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.



Am I the only one who would like to receive the iTunes Radio streams on my Apple TV?


I think you guys are missing the main point – very few consumers have any desire or inclination to connect their TVs to their computers right now. The Apple TV and similar products attempt to address a problem that simply doesn’t exist. Successful devices generally address an unmet desire on the part of the consumer. Now if Apple’s marketing apparatus were to “create” the perception of a problem in some way, in other words, to create a market from next to nothing, then AppleTV might have a fighting chance IMO. But in the absence of this, these will remain niche products for the forseeable future.

In focus group sessions that I’ve attended (i.e. behind the 2 way mirror), if the moderator asks the participants about connecting their TV screens to their computers, we see nothing but blank stares.

David Mullings

Personally I saw no reason to buy the Apple TV when a Mac Mini with little cable provided a far better experience in every way – Joost, Hulu, a browser to check out all sorts of other video – so much better than an Apple TV or hooking up my Macbook Pro to the tv.

My only concern is that Apple has traditionally been VERY concerned about the perception of their brand – and that is admirable – but they have dropped the ball on this product and it is hurting their image among non-Mac users who see this is a taste test for the company’s other products.

Message Apple – fix the Apple TV because it hurts your brand if you don’t.

Don Reisinger

I notice that everyone here mentions that Apple should allow us to hack the Apple TV. And while I would love to do that myself, I think we all know that Apple won’t do anything of the sort.

Will the company turn a blind eye as it has in the past? Probably. But don’t ever look for Apple to embrace hacking — it would set a dangerous precedent.

Oh and movie rentals? Who cares. Let’s see if it works for Vudu before we start spreading the idea that Apple can create a great movie rental experience.


As mentioned the Apple can play all the other video formats with very little effort (hack).

What I want is MOVIE RENTALS! I want to browse the iTMS for movies and watch them now. This would make the box sell like hotcakes.

Doug Petrosky

Apple already supports the MP3 of Digital Video….It is called MP4. Specifically, H.264 which Flash is switching to, YouTube is switching to and even Microsoft is switching to. Even DirectTV and some of the cable providers are moving that direction.

Moving Apple TV forward takes very few changes.

1) Content, get more of it.
2) Content, get higher quality.
3) Content, allow for rentals.

Other nice features would be:

1) Enable the USB port for additional storage.
2) Allow for 3rd party plug-ins like YouTube did as long as they will encode h.264 like YouTube.
3) Enable the iTunes Music Store on AppleTV
4) Allow for users to book mark web selections (in the same way widgets are created and make them available through a VNC style link to allow for any streaming video content to be viewed on your tv.


There are some horrible suggestions on this thread.

The Apple TV is close. It’s biggest problem is what content can be played on it. Right now we are limited to 1) video purchased through iTunes, 2) YouTube and 3) miscellaneous video such as ripped DVDs.

What Apple TV needs is one or more of the following: 1) ad-supported, free video such as that available at, Hulu and AOL Video, 2) pay-per-view and 3) Netflix-style subscription-based video.

Regarding “Step 1” above, it is possible to browse iTunes and watch video that is being streamed from your Mac (and not stored on the Apple TV). Apple needs to make this more apparent and make it work a bit better.


It really needs to be hacked to become functional. Add Sapphire and the experience changes completely.


We just featured an article covering the Apple TV, to see where it was heading and what could be done about it. Check it out:

But in all honesty, I don’t see it marketed as a Mac Mini for the TV with USB support, because you might as well buy a Mac Mini then, nor do I see a DVR coming to it, only because it takes away from a purchase to own model. I think with a rental subscription Apple could turn things around, but it’s all speculation. Check out the article, see what other people commented.



Yes, I subscribe to various video podcasts. The key word is “facilitate”… provide a format where you can’t fast-forward through commercials, provide targetting, provide a google-like way to pair ads with content.

Danny de Wit

They only need to do one thing: allow AVI/DIVX playback.

Just like the iPod allowed MP3 playback. That was the main reason it was able to be this huge.


BTW, the Apple TV does spit out HD content if you provide it with HD content.

“Apple has to facilitate free, advertiser-supported programming on iTunes. And they need to figure out a way to let advertisers target geographics and demographics.”

Hugh? Ever heard of Podcasting? Pretty much anyone can post a free podcast on Apple with advertising.


You are forgetting a few things. Apple TV has been on the market less than a year, yet…

Apple holds 91% of video downloads
Apple has 42% of movie downloads
Apple is certainly making money on this product whether it sells 400,000 or 4,000,000.
For example, Tivo started in 1997, yet only has 1.7 million stand alone DVR subscribers, so Apple already has 25% of Tivo’s customer base and didn’t lose $52 million like Tivo did last year.
Cable companies will never willingly let Apple piggyback on their networks by offering a cablecard plugin for the ATV. (Overall, the cablecard concept is a raging failure.)
Although more commercial content will certainly put a fire under ATV sales, ATV still has a great niche without boatloads of commercial content. ATV provides an elegant way to move any media on your computer to your living room.
Certainly, the ATV has it’s shortcomings, but every other company in the same space—Tivo, Vudu, Unbox, MS Live, Movielink, etc. would love to have the “terrible” year the AppleTV had.


Simple answer – support non-proprietary formats. Apple has so quickly forgotten what made the ipod so successful… it’s support for mp3. Sony would not do this, and failed in the same space. If Apple insists on supporting only DRM/Apple formats, it will fail in this venture.

On the other hand, if they made the Appletv equivalent to an XBMC player – so that it would gracefully play all codecs, they would start to sell like hotcakes. Xvid, Divx, AVI, WMV, MKV, etc.


How many “How can we Fix Apple TV” posts can there be? I’m as disappointed than anyone.

What would be great is if an updated version of the box supported CableCard, and have DVR functionality. I bet the only way the cable industry would allow that is if it was only available for RENTAL from the cable companies.


I love my apple TV. And I am not a mac user.

I believe that apple is missing a trick here. They need to position the apple tv as the mac tiny. This will get all of us non mac guys a taste of the apple pc/os world while deriving some clear intrinsic value in form of a media station. If I had my say in defining the road map I would add the following:

activate the USB port to support a mouse/ keyboard and external drive
enable a web browser
provide widgets
add DVR functionality / (charge a subscription for it I would rather pay apple then the cable guys)
some of the suggestions listed above with regards to a open media plug ins

Apple should also consider distributing the apple tv as the DVR platform via the largest cable/sat providers or buy tivo and combine tivo and atv to deliver a killer product.

Eddie G

Or they could just start selling this thing called “DVI-HDMI-cable” and point out that in an almost magical way it actually lets you connect that $1000+ Mac to your TV.

Phil Nelson

Bravo, and yes, as an appleTV owner, for what I paid, I feel a bit unloved. However, with the stuff that the folks at awkwardtv have let me do, it is the cornerstone of my home theater. Sapphire and nitroTV let me play anything I want.


You left out the most important part. Apple has to facilitate free, advertiser-supported programming on iTunes. And they need to figure out a way to let advertisers target geographics and demographics.

The great strength of Apple is that it creates great consumer experiences… but that’s their great weakness too — they sometimes care too much about it. The winner of the PC battle was Microsoft because they didn’t insist on doing the hardware themselves. Apple provided a better experience with their superior software/hardware integration, but it didn’t matter because people wanted something cheap.

Now it’s a new battle: the integrated experience is now probably an advantage for Apple, but if they care too much about a pristine experience and not enough about value, a company like Google is going to win the day. It should be Apple, if they get over their control-freak tendencies and open up their universe to a thousand (advertiser-supported) voices.

Comments are closed.