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A Conversation about AppleTV

A frustrating conversation with AppleSupport over Twitter DM:

Me: I can't enable Siri on my AppleTV, despite language & locale being set to en-US. Is this because my iTunes Store account is tied to the Italian Store?

@AppleSupport: If your Apple ID is tied to the Italian Store, then Siri won't work for your Apple TV as it's not available in Italy at this time.

Me: Why? The whole OS is in English, and I only want Siri to speak English. Plus it works on iOS; why make tvOS different? It should key off language & locale, not where my credit card bills are sent.

@AppleSupport: If the feature isn't available to a specific country, then any Apple ID connected to the country will not be able to access the feature when it's used on the Apple TV. You can keep an eye on this article to see when Siri will be available for Italy under the 'Here's where you can use Siri' section:

Ugh. This is classic Apple, not giving any explanation.

My assumption is that the limitation is precisely because my Apple ID ties me to the Italian iTunes Store, and to its catalogue. I have complained before about the problems this causes. The way this would affect Siri would be me saying: "Hey Siri, please play The Godfather" and Siri not being able to find it - because in the Italian iTunes Store it’s listed as Il Padrino.

The obvious solution is to let people choose which iTunes Store they want to purchase from, but I suspect this will never happen, for two reasons. One is that Apple is presumably constrained by the licenses from the content owners only to specific countries. In the same way, DVDs (remember DVDs?) were locked to specific regions, and multi-region DVD players were grey-market items.

The other reason is that mine is an edge case, shared only by a relatively small number of expats and other deracinated cosmopolitans. Edge cases that affect Apple employees and their testers get addressed quickly, as John Gruber and Serenity Caldwell discussed referring to the use case of multiple Watches connected to a single iPhone. Anything that does not affect those users? Wait and hope.

We saw the same thing around the initial roll-out of Maps, with high quality data for the Bay Area, and problems elsewhere. The first version of the Watch arguably had the same issue, with one entire physical control dedicated to a feature that was only useful to people all of whose friends were Watch users - not the best idea for a product whose appeal at launch was unclear.

I suppose this is almost the definition of a first-world problem, but it’s still frustrating to me when Apple stumbles on something this easy to fix.2

  1. From that page: "Siri is currently available on Apple TV (4th generation) in these countries and languages: Australia (English), Canada (English, French), Germany (German), France (French), Mexico (Spanish), Netherlands (Dutch), Norway (Norwegian Bokmål), Japan (Japanese), Spain (Spanish), Sweden (Swedish), UK (English), US (English, Spanish)." Seriously? Dutch and Norwegian before Italian? NL population is 16.8 M, NO population is 5 M, and Italy is nearly 60 M - not counting Italian-speaking Switzerland. Maybe there’s less AppleTV penetration, but it’s not exactly a small market, and Siri has been able to speak Italian almost since launch. 

  2. My other pet peeve: the Control Center on iOS should allow users to 3D-Touch the wifi and Bluetooth controls to select networks and devices respectively. Especially for Bluetooth, the extra step of going into Settings > Bluetooth and waiting for the device to connect adds annoyance and friction when I just want to listen to a podcast or some music. 

Apparently, borders are still a thing

We live in a cosmopolitan world, in which crazes and fads can spread around the globe as fast as the bits can get through the pipes. You can make friends (or enemies) of people on the other side of the world, and speak to them more often and more meaningfully than people on the other side of the street. Every day we move closer to a world without borders.

Unless, that is, you are trying to buy or sell content.


I have never watched the Godfather films (I know, I know), and with some intercontinental travel coming up, I thought this would be a good time to load them up on my iPad and finally catch up - forty years late, but who’s counting?

Since I no longer have any truck with physical media, my first stop was iTunes. At first I thought they did not have the films, but this turned out to be because I live in Italy, and so they are listed as Il Padrino. Fair enough, except that it’s not just the title card that’s Italian; the only soundtrack available is an Italian dub. It’s not even the original, it’s a re-dub, and the reviews are all one-stars complaining about the new dub.

Of course iTunes has all three Godfather films in the US store, but Apple in their wisdom tie your iTunes account to the country your credit card is registered in.1 This means I can’t simply download the English-language version from the US store.

We don’t get Netflix in Italy, because we have crazy regulations here in Europe, but there are any number of video-streaming services. Unfortunately, I want to watch the film offline, in an aeroplane, so they are no use to me.

Back when I still did physical media, what I would do is buy the DVD from Amazon - which, infuriatingly, was often cheaper than the download versions. DVDs all come with original-language soundtracks as well as whatever dub applies, so I’d just rip the DVD (thank you, DeCSS) and watch it that way. However, I no longer own a computer with a DVD drive, so that’s out.

I tried shopping around for other options, but ended up torrenting the blasted thing2, promising myself I will buy it once Apple actually deign to accept my money.3 This is a bit like my recent efforts to buy albums I used to own on (copied) cassettes. I’d rather you didn’t think of it as theft, more as deferred revenue.

Seriously, would it not be easier just to let me give you money? When piracy is not only free, but actually the quickest and easiest way to get the content, what is the point of walls? For every dollar you make by forcing someone to jump through your Ultraviolet hoops, you lose thousands to people who refuse to have anything to do with you - this time, or in future.

Well done.

UPDATE: In a nice coincidence, Facebook reminds me that region locks aren't just for movies by releasing their new app, Paper, for the US only. Because of course nobody outside the US wants it.

Let's break this down. It's not a volume issue, since most FB users are in the US. It's not a language issue, because plenty of people speak English outside the US.4 It's not a content issue, because the content is people's FB streams.

So: why?

Especially when it’s easy to jump the fence.

Image by Martin Wessely via Unsplash

  1. Yes, there are hacks, but by the time I realised this was an issue, it would have been too much hassle to switch accounts. 

  2. The irony is strong with this one.  

  3. Yes, I know it’s not just Apple here, it’s probably the studios’ fault at least as much as Apple’s for restricting the rights in the first place (hello, region-coding on DVDs!). 

  4. In fact we speak proper English. British English is not a dialect, dagnabbit.