up, you're doing so from scratch.

Apps, begone

When it came to the third-generation Apple TV, you didn't have to set up much: You needed to enter a Wi-Fi password and your Apple ID, and hide any pre-installed apps you didn't care for. The fourth-generation Apple TV is a different beast entirely, largely because of its app population.

When you buy a new or second Apple TV for your house, you can automatically set up your Wi-Fi and Apple ID, but when it comes to reconfiguring your apps — and any personal data within them — you have to do it one-by-one, via the Purchased screen. Apple kindly offers a Not on This Apple TV section so that you can quickly see what apps you're missing, but it's a hassle: You can't batch download apps.

Those apps also don't retain their data and preferences unless they've been syncing to iCloud. If your games offer iCloud sync, you might retain levels and power-ups, but if they don't — or if the implementation is done poorly — you're starting over.

A version of iCloud's backup service for Apple TV could fix much of this, allowing you to keep your app data intact, avoid lengthy app re-downloading, and save your Settings customizations. Even if you didn't have a second Apple TV, a backup is useful in the event your current hardware breaks for any reason.

The other backup problem

Apple TV

Even with Apple offering a backup service, there's one problem iCloud can't fix. Many Apple TV streaming apps have their own separate usernames and passwords; if I have to re-download Hulu to a new Apple TV, that means reentering my information to log in.

This has been a problem since the first iPhone backup, to no great surprise. Apple doesn't want to be responsible for saving your personal logins inside an app, nor does the company want to make it easy to get into your other accounts if someone nefarious manages to execute a restore.

But there has to be an easier way. Some apps have built in pseudo two-factor authentication on the Apple TV as a way to avoid slide-typing with the Apple TV remote or praying password dictation works as promised: When you launch an app for the first time, it displays a six digit code and asks you to visit a website on your Mac to confirm you want to use your account on this Apple TV. This is a much nicer process, overall, for reactivating accounts.

Given the iPhone's support for Bluetooth and tap-activation, however, this could be even easier: For example, if you have the Hulu app on both your iPhone and new Apple TV, the Hulu TV app could prompt you to "tap" your iPhone to the Apple TV to transfer login data — just as you do during your initial Apple TV setup.

The design factor

Apple had a lot of work to do on the new Apple TV before it shipped last November, and important features got left on the drawing table for it to ship on time. That included high-value stuff like Dictation, full access to iCloud Photo Library, and some Siri commands — all of which are in the latest tvOS 9.2 update.

As such, I understand why backing up or restoring from backup wasn't at the top of the Apple TV and tvOS team's list: Ultimately, I don't think most users are going to have multiple Apple TVs, and the need to restore from backup is (hopefully) rare.

But there is a need there: App developers who install beta software may need to restore malfunctioning Apple TV units. Those buying a new Apple TV for family members may want to set it up with a lot of the same apps or logins as their own. And if your own Apple TV breaks, iCloud backup can save you a lot of the heartache of reassembling your app collection.

What do you think, iMore? Would you use an iCloud backup service for Apple TV, or are there more pressing matters Apple should deal with? Let us know in the comments.

Serenity Caldwell

Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.