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What the Apple TV needs

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TUAW reports on a rumor that Apple has advised resellers to pull all Apple TV displays and literature from stores by September 30, and that there will be a webcast “kickoff” the same day. What exactly is being announced though wasn’t mentioned.

It’s just a rumor at this stage, and a follow up on TUAW notes that it could be a licensing issue with the images. And yet, if true, a new Apple TV could be on its way (the rumored “brick” device) and finally Apple may be about to get serious with the Apple TV.

Despite knowing that any new Apple TV may result in my spending money to replace my old Apple TV, I really do hope that there is a new one on the way, and finally Apple is going to take the space seriously.

Great device, no cigar

I’ve owned an Apple TV now for 9 months, having purchased one straight after having sat through Steve Jobs’ presentation at Macworld where he announced Apple TV take two. I’ve never once regretted buying it, although the price differential between the US and Australia doesn’t make it a great buy locally (I purchased mine in the US, and saved half the price). It’s simple to use, renting movies is a breeze, playing video podcasts on demand easier again (no need to subscribe or download before hand) and most file types can be easily exported across, even if the import into iTunes and convert to Apple TV steps are a little annoying. Even my wife happily uses it, where as she struggled or didn’t like the networked DVD player and Windows MCE boxes I had in place before hand. We’ve even purchased one as a gift we like it that much. It’s a great device, but it doesn’t get a cigar. It’s what’s missing that stifles its takeup.

What the Apple TV needs.

Digital delivery of content is the future, and while Apple is ahead of the curve here, it may be too far ahead of it. The reality is that for the immediate future, content of DVD is still the biggest game in town, and thousands of dollars spent by many on huge DVD collections isn’t about to be disposed of in place of digital content only. The Apple TV needs a DVD player, or better still a Blu-ray player, so it becomes a substitution device for people looking to update their existing DVD players, or upgrade to Blu-ray (even given Blu-rays slow and small uptake aside). Priced at around $250, Apple TV with Bluray/ DVD support becomes a killer device that offers something very few other devices on the market offer.

Superior internet streaming/ web access

With most TV manufacturers launching internet enabled TV sets in 2009, the use case for the Apple TV diminishes, after all, why buy a box from Apple when your TV will offer many of the same features built in. We don’t know yet exactly how extensive the first generation of internet enabled televisions will be, but at least with some services (Phillips comes to mind) the content on offer will be heavily controlled and restricted based on deals cut between studios, content owners and TV manufacturers. The Apple TV isn’t brilliant in this regard either: you’re locked in to streaming video from YouTube or the podcast directory on iTunes, and although you can download and sync other content on to the device, you can’t stream most things on demand, or better still for free.

Apple needs to improve the use case for the Apple TV by allowing users to watch content from all over the net. In the United States, that might at a very basic level including support for Hulu, but better still, users would be free to choose from any site. Technically it’s not a difficult step: you can hack an Apple TV now to surf the web, and the OS is built on OSX Tiger, so it’s simply a matter of offering access on top.

App store

Despite ongoing criticism over lock-in and Apple’s review process, the iPhone App store has been a massive success story for Apple and developers, creating a new and vibrant market place that helps sell more phones. Why couldn’t a similar store be offered for the Apple TV? Imagine being able to download thousands of applications, covering everything from games through to serious applications that even include Apple TV friendly faces for external streaming sites? It’s a win-win for Apple: they don’t have to build everything into the Apple TV, but instead others build for it, creating choice that drives demand for the device.

But not a TiVo

One often called for feature on the Apple is the ability to record television programs in a similar fashion to a TiVo. The idea isn’t a bad one, and certainly the addition of such as feature would add to the appeal of the device. But it’s not needed. TiVo uptake rates aren’t huge despite years in the market, and cable companies often offer services through their cable boxes, which aren’t going to be replaced by the Apple TV. Second, that although there’s a strong case for supporting DVD’s, the switch to digital delivery of TV programs as opposed to movies is far more advanced. Apple is better off delivering a wider range of streamed TV programs than going down a TiVo path because the market is already watching TV digitally.

Conclusion

I love the Apple TV, but Apple’s treatment of it as a “hobby” has meant that instead of leading the pack, the Apple TV has joined the likes of Windows MCE has an often used example of where bringing the internet to the television screen has failed. They can fix this, and they’ve got a great base to work from. Apple TV Take 3 could be another iPhone for Apple if they implement some of these features, and as an Apple TV fan, I truly hope that they do.

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Comments

6 Responses to “What the Apple TV needs”

  1. Albert A. Llamas

    nice article! nice site. you're in my rss feed now ;-)
    keep it up

  2. Cigar Aficionado

    Great wrap up – I love your suggestions. Would be hilarious to see if they took you up on them.