AppleTV: EXACTLY as Promised

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I suppose in some senses it’s a good thing that everyone expects every Apple product release to sell 100 million – of course, that’s not very realistic … in the realm of all consumer electronics, of the millions of gadgets released, only a few have reached that lofty, lofty ICONIC benchmark including the Sony Walkman (13 years), the Sony PS2 (under 6 years) and the Nintendo GameBoy (11 years to get to 100 million) – and of course, the iPod did not exactly burst through the gates, it did not really take off until a year later when pries dropped and Windows compatibility was added.

So, it’s odd for people to write an obit for the AppleTV in more ways than one.

First, it’s not a replacement for the iPod and unlike the iPod, that was a breakout project into unknown territory. The iPod required creating a whole new infrastructure at Apple. The iPod required a completely different OS but also one that could sync with OSX. It required a front end app (iTunes) that later required to be cross platform, as well as be the consumer front end to their store juggling jukebox functions, DRM, store listings AND purchase transactions. On the retail side, Apple was suddenly doing business with a new slew of retailers (Radio Shack, Costco) as well new relationships with the music industry. Apple also had to develop relationships with new chip makers and manufacturers to create this difficult to create new thing that required exacting details to mold perfectly – not to mention the smallest components to operate this thing and plenty of access to chips and drives. That is/was serious work.

What is AppleTV Really?

A form much like the Apple Mini. Chips from all the usual places. Software? OSX (hidden) plus Front Row (already developed with bugs worked out). What else? Industry standard video in and outs. Check. Retailers? Anyone who wants to sell iPods can sell the AppleTV. Streaming? Technology already in use from Apple Airport. Store? Already in place from the iPod. Photos? Done – already from iPhoto. That’s not to say there wasn’t testing and typical R&D but it’s R&D for a product extension, not an entirely new gizmo bolt out of the blue line requiring a whole new infrastructure … it’s essentially 1/3 of a Mini, 1/3 of an iPod & 1/3 of an Apple Airport … all aspects that are/were up & running at Apple.

So, even if AppleTV fails miserably, Apple’s losses are very minimal because it’s essentially Tide with Downey but of course, that’s just taking the most pessimistic viewpoint … the other viewpoint is that it does NOT have to be an runaway hit for Apple to recoup its costs … and while the most P&G can do with Tide with Downey is add more Downey to “improve” it, Apple can continue to add features to AppleTV via software upgrades.

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Promises, Promises

Perhaps there some schadenfreude involved here but a lot of reviews main focus was on all the “missing features” … well, two points to that. First, from the keynote, here’s what Steve Jobs & Apple promised:

Buy content through iTunes on your computer and watch it on your television set through AppleTV.

USB2.0, WiFi, Ethernet, HDMI, Transmits video to your TV wirelessly.

40GB drive, audio/video on the back, 802.11b/g/n

Designed for widescreen TVs.

Auto syncs content from one computer and stream it up to 5 TVs.

Supports 720p HD

Also plays/syncs non-iTunes video, music, and your photos.

Use iTunes to move movies to your AppleTV. Then stream to other TV’s.

AppleTV can also stream trailers.

A remote control.

Ships in February, but available now – $299!

You can view the keynote here.

Other than it shipped a few weeks late, you got EVERYTHING promised in the keynote, there were no promises made at the keynote that got withdrawn or “we’re still in alpha testing.”

And while the reviews of its picture quality varied from reviewer to reviewer, I think 100% agreed it was easiest home networking video computer to TV set “streamer.”

Pretty much 100% what the keynote promised in features and in a user experience.

That’s not to say the AppleTV is perfect nor perfect for everyone but while some reviewers personally didn’t like the video quality, Apple did not promise a host of features that they didn’t deliver on – somehow reviewers expected AppleTV to include everything they can think of and since it’s not one box that delivers everything, it’s a “failure?”

Just because you can conceive of a feature, unless Apple promised it, it’s all just wishin’ and hopin’ on your part.

Why not a beam that rises up & is a directional beacon for your remote if you can’t find it?

Why not a chip with James Earl Jones announcing when any Starwars related thing is on TV?

Okay, how about some features that people seem to want?

A DVR?

Sure would be convenient and you know it be a thing of beauty but there are two major roadblocks. As a member of the entertainment fraternity, there is no way Apple could release a DVR without DRM – all you have to do is look at Microsoft’s Media Center (and yes, Microsoft seemed gleeful to add DRM) or TiVO and in particular TiVo To Go. Both laden with DRM for copying files elsewhere and occasionally the ‘COPY NEVER’ error message popups.

“(TiVo’s Macrovision copy protection.) Apparently, these programs were flagged as “copy never,” so the box was dutifully following orders, and allowing video only via the copy-protected HDMI output.”

Read more at CNET and EFF.

NOTE, I do not FAVOR this nor think this is good thing. Frankly, I think it’s idiotic. I paid for a program’s viewing, I should be able to watch as I see fit – especially as a PAYING customer.

People have also reported this COPY NEVER feature activating on their PC Media Center – one reason why after 3 years, you hardly hear of anyone using it – mainly because anyone wanting to record a TV signal with their computer (Mac or PC) know they have many solutions including EyeTV or for the DIYers, the not-so-mythical Linux MythTV … or if you’re like me, who can manage to set two pieces of concrete on fire in Siberia, the pre-built MythTV in a sharp looking box, the Hannibal.

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Or if want more tuners and a bigger HDD.

So, sure, we would all want to see a gorgeous Apple designed interface for a DVR but at the price of suddenly activated DRM? Um, no thanks. I’ll just add an EyeTV box or buy another solution to stream to my AppleTV box.

BTW, you can record on your Mac now, all you need is a firewire cable box, a firewire cable and iMovie. It’s not real clean as you can’t get rid of the clips pane on the right but it’s certainly watch-able or you can record it, output it to QT and watch later “full screen.” It’s not technically a DVR as you have to actively hit RECORD – though you can set up an Automator script … or just buy the EyeTV setup and you’ll be up & running in minutes.

AppleTV as DVD Player

Do you not have a DVD player? Do you not have $29 dollars? Do you not already have probably 8 devices that can play a DVD in the house or in your surrounding yard? Can you imagine the sniping that would occur if Apple added one …

Oh great, another DVD player
I thought this thing streamed movies – I have to get up to put in a movie?!
blah, blah, blah

Does Apple have to spell it out for you? Instead of putting in DVD’s one by one, why don’t you get Handbrake, rip the DVD’s onto your HDD and then stream via AppleTV? Hello, 21 Century!

AppleTV as Set Top Box

Now, there are few people in America who wouldn’t be willing to trade their cable box and throw in a box of gold bars for an Apple set-top cable/satellite box. At least the Moto ones I have now are reasonably attractive though still huge and about as well built as a cardboard box boat. Apple would sweep through that market like All-You-Can-Eat Day at the ballpark but if you thought negotiating with record labels was tough, try to cobble a market from Comcast, Time Warner, Cox, Cablevision, etc, etc … they move like molasses on a cold day in Siberia (sadly, not the day I got two pieces of concrete to catch fire) – look how long it’s taken to get 10 HD channels out of them. They not only like to reinvent the wheel, they seem to destroy all evidence there was a wheel so they can start from scratch. Apple doesn’t want anything to do with them.

The Future

Unlike some other people, I’m not going to make bold proclamations that AppleTv will rule all or is officially a failure as of last Thursday afternoon but there are lots of possibilities that Apple might choose to explore.

Adding YouTube is one – an easy add on – or adding a Blu-Ray DVD player or better yet, being able to stream one … but the bigger one is IPTV (TV over the Internet). As we are getting very specialized channels already and as AT&T delivers U-Verse a package of cable channels via the internet to TV sets, you can see the possibilities.

(now if Apple only had a relationship with AT&T … maybe something in the future might happen there …. hey, wait a minute, who’s their iPhone partner again?)

So, why bother trying to sell cable/sat companies on being a set-top when it might be better than a plain old set-top box because instead of just delivering hundreds of channels through another partner, IPTV potentially could offer you a million channels worldwide and all you need is some processing power and some software … yea, that software thing, that’s pretty hard to upgrade – people would need to click on a few buttons – that’s not going to happen – let’s just say AppleTV is a failure and close the books.

Unlike most hardware where at most you can flash the firmware and yea, good luck getting grandma to hook up the DVR to an internet connection and a PC laptop – AppleTV offers a host of upgrade possibilities since it’s essentially OSX: Parts Hidden Version – the processing power is mostly there, all you need to do is add software apps – now will Apple make it everything for everyone and crush the set-top box market and sell 100 million of these? I don’t know but I do know it’s not yet time to dismiss it just because so far, it “only” delivers what Apple said it would.

It’s early in the show. So relax, sit down, chill, open a cold one and fire up Tony V. Paul on the YouTube Front Row.

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3 Comments

Filed under Apple Mac, Computing, Film, Gadgets, Internet, Marketing, Media, Retail, TV

3 responses to “AppleTV: EXACTLY as Promised

  1. Scott

    “Industry standard video in and outs.”?!?
    I missed the where the video IN ports is. And, unfortunately (for me), it only has a subset of “industry standard video out” ports.

    (METROXING: Sorry, sloppy writing on my part – I was just talking about the ports in the sense that they were standardized and normally licensed without Apple having to develop anything).

  2. They also offer the 100gig hard drive as of last week, but even so, i wonder how this unit is selling, i don’t know anybody that has it, nor do i know anybody that is going to buy it. The iPhone is a whole other ball of yarn.

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