In September, I wrote an article about how I thought the new Apple TV would be the ideal thin client due to its performance capabilities and cost, speculating that Apple only needed to add mouse support to complete the picture. When my new Apple TV finally arrived, I quickly fired it up and searched the App Store for something that could get me connected. I didn’t expect to see native client apps (which is good, because there are none), but I was surprised to learn that there are no web browsers available for use with HTML5 clients. I stressed about this for a bit, but wrote it off because of the infancy of the tvOS app store.
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Putting that aside, I grabbed a bluetooth keyboard and set about trying to get that connected. We already knew that Apple wasn’t going to add mouse support, but since the remote has a trackpad, it might still be a useable solution. My keyboard wouldn’t pair, and some quick digging reported back that Apple had, in fact, removed bluetooth keyboard support from the Apple TV. Keep in mind, it was in the previous models, which likely means that this was an intentional decision.
Why would Apple do that? Sure, “Apple TV as a thin client” is not a use case that they designed it for, but entering passwords via the kludgy new on-screen keyboard is more maddening than it used to be, especially as Apple requires more complex passwords. (I’m not complaining about more complex passwords, we need at least that level of security, but they need to make it as easy as possible to enter them.) Perhaps Apple is afraid of cannibalizing sales of other, higher-margin devices by adding keyboard support. In many ways, an Apple TV with a keyboard and mouse could supplant more expensive iPads and Mac Minis for some users.
So the fantasy of an MDM-managed, highly-capable $150 thin client remains just that–a fantasy. The only options that remain, baring some intervention from Apple, are jailbreaking or circumventing the OS altogether. Jailbreaking isn’t an option for companies, though it is for home users. Circumventing the OS a la the Citrix X1 Mouse is a possibility, though I can’t imagine that Apple would stand for such a thing (remember, they actively removed keyboard support). It might also be possible, given the presence of a comprehensive bluetooth API intended for game controllers, for someone to create a 104 "button" gamepad that just happens to be keyboard shaped. Get on that, Logitech!
Of course, things could change. The problems with the Apple TV as a whole, not just limited to thin clients, are numerous. Without turning this into an Apple TV review, it seems like it was rushed out and is undeserving of the 9.x version of tvOS (which it has since it’s derived from iOS). That said, all the problems are software-based, which means that they can be fixed at any time. We may wake up one day to find that all the little issues are solved along with adding keyboard and mouse support. In the meantime, traditional thin client vendors can sit tight knowing that they don’t have competition from a new vector.