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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Apple TV's Bleak Future



















A few years ago I bought an 160 GB Apple TV with the hope and expectation that I'd be able to store, time-shift and obtain a level of video-on-demand that digital technology and the web have been promising for decades. Only to be disappointed.

Last fall, when my home was broken into and the Apple TV stolen (without the remote) I figured the slim little aluminum box spent the entire winter in a ditch next to the freeway. Even a thief had to come to realize what they had was a closed system of little resale value and without the remote it could not be controlled.

If you go back through the history of Apple and its successes and failures, you will list the Newton, Mac Cube, and perhaps the Performa TV as big failures, Now, you should add Apple TV to that list. But, but the slim little silver box would say, "I cudda been a contenda..." And that is a true statement.

Designing a closed eco-system for Apple TV was the first big mistake. Apparently Apple wanted users to obtain all their film, TV and music content for their Apple TV through iTunes. Initially, downloading content from iTunes was extremely slow and ripping copies from your DVD collection like we did with our music from CD collections was not officially approved. This barrier put a big damper on wide-spread use and acceptance.

Another huge drawback to the Apple TV eco-system is the device did not have a DVR and could not record and time-shift your favorite TV programs, movies or documentaries. Apple insiders speculated before one keynote after another that Apple would upgrade Apple TV and make it more like other serious media center players (such as TiVO) but Apple uncharacteristically ignored customer demand. Software writers scrambled and wrote apps to jailbreak the box, making it easier to put content where we wanted it, add web surfing to access media on web sites, and still Apple refused to heed the call an improve their product.

When you looked at the back panel of the Apple TV you saw a USB port and the very first idea that flashed into my head was, Wow, now I can take an external USB storage drive and archive material to it but Apple wouldn't allow this and the software never supported it. When I asked the Genius' at the Apple Store "Why?" all they could say in agreement was, I doesn't make any sense other than there was probably some "Apple Legal" reason for it. That's not a good thing to tell faithful consumers of your products. And Apple seemed to never find a compelling use for that USB port.

Now, as many tech reporters have noted, Apple avoids talking about sales and what's happening to the Apple TV. Apple likes to characterize their commitment to the box as "a hobby." Meaning what? Apparently nothing more than just a cursory interest in pushing its technology, not providing serious upgrades and refusing to be on the cutting edge of the media center technology. Steve Jobs persistently throws off questions about Apple TV unit sales, which by his own observations about Kindle sales, means they are not hitting any kind of hoped for sales projections.

Easily Apple TV could be better. It could be a contender. Simply add a DVD player, DVR recording capabilities, and upgrade the software to include the record and capture features in EyeTV or with TiVO and you'd have a serious media component to add to the livingroom media center. I simply replaced my Apple TV with an old Mac Mini (see my iPhone remote controller review below) and the major motivation for this was bringing a DVD player next to my TV. Software improvements, beside the superficial 2.0 upgrade that did little more than improve the look could take full advantage of wifi and the inerconnectivity of all software and Airport connectedness of home networking.

Has Apple now completely missed the train as it leaves the station? Digital media set top boxes and the Netflicks, TiVO, Boxie, hulu, and other video-on-demand services emerging, has Apple basically thrown in the towel with Apple TV and stopped innovating on that platform?