Apple TV, the third cousin once removed?

Apple TV

Everyone still seems hot and bothered that the Apple TV remains nothing more than a “hobby.” But if you consider a couple years ago, Steve Jobs assured us that Apple is listening, and that they understand user demands. What has this translated to us over time? Amazing products that usually go beyond our considerations, namely the iPhone. But will this translate down to a mere “hobby” product?

Hardware & Feature Upgrades

So far the expectations have always been centered on a complete digital media hub for the living room. Everyone’s trying out different methods, whether it’s the PS3, Xbox 360, or online, on-demand content. The second the Apple TV was announced, everyone screamed digital video recording (DVR). We all shared in the fantasy of hooking a tuner directly to it and being able to control TV content right from the box without a subscription fee. However, like good consumers we let it go; after all, hacking seemed to pacify the masses.

Still a possibility for a DVR? I don’t think so. Why would you rent, or purchase if you could hook up your Apple TV right to your cable and record on-demand content? I don’t see it shaping up from a marketing or consumer standpoint. Consumers aren’t jumping on board like they did with YouTube. Plus the price hike for a built in tuner could end up turning away more customers then it would gain.

External tuner? Without an open API I don’t see development gearing towards that possibility either. Sub channels, categories and functions could raise it much like the iPhone will be seeing. That said, I don’t see any further web elements coming to the Apple TV. No one’s been able to harness the web completely enough to access it from a television. Many will argue the Wii, but honestly how many people are purchasing a Wii specifically for its ability to surf the web? If Apple were to approach this segment, they would need something up their sleeve, much like they did with the iPhone’s browser.

A natural increase in hard drive space is much needed. The 40 gig could use a bump, and maybe even a model in between the lower end and the 160 gig end. I’m hoping for it, but I don’t see a flash version for at least another year.

Rentals or Subscriptions

It’s clear that a rental service is on its way to iTunes. Whether that translates to a rental service that will be immediately accessible from the Apple TV remains a conflicted issue. The answer is a definitive yes, the Apple TV will eventually have an incorporated store and rental service. Will it reach it this year? I’m on the fence, only because of the iPhone’s iTunes Store capability. I’m left in the dark wondering why the Apple TV didn’t receive a nice firmware update as well. I guess we’ll see what happens when January rolls around.

I think the larger question is what type of model the rental service will adopt. I’d love to see a Netflix style subscription model, one where for a set fee a month you receive unlimited rentals, with a set number at a time. Making new content, like TV shows available the day after airing would be icing on the cake. Quality control, and hopefully HD rentals, a subscription could prove cheaper than cable. But that comes down to viewing habits as much as it does to network allowances. More than likely it will be a pay-per-view rental feature. Will the market be as accepting of this? Depends on usability and practicality.

So while the Apple TV may have remained a hobby last year, I feel this coming year it will become more of a priority, and finally achieve the attention it deserves. Hopefully in the next round of updates, we’ll get a broader sense of appeal that will truly turn this device into a full fledged media hub.

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