About a year ago Apple pre-announced a product that is now called the Apple TV. It simply provides an interface through your TV to the media that exists on your computer. Movies and music on your computer can be displayed on your TV. Your computer doesn’t need to be hooked up right next to the TV with that adapter that you always lose.
When it was initially announced, I loved the idea of this product. I listen to my music through an Airport Express, which streams music playing in iTunes from my computer to my stereo. I buy my music predominantly through iTunes and the whole system works very well. Extending that metaphor to video is natural. What makes video on the Apple TV better than music is serialised TV shows through the iTunes Store. You buy the whole series and they’re transparently downloaded to your computer the day they’re broadcast on TV.
No hassle with ads or having to schedule TV at an exact time every week. A TiVo does this too (but we can’t get it in Australia) but, crucially, a TiVo can’t record what isn’t shown on TV. This also means back catalogues, currently the domain of DVD sales. Bittorrent will give you all this and more, but it’s illegal and not as easy to use as iTunes. (Remember, I’m talking about the Apple TV as a product to market to people.)
To summarise how the Apple TV fits in with Apple’s product lineup, it’s essentially a ways to consume content from the iTunes Store. If you rip your DVDs onto your computer, that’s fine too but the raison d’etre is to make people buy series and movies through iTunes.
The kicker of all this is that I don’t have an Apple TV. For one reason only: it doesn’t have a composite video output. That’s the yellow cable in the red/yellow/white trio that used to be the standard for most video/audio connections. My TV is pretty damn big and old, and it only supports composite video. So that rules me out from the get go. How many other people are in the same situation? I guess according to Apple’s market research, not that many.
I’ve seen slews of requests for more features for the Apple TV. They’re all pretty similar to the recent article “Apple TV future” at Apple Pulse. Recording and DVD drive, so they say. That’ll make people stand up and buy this thing. Bollocks. I want an Apple TV so I can avoid regular broadcast TV and eventually ditch my DVD collection.
I don’t think something like the Apple TV will be a big seller for a long time. How many Airport Express units were sold on the basis of their wireless music streaming? Over the next five years I think there is a market to be created, however. Don’t forget that the iPod took that long to become a monster, after all.
The Apple TV in conjunction with the iTunes Store is a platform with great potential (either one on their own requires an equivalent to the other). I’d be happy to align my allegiances to any other company that was doing the same sort of thing, too. I’ve got a soft spot for Apple, though, and there’s no other big company that is approaching it like they are (as far as I know). It’s a travesty that many of the content owners aren’t going along for the ride, but I desperately hope that this is just a matter of time.