How to Fix the Apple TV

Over the past few months, a variety of reports have speculated about the future of the Apple TV. Some have flat-out asked if the device “will die,” and although I can’t be sure of that answer, I still like to believe that Apple wants to make it the cornerstone of any home theater. So if you’re asking me to answer that question, I’d say, “Not yet.”

Apple TVRegardless of my own stance, there are still a host of issues surrounding the Apple TV. First off, it is estimated to have sold just 400,000 units, according to Forrester Research, which is an astounding 600,000 units shy of what the research firm originally believed Apple would have sold by now.

To make matters worse, Apple has yet to provide a decent array of videos on its iTunes store. And ever since Steve Jobs called the Apple TV a “hobby,” some have wondered how dedicated the company really is to seeing this product succeed.

Yet while Apple’s questionable dedication may stand in the way of the Apple TV’s success, there are still a few ways the company can turn the tide.

Step 1: Allow users to do more

Who else has used the Apple TV and become extremely upset with its functionality? Am I the only person who believes we should be able to browse iTunes on the Apple TV menu, buy songs and video on the fly, and be allowed to browse the web? Sure, you can already do this with the Mac Mini, but wouldn’t you rather spend less to have the same sort of functionality without dealing with a full-fledged computer? I certainly would — and I own both products.

Step 2: Start working with movie studios for a change

While I may side with Apple on the topic of movie studios and its desire to basically change the way these companies have done business for the past 50 years, I also believe that sometimes it’s necessary for Steve Jobs’ ego to take a backseat to what is best for consumers. As Apple continues to break its ties with movie and television studios, the amount of content is dwindling to the point of irrelevance and without a healthy offering, there’s no hope for the Apple TV.

At best, we’re currently able to download Disney and Pixar films, while a handful of other titles from MGM and Lions Gate have been made available to whet our appetite. Did you know that according to Apple, a little over 500 movies are currently available on the iTunes Store? Granted, there are television shows and other entertainment at your disposal too, but will that anemic offering of video that doesn’t even spit out HD justify your purchase of a $399 device? I doubt it.

Step 3: Apple must pretend like it cares

When Steve Jobs uttered those fateful words — that the Apple TV was just “a hobby” — the world was left to wonder if the device was nothing more than an 18-month experiment. Unfortunately, it looks like it is. If it was as important to the company as the iPod, why wouldn’t some of these obvious problems have been addressed already?

Simply put, Apple seems like it doesn’t even care what happens with the Apple TV. And while it will talk about the iPod and iPhone until its PR people are blue in the face, it has failed to even speak to the issues that are plaguing this device.

That said, I truly believe Apple can turn this product around if it starts to focus on it. And if you ask me, now would be the best time to do just that. After all, what would be a distraction at this point? Leopard is out, the iPhone is an unbridled success and the iPod continues to dominate its industry. The only wild card in the entire equation is the Apple TV. But with some focus and market research to find out exactly what customers want, this company can find a way to turn it around.

The Apple TV has hope — Apple just needs to realize it.

Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who covers everything from Google to HDTVs. He currently writes for over 15 popular technology publications, including CNET’s Digital Home, InformationWeek and Future Publishing in the UK.

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