Future Fodder: Apple TV the Center of Your Media Universe

37 Comments

AppleTV-server

Looking through Apple’s (s aapl) current lineup of products, there’s one that stands out as the sad little orphan: the Apple TV. Apple itself has gone out of its way to lower expectations for this product, with Steve Jobs calling it a “hobby.”

The problem with the Apple TV is that its feature set just isn’t particularly compelling. Streaming my music to my television? My television is for watching stuff, not listening to stuff. Renting movies? Netflix or my local video store offer a much larger selection with better prices and terms. Buying movies and television shows? TV is free and DVDs are cheaper and more flexible than iTunes movies.

As you can see, the Apple TV has a problem. Behind that slick interface is a product that’s outclassed by competitors like Tivo, Roku and game consoles. So how can Cupertino save Apple TV? How about turning it into the center of your digital media life? Today, the Apple TV acts as a peripheral component of your computer, instead let’s turn the tables and turn your computer into a peripheral component of the Apple TV.

How It Would Work

Here’s how I imagine it would work. Turn on the Apple TV and it would immediate scan your networks, both wired and wireless, for Apple devices. After a simple pairing process, the Apple TV would immediately begin copying every piece of digital media found on any paired Mac to its own hard drive. If you have two or more computers in the house, it would compare your libraries and combine them so that you have a central repository for all of your digital media. You could then choose to synchronize missing items back to individual computers automatically, or copy items manually from the Apple TV to your Mac.

Apple has already taken a step in this direction with iTunes 9, which can tell you if other computers in the house have music you lack, and even synchronize automatically. The problem with a direct computer to computer solution is that with the growth of laptops, the amount of time two computers are in the same place and turned on is much less. With an Apple TV you have what amounts to a single-use computer that always sits in the same place and can handle all of the synchronization needs.

In fact when you think of the Apple TV as a computer, the possibilities become much greater. While you’re away, the Apple TV could download new television episodes and podcasts, which would be automatically synchronized to your laptop when it arrives back home. It could also monitor your iTunes account, so if you purchase a song on your iPhone while out and about, the Apple TV would automatically download that song and share it with computers at home before you even get back. And while we’re at it let’s also download software updates for your Mac and have them available for install when you walk in the door.

Hub for iPhone and iPod

Of course Macs are hardly the only Apple device on which we want our digital media. There’s no reason why an Apple TV couldn’t sync directly with your iPod or iPhone. Mac users have been hoping for wireless sync for a long time, but the slow speed of wireless networks have been a problem. Once again you can take advantage of an always on device. There’s no need to set up sync between your Mac and iPhone, instead the minute you walk into your home your iPod/iPhone would begin synchronizing with the Apple TV. If there’s particularly large content, like television shows or a movie, the synchronization could happen overnight while you sleep. You could wake up in the morning and walk out of the house with all the latest content in your pocket. Oh, and let’s also have the Apple TV download any app updates and install them automatically while you’re at home.

Internet Availability

What else could you do with an always on, always connected computer? How about making all of your media and files available over the Internet anytime you want them? Just connect to your Apple TV and stream all of the media on the device directly to your Mac, iPod or iPhone. Flip a switch in the preferences and the Apple TV could store a copy of your home folder, available anywhere, anytime through a slick online interface. Once again this is something Apple is already doing with Mobile Me and the Airport Extreme, but let’s make it easier and automatic.

With the 40GB Apple TV consigned to the dust bin, most users will have plenty of storage with the 160GB model, but just in case, Apple could finally make use of that USB port on the back and let you plug in any external hard drive to gain more storage. Once connected it would automatically be configured to provide overflow storage without any need for configuration on your part. Again, we want the power of a small computer, which the Apple TV is, without the complexities.

A Simple Software Update

All of this could be done with a software update, so every Apple TV already purchased could receive these features. Of course much of this could also be done with a Mac mini, Chronosync and some hackage, but the value proposition is a $229 set top box that not only puts iTunes content on your TV, but manages all of your digital media across all of your devices. Media servers have been around for a while now, but it’s time for Apple to do it better than anyone else, and cement the Apple TV’s place in the digital living room at the same time.

37 Comments

Shane

I use an ATV with XBMC on it and simply bypass all it’s “built in” functionality.

The ATV suffers from Apples “Our way” philosophy, rather then seeing what it’s client base can do with.

As a form factor unit, it’s the best on market (ever if it’s a little over priced), if it was capable of doing full HD (1920×1080), then it would kill almost everything out there.

I agree with your idea of collecting all the media on the network, but it should only produce meta data and leave the data where it is…this idea of Apples to “copy” everything to where IT wants and really annoying, but as a hub, from which you could access your media from, is a great idea.

Apple, take a look at Boxee and XBMC and see what people really want and stop TELLING us what we want…

alvise

I was so happy with my Boxee, until my apple tv update himself and i lost the possibility of browse my “media server”. (i have to try to reset everything to original setting and reload boxee, and disabel the “auto” update.)
160 G , is not enough to think to handle a “real” media library.
External hard drive I don’t think are not made to stream on a network media.
Wireless is not that solid in my opinion.
I prefer to keep my media on “real” media server and use the apple tv for browsing with boxee, i will not trust an apple TV to keep my library and do any sync …

Tom

I would love it if I could just hit the menu button on my Apple TV remote to start the beautiful Apple TV interface, without first requiring that I change inputs on my television. I’d like Apple TV to sit in between my cable box and my television, passing through the television signal until I activate the Apple TV. When I activate Apple TV using the remote’s menu button, it would fade in over the television signal similar to the way that Front Row starts on my Mac. To return to normal television viewing, I would hit “menu” again on the remote while on the main menu which would fade the television signal back in, similar to the way I exit Front Row. The advantages are:

Only 1 HDMI input is taken up on my television.
Enabling Apple TV is only 1 click on the Apple remote, I don’t have to use my television remote at all.
Works in conjunction with my existing CableBox DVR.

Robert

This article is what I have been thinking ever since I first saw the Apple TV. The current product is just a glimpse of what this product could do. An Apple centralized home server with live TV and an app store would be a cable killer. Not to mention the movie rentals and other features already offered. I don’t know about you but I would cancel my cable in a heartbeat if I could simply choose the few shows I watch and watch only those. Combining Airport Express, Time Capsule, etc. would really revolutionize this product and make it a must have in my opinion. Wireless sync to my iPod Touch would make my life much easier and the potential of pre-downloaded updates for my MacBook Pro would be amazing. There is a lot of potential in the Apple TV and Apple has yet to take advantage of it.

Kyle

The Apple TV would benefit hugely from some sort of app ecosystem. It doesn’t even need to be as deep as the iPhone app selection. Pandora on the Apple TV? That would be killer. How about a little on demand Scene It? Those are just the first two ideas I thought of, but I’m sure there are lots more.

Thomas

here are my two cents:
A) rip-off BOXEE (hey Apple did not invent the mp3 player either)
B) Free it from QuickTime domination (Apple is acting like MFST ever heard off DVIX, XVID,etc.)
C) foregt what i just said just get the app store working apple TV and everything will be solved

Jon

The article is completely right. We need full, intelligent synchronization for photos (iPhoto and originals), music, videos, and normal file backup. Yes, Apple TV is great. Yes, a Mac Mini is great for an HTPC as well. But Apple needs to take it that one step further.

Colin

Certainly the Apple TV could be improved, but I think you’re missing a few key advantages.

First, everything is on-demand, which is a more modern way of handling video. Netflix requires waiting days before you can watch your movies, Blockbuster requires a trip to the store and they’re sometimes out-of-stock on new releases.

With Apple TV, you plop your butt on the couch, push a button and the movie or TV show you want to watch is available within minutes.

Second, your purchased content can come with you on your iPod or iPhone. I can’t fit a portable DVD player in my pocket, not to mention the actual discs. I do, however, have about a day’s worth of video in addition to all my music on my iPhone and I play it to pacify the toddlers when we’re out to eat, riding to work on the train, or while I’m flying on a plane to visit family.

Third, there’s plenty of great FREE content available through YouTube and video podcasts, including full-length news shows from CNN, MSNBC, and internet sources like CollegeHumor, Current, and Revision3. All of it is offered on-demand, naturally!

Lastly, it works super-well with all your other Apple products. You can stream music to an Airport Express (which I have in my kitchen), stream content from your computer’s hard drive and automatically sync with it via iTunes, and even use an iPhone/iPod Touch as a wireless, touch-screen remote control via Apple’s free “Remote” app!

All of this brings me to another point. While I acknowledge the need for looser restrictions on rental, broader availability of content, and possibly an App Store, I think one of the biggest things holding the Apple TV back is that people don’t understand what it does! The average Joe on the street can tell you exactly what an iPod is for, but will scratch their head when trying to identify what an Apple TV is (or that it even exists).

Additionally, most of the editorials you see about the unit are from people who don’t own one, and may not have even used one.

Therefore, with the next round of Apple TV changes, something else I think they need is just better marketing! More people would buy it if they understood it!

annonymous_man

Good post — excellent ideas for improving Apple TV you should send them to Apple via http://www.apple.com/feedback (go to the link on the page I just provided a link for titled Apple TV for Apple TV feedback) to submit this feedback to Apple. Everyone should submit their ideas to Apple and hopefully the best ones will eventually find their way into a new software update for existing Apple TVs and at the same time Apple will introduce new Apple TV hardware that will ship with the latest firmware.

Thomas

I find bits of valuable suggestions from every post-and of course the original article- from Netflix to a-la-carte TV shows, to Skype to 1080p etc. I think the problem is that so much is outside the control of Apple that it’s difficult to make a device that works good for everyone. ATV depends on a TV, a decent broadband connection, a receiver usually, itunes, etc.

Me I never purchased one single movie for it. The first thing I did it was to install XBMC and watch movies stored on a home server. And for that, it works just great (1080p would be nice though). It also happens to be against the eula though…

Daryl

While all these points will improve the Apple TV, I doubt Apple will do them. Redesigning the Apple TV to support Cablecard or some form of Live TV will be great, except Apple will not do that either. Realistically, what Apple can do in the interim (until a hardware refresh) is to add support for all codecs and containers (mpeg2, 3, 4, AVCHD, VC-1, m2ts, .mkv, .ts and many more). This way, regardless of what file type my video is or where I got it from, it will seamlessly playback on my Apple TV. I have a couple of refurbished Mac Minis connected to my living room and bedroom TVs. They are used for media only, with PLEX as the default media center app. On occasion, iTunes and iPhoto get fired up. I considered the Apple TV, but the lack of codec support made me go the rout of the Mac Mini.

Andres

I totally get your point Alfredo. Given the success of the App Store, I believe there might be a slight opportunity.. Perhaps a good start might be to modify the video business model at the iTunes store. The apple TV would go high up in value if there was an option to pay say 15 bucks for having 3 movies downloaded and available at the Apple TV (or iTunes) at any point, the next one would come once you delete one of the movies, based on a queue. Isn that netflix´s succesfull formula? Also would like to see a 50 bucks a month a-la-carte TV shows downloading. If there is pressure from the networks, they could also restrict it to 3 or 4 named shows. That would make me cancel my cable subscription..

ZenArcade

The appleTV is for playing iPhone games. and all the other iPhone applications. I got a Nintendo Wii, I play for 30 minutes, then go on for my life. Investing 30+ hrs for a game ? No, I have better things to do.

I want to use Tweetie on my widescreen. Some silly game that take 5 min.

AppleTV is really iPhoneTV

That is what is coming next

Tom

Nik

I can actually really see this working.

aTV and iPhones connect over WiFi, each iPhone becomes a controller. With full touch, gesture and accelerometer etc control abilities, and the aTV becomes the screen…

=O:

My jaw is on the floor.

Although, it makes it a little exclusive. If you don’t have an iPhone, you can’t play. Still… I’m impressed with this idea =D:

Mauricio

Zen, you are spot on. The ATV would make an excellent platform for iPhone games.

Then if they’re able to create game/peer-to-peer APIs that allow multiple players to use their iPhones to play together on the TV, that would be crazy fun.

In fact, that little box is so close to being so many things:

Game console (multi-onsite-player)
Videoconferencing terminal
Set-top-box (subscription model)
Web browser
Movie rental box

Just 3 things are needed:
– Timely content delivery: I would much rather pay $30 for a season subscription to TDS than $100 monthly to cable company for 500 channels I don’t watch. But each episode needs to be available at the same time (or before!) the cable version.
– A full-featured remote: Apple seems to be experimenting here with the free iPhone remote app, which works pretty well (type YouTube searches with iPhone keyboard!).
– Better navigation with a unified experience: My favorite ‘channels’ should combine my YouTube subscriptions, recently downloaded podcasts, new show episodes and rented movies, and purchased music videos, all in one list.

Adam Jackson

My fear. The160GB TV that I bought 8 months ago and use maybe once a week will soon be replaced by a more powerful TV 2.0 and finally be a kick ass media hub that we all want it to be.

I bought the TV cause it does cool things but it wasn’t going to revolutionize my life of entertainment. I hoped for an update soon that would fix all of that. it looks like I should sell it now and wait for the new and improved version which is around the corner.

footagehead

Are all of you living under a rock !!!!! Boxee does just about all this stuff.
Duh !

Dan

I love my Apple TV’s… I have 5 of them, all connected and streaming wirelessly to my iMac, of which I have a 2TB external which houses all my digital media (movies, music, photos, etc.). I rip my movies with hamdbrake and store them on the external and stream them to the Apple TV. there is nothing on my Apple TV harddrive, which is perfect for me, because I hve way to much stuff to keep on one ATV and don’t want to decide which room gets what media. I have my entire library at my fingertips, without worrying about scratched DVDs, or my kidsoving things betweenrooms or damaging media. My friends are always incredibly impressed by the convenience and lack of huge shelves full of CDs and DVDs. The ATV is plenty versatile, but it seems that most people aren’t using it’s full potential. The video quality is plenty good for my LG 42″ flatscreen in 1080p. If your a videophile, then the qualityay not be good enough for you, but it’s plenty good enough for me and my family. I would like hulu and streaming content, or a tv decoder built-in or the ability to connect my eyeTV to the USB port, I would ditch my digital cable box altogether. Either way, I’m completely happy with my ATV, and won’t be getting rid of it any time soon, unless the next incarnation includes more features. My ATV is a central piece of my media center. iTunes season passes for tv shows is a great option and I purchase most of my content through iTunes anyways. Add apps and turn it into a gaming console as well, and you’ve turned a hobby into a heavyweight competitor.

Champs

The features of AirPort Express, AirPort Extreme, Time Capsule, and Apple TV could all stand to be condensed into at least one less product.

Andres

I don´t think the product described in the article is an Apple TV, but an Apple Home Server, which I would love to see, and will be in line to be the first to buy it.

To me the problem of the Apple TV lies in that it is closed to Apple Content. I believe Apple should take the same approach it took with the iPhone/Ipod Touch, and open it to developers and let users get content into their TVs through it. such an approach should create an environment where developers will find new more compelling ways of getting content into our living rooms and should make for very interesting competition against the networks and Telcos.

How about a skype app through my TV? Or netflix delivering content directly to my Apple TV? or being able to buy at amazon directly from the TV viewing large pictures of the products? I think the possibilities are endless, not sure why apple wants to wall it iTunes store garden…

Alfredo Padilla

Andres,

I know that putting other forms of content on the Apple TV has certainly been suggested as a way to “fix” the product. I just wonder how likely it is that Apple and Steve Jobs will open it up to other content providers given that the whole point of the product seems to be to push iTunes content. I don’t think it’s impossible, but I wanted to explore other ways that Cupertino could make the Apple TV compelling.

-Alfredo

Panny

A very good post, those features would go a long way and increase the value of Apple TV.

One area that I think would transform Apple TV, is the TV show section. At one point I was very close to ditching cable and just using Apple TV – why? I could download most of my favorite shows and movies. What stopped me was the ‘live’ effect of TV – news, sports, shows that you want to watch live. If Apple could provide this content, then it could compete with cable and satellite while adding all the other features that cable & satellite couldn’t compete with.

They could also offer ‘packs’ of programs at discounted rates and maybe even add advertisements for cheaper alternatives. I was working out that I may watch 6 shows a week – that’s about $50 a month with the advantage of ad free. My cable is more than that but I still want the ‘experience’ of live TV incase news breaks, a sporting event comes on or a live talk show, etc. If Apple can duplicate this ‘experience’ of TV… they’ll be onto something HUGE!

keidalgrim

What I would give to see this stuff come true. And I agree with Kyle that music is a huge component of this.

Because I don’t own one of these babies, before I would ever purchase one, it would have to output 1080p video and some very high-end lossless audio (DTS-HD or TrueHD).

Is the AppleTV in its current incarnation capable of this now — or is just something to add to the wishlist?

Thanks — Keith

Galley

I’ve got more than 23,000 lossless audio tracks streaming to my Apple TV, and it’s a pretty damn good experience.

Kyle

You claim that listening to music on the Apple TV is not compelling. And on a TV alone, certainly, you are right. But for those of use hooking the Apple TV up to a receiver, with high-end surround sound speakers, it is the most compelling feature of the Apple TV–an iPod for our home theater, streaming all of our iTunes music from the computer in the next room. Combine the Apple Lossless codec and the optical audio out of the Apple TV, and you have a damn fine hi-fi source.

90 percent of my Apple TV time is spent on that feature alone, and from reading around forums and whatnot, I suspect I’m not in the minority.

Alfredo Padilla

Kyle,

I agree that music via the Apple TV can be a compelling feature for some, but I don’t think it is for most people, and I don’t think it will get the masses to shell out over $200 for a set-top box, which is what Apple needs to figure out.

-Alfredo

J David

You made a huge mistake then; if you spend 90% of the time using it to listen to your music, and you wanted an pricey Apple solution, you should have sprung for an airport express. Optical out audio to your nice speakers for $100…

Guy Saddy

You’re totally wrong, Alfredo. Many of us — maybe even most — who bought the initial version of the Apple TV (well, 2.1) did so to have an elegant interface for a large music collection. Like Kyle, I’ve hooked my ATV up to a very good receiver. The results are fantastic, and I haven’t fumbled through CDs for over two years.

The addition of movie rentals, etc., was great, and I would dearly like to see it evolve further. But I bought it for music. And J David, you’re wrong, too: unless your computer is in the same room as your stereo, have fun running through your house every time you want to change a playlist, etc. The Airport Express in NO way challenges the ATV. It has no interface.

Michael

I would love to see Apple do something like this. Make it more of an Apple Home Server. Get all the core apps in the mix, like iPhoto and iMovie. I run into real issues with keeping things in sync between my multiple Mac household.

Comments are closed.