Television is a mess. It’s a jungle of complicated, money eating features, functions, and add on devices. You’ve got that big, beautiful, flat screen, high res LCD TV and what can you watch?
Cable TV or DVDs. After that, everything and anything else you add to the TV is a clumsy, cumbersome mess of cables, interfaces, resolutions, extra costs, and more remotes. What’s TV’s killer app? The DVR (digital video recorder). Why does Apple TV matter?
The 21st Century State Of Television
How much has television changed in the 21st century? Not much. It’s still controled by the cable or satellite companies. 500 channels and nothing is on. More channels, higher resolution video, better audio, more selection, higher prices.
Without question, the killer app and device of the 21st century is the DVR.
But it’s another add on device. Blu-ray is an add on. DVDs are add ons. Add on devices and options are popping up every month. Hulu, Netflix, Boxee, Cisco, Google, and Apple all want in on your TV screen, still mostly controlled by the cable company.
With a DVR (digital video recorder; either TiVo or rented from the cable company) we can at least watch what we want, when we want to watch it, and fast forward over most of the annoying commercials. A 60-minute TV show can become 40 minutes of a time shifting, time saving video luxury.
Apple TV Hobby Turned Trojan Horse
Apple described the original Apple TV as a hobby, and with good reason. It’s a crowded field of devices attached to the television, still controlled by a consortium of cable companies not willing to give up the remote control without a fight.
What do 21st century television watchers really want? Whether movies, TV shows, news, or live events, we want to watch what we want, when we want, and on whatever device we want, mobile or stationary.
That’s easier said than done. No one has a solution. And the new $99 Apple TV won’t do much to change that. Yet. Apple TV is still another add on device with seemingly nominal value. It won’t replace cable TV or satellite TV. It won’t replace your DVR or DVD player. What is it?
The new Apple TV is a Trojan Horse. How so?
At $99, Apple TV is an easy to try device. It is simple and plugs into any modern TV, but doesn’t offer much beyond a modest selection of TV show and movie rentals. It’s missing the much coveted digital video recorder function. It doesn’t sync or manage video and photos stored on Macs or PCs. Basically, it’s a streaming device with a simple to navigate interface.
iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad users will be able to control and stream video clips and photos through Apple TV to the television. Apple TV will stream TV shows, movies, video clips, and photos from Macs or Windows PCs, too.
Apple TV is buzz word compliant and comes with instant HD movie and TV show rentals at nominal prices, as well as Netflix, YouTube, Flickr, and MobileMe access. Even with all that capability, Apple TV is still a hobby, an interesting, relatively inexpensive add on TV for Mac and PC users who have an iPhone or iPod touch or iPad.
What’s missing from Apple TV?
No digital video recorder capability. No iPhone or iPad-like apps or games. No FaceTime video calling. Movie and TV show selection is minimum. Apple TV is not the central controlling device for television viewing.
For Apple to sell many tens of millions of Apple TV devices, more functionality is required than simply streaming TV show and movie rentals.
Fast forward from the end of 2010 to the holiday shopping season of 2011. Within that year Apple will have sold 10 million Apple TVs and provide a steady stream of updates to the iOS which controls the device (via iPhone, iPad, iPod touch).
The variety and number of TV shows and movie rentals will increase as other network and content providers recognize the new and growing market for streaming rentals. Boxee, Hulu, and many additional streaming video services will be added to Apple TV’s lineup via iPhone and iPad apps, which stream directly through Apple TV to the television.
What about the DVR?
Both Mac and Windows PCs have digital video recording device capability already. Whatever TV shows and movies that can be recorded and stored in iTunes can be streamed by Apple TV to the television.
Such a DVR setup requires an additional device, and additional apps, further complicating the TV viewing process.
What about live television (news, sporting events)?
Many live events are available on the internet already, and many more will become available as iPhone, iPad apps, which will stream live video through Apple TV to HDMI-capable televisions.
What about games and apps?
Streaming video from an iPhone or iPad to an Apple TV is one thing. Streaming video output for games from an iPhone or iPad through Apple TV to a TV screen is something else. Apple TV, and the mobile iDevices (iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad) are wireless devices. Wireless latency—the lag in time between pressing a control or button on an iPhone or iPad and seeing the action take place on the TV screen—is an issue that needs to be solved before games and apps make the transition to Apple TV.
The Numbers Game
Apple is playing a chicken and egg numbers game with Apple TV. More content and capability comes automatically when more Apple TVs are sold.
First, Apple hopes that Apple TV will have sufficiently attractive functionality to sell many millions of units at $99 each. Second, Apple may add more functionality and capability via apps for iPhone and iPad, as well as specific apps for Apple TV.
Third, as more Apple TVs are sold, more content providers will make available movies, TV shows, and live streaming events available. App developers will make more apps that have Apple TV functionality built in.
Apple TV will not be an instant success. At $99 and with more capability, Apple TV will sell many millions more than the original versions. After that, the Apple iDevice ecosystem takes over.
For Mac users, and Windows PCs users, Apple TV provides another window to additional video content controlled by devices we already know how to use. iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.