Blog Post

What the Heck Is Going on With Apple TV?

Apple (s AAPL), during its quarterly earnings call yesterday, didn’t bring up its stepchild set-top box, the Apple TV. For those who follow the video industry, this is more of a predictable disappointment than a shocker. But as the video world evolves all around it, Apple appears to be stuck on pause, rather than fast-forwarding us into a television experience of the future. What gives?


The company has a history of relegating the Apple TV to the kids’ table, referring to it as a “hobby,” or not referring to it at all, as it did yesterday during its second-quarter conference call. But time isn’t on Apple’s side, and if it wants to be a player in this space, it needs to do something. Consider:

  • Microsoft (s MSFT), ironically, is becoming a true innovator in the living room. The company associated with boring PCs isn’t just using its Xbox game console as a gateway onto people’s TVs, it’s busting down the door with new social viewing features, social media integration and 1080p HD streaming.

  • Netflix (s NFLX) and Amazon (s AMZN) continue to strike deals with multiple consumer electronics partners, putting their services on just about every net-connected Blu-ray and TV out there. (And who knows, the two might merge to form one gigantic VOD Voltron-like service!)
  • Hulu and the cable companies will offer a one-two punch of putting TV shows from the broadcast and cable networks online. Granted, there will be windowing issues and you’ll need a cable subscription for some of that content, but these options greatly expand a viewer’s VOD choices at any one time.

But we still won’t count Apple out entirely. Michael Wolf over at our GigaOM Pro service (subscription required) recently outlined some new directions Apple could take with the Apple TV, including a shift towards gaming and apps and tighter integration with other Apple products, like the iPhone or a web pad.

What do you think is going on with the Apple TV? Do you have one? Do you use it? What does it need?

31 Responses to “What the Heck Is Going on With Apple TV?”

  1. I own one. I purchased it to stream my movies (over 400). I was tired of looking at the dvd movies and burned them to an external drive and stream them with the apple tv. I like being able to watch my favorite podcasts on my living room tv.

    I hope to see a new generation apple tv, maybe with gaming intergrated.

  2. I bought one and found it had serious bugs and couldn’t authorize content over a DSL line that uses PPPoE. As a closed box, Apple customer support was helpless. I then decided to review the apple forums and found 1) they overheat and have video problems 2) network stability is a problem 3) numerous bugs and problems appear to be ignored by Apple. 4) there is no way to update the firmware via iTunes or a USB stick. 5) factory restore and reboot it make it sound like the early days of MS Windows. I would have thought they would be interested in stabilizing this product but it seems more like it is just a curiosity. Their solution in my case is a refund rather than trying to troubleshoot the problem.

    After trying mythTV and experimenting with open source solutions, I was short on time and decided to go with AppleTV because I figured Apple would have their act together. Apparently they do not as far as this market goes. I will be back looking at things I can run on a solid unix platform like the low power picoITX embedded systems (no fans).

  3. I have an Apple TV and love it!

    It’s great to have all my movies stored on my ample computer hard drive, ready to stream wirelessly to my TV on command. No fiddling with DVD boxes or scratched discs, my favorite media from rentals to TV to movies are available on-demand at the push of a button, I can take my media with me on my iPhone and I can even use my iPhone as a remote to wirelessly control my Apple TV (great, fast way to navigate and enter text).

    To me, the Apple TV is already pretty impressive, what it really needs is:

    1. For the movie industry to pull its head out of its butt and ease up on the rental restrictions (only 24 hours to watch a movie, some movies not available to rent the same day they’re available to buy, etc.).
    2. To gain more TV shows and older movies (I’ll know Apple TV made it when I can buy “Goonies”).
    3. An app store (support for services like Hulu and games).
    4. A commercial. More people would buy the thing if they only knew it exists!
  4. Microsoft with Mediaroom IPTV offering has already captured the Living room + XBOX360 (Games on Demand, Socials) + ZuneHD Services + Netflix + Windows7 Media Center is a deadly Combo. Lot of big Service providers are rolling out Mediaroom IPTV world over like AT&T, Reliance etc.

  5. Apple is way to smart to not get the huge win that will be had by whoever eventually owns this spot in the living room – as others have said – Apple plays down ATV because it’s underfeatured and undermanaged. I expect this is all in lead-up to a typically Apple “there just one more thing” announcement in 2010 where ATV gets totally rethunk and re-released.

  6. We watch 10-12 hours/week of IPTV programs via the AppleTV – on the HDTV in the living room. Compared to whole-family watching of satellite derived TV from DirecTV, that’s a sizable minor percentage. It’s varies according to content available.

    I don’t even need the model with a bigger HD because we stream 80211.n to the ATV whenever and whatever we feel like watching. Doesn’t take more than a few seconds to start watching.

    Then, I delete it from the AppleTV. I still have copies on my iMac in the study.

    As for all formats? Unless you’re mired down in some geek hobbyists tweak, anything I’ve ever downloaded from the Web – from a legit source – has been easy enough to show via AppleTV unless it had code designed to prevent that display.

  7. I believe that Mac Mini is way better solution. You can play all formats without hacking the box. Though more expensive, it’s a better solution. Somehow it seems that Apple has too much on its plate right now with laptops, desktops, mobile devices and software development.

  8. @Chris. Yea, its hard to infer what is going on with all the mixed messages. I just found it interesting that they continued to wrap it in so much in the report.

    Whether its a box like it is now, software, or most likely imho, an iTV which looks like a tablet – a nice way to share TV, full screen, up close, with one or two more people. All speculation at this point, but whatever it happens, the world will likely love it.

  9. altrenda

    Everyone has there own opinion of what the ATV COULD become, but Apple seems to be more interested in pocket devices.

    Why buy an ATV to run something like Boxee when you can use any old computer, or a Mini, which would give you more functionality.

    the Apple TV was designed to sell content from itunes, but the growing use of streaming makes it irrelevant..

  10. They will flip the switch on subscription once it’s all ready.

    They could offer a combination ZunePass (music), NetFlix (movies, although not as great a selection), and cable (although they wouldn’t offer anything live like sports).

    Users would be required to access the subscription stuff through an Apple TV, iPod, iPhone, or iTunes. And then one day they’ll mount a cinema display plus Apple TV on the wall. Microsoft is doing amazing things in the living room, but doing it all through a game system is still not mainstream enough. A TV is.

    I think that’s the plan.

  11. Aaron B

    I had one, but in order for it to be truly useful for me I had to jailbreak it so it could play ‘other’ formats. I ended up selling it and going with a boxee/myth setup.

    That being said, it was quite an elegant solution, if you’re content with iTunes being the hub of your home media center. When it worked, it was very graceful and efficient.

    I’d love to see AppleTV reinvented, with some serious backing from Apple proper instead of being an afterthought.

  12. Our Apple TV is used as a media extender, renting movies and TV shows. But I am recently supplementing it with a Mac Mini, running Hulu desktop, Plex, and so much more. Here’s hoping there’s an update in the works, soon.

  13. ATV is going to break out this year in a big way.

    Apple will massively shift engineering resources now that iPhone 3.0 is behind them (same platform and APIs, same engineers).

    Also new technologies developed for Snow Leopard, like OpenCL and QuickTime X will allow it to squeeze more functionality out of the hardware.

    Lastly, content availability has hindered it, but they’ve been quietly building their movie library, and at this point it makes a solid movie rental platform.

    Oh, and there is a good chance they’ll use their successful relationship with ATT to offer subsidized (‘free’) boxes with ATT DSL or Uverse, which would increase adoption exponentially in months.

    More of why here:

  14. My AppleTV serves mostly as a tool that allows me to play my 200+GB iTunes collection via my TV/receiver, with the added bonus of getting to rent/purchase HD movies that are available to watch almost instantly.

    Yes, it is not the same quality as Blu-Ray, and yes, there are more elegant solutions to handle the music sharing, but for $180 on eBay it works for me.

    If I had it to do over again, I might buy the Mac Mini instead tho.

  15. mhick255

    Over the weekend I experimented with both Boxee and Plex. Plex was a MUCH better experience – better integration with Netflix and my Netflix account, integration with Hulu (!), and easier on the eyes, too. Made me strongly consider buying a MacMini or converting the old Dell desktop in my garage into a media server.

  16. I still believe there’s a future for Apple TV. Not as a external box, but as a TV Set. I mean the tube. It would make sense, since Apple [historically] loves to control every node, from low-hardware to end-software. And they’re making very good Cinema Displays already.

  17. Incredible that it hasn’t been updated. I have one and still love it, despite the fact that it hasn’t updated. Using Boxee on it is awesome and heck, I even rent movies and TV shows more often than I care to admit. So I guess I’m just patiently waiting to see what happens. No rush. I enjoy the thing. I know if they do give it some elbow grease they’ll hit one out of the park. Apps on the Apple TV, plz.

  18. flyn5oh

    I thought the same thing about the ATV being just a front end for iTunes until I discovered Boxxe. Boxxe has allowed me to cancel my cable service and still see all of the shows that I want to see. Boxxe has also allowed me to view almost any video format on my HDTV. My ATV has treated me so well that my ‘wife’ is talking about getting another one for our bed room.

  19. Too low end a platform to be universal
    • Add a better CPU (core 2 or up)
    • Support all features supported by boxee
    • Support a full web browser

    Yes, it will look like Mac Mini and there is nothing you can do about it.

  20. Apple TV is useless… they should go ahead and kill it.

    The only reason Apple built it was to provide a front end for purchasing videos on iTunes. They don’t want you to watch episodes for free on Hulu or all-you-can stream movies on Netflix or downloaded DivX files from the darker parts of the Internet. They want you to buy individual shows or episodes, from them, and from nobody else.

    Technology companies that aren’t in bed with media companies are much better positioned to build a decent set top box… because when a major part of your business model involves giving BJs to movie/music industry executives, and selling “exclusive” content a-la-carte, you’re going to build products that please those industry execs and protect your own store (like a video player that doesn’t support DivX, for instance). And that’s not what users actually want.

    Apple should get out of the way. This space is going to be owned by company that isn’t beholden to Disney and BigContent… and the sooner we can get there, the better it will be for video consumers.

  21. Played with an Apple TV at a friend’s house over the weekend. It had nothing on it — no movies, no TV shows, no podcasts, no music, nothing. The only thing it was good for was watching YouTube vids.

    I think Apple doesn’t talk about ATV because it doesn’t want to admit ATV is a failure. They would have been better off just making a video dock and letting the iPod be the center of the media experience. Plus, Apple still wants to sell movies a la carte, and people see more value in paying Netflix $10/month.

    If ATV came with what it has now, plus Netflix, Hulu, ESPN360 and a few other streaming services, plus a built-in OTA tuner with guide and DVR, it might start taking off. But it will be a cold day in hell before Apple makes deals with Netflix and Hulu.