Note: I don’t own an Apple TV and the views are my own after going through Apple’s keynote and reading through the various reviews and specs on Apple’s site.
Apple announced the latest version of their “hobby” product, the Apple TV, at an event on March 7. They also announced the new iPad that I wrote about earlier. The most notable feature (only feature?) is that the new Apple TV, henceforth just called the Apple TV, does 1080p video. It had to, you see, the iPad and the iPhone are both capable of streaming 1080p video over Airplay and since Apple TV is the only device that they can stream to, the 720p limitation just didn’t make sense anymore.
So, in my opinion 1080p was a given. What a lot of people also thought was that Apple would release an actual physical HD television set. You know, the kind you hang on your living room walls.
Disappointing, I know!
I’ve already written my thoughts on why or why not Apple should release a television set but to reiterate, I think Apple did the right thing here. I don’t think Apple can solve the problem with current television sets with the resources currently available to them. I’m not saying Apple will never make a television set. All I’m saying is that with the amount of clout and resources they have, right now, they cannot make the kind of device they’d want to make.
What are the problems ?
First and foremost, television sets right now are just dumb pipes that display content brought to us by a dumb network. Apple stopped making those kind of devices long back.
None of us know the kind of device Apple would like to make, but we can make some guesses. And the new Apple TV provides plenty of clues.
New user interface design
The new (and the old, with a software update) Apple TV get a spanking new interface. The new interface looks a lot like the iOS interface we all love (or hate, depending on which way you swing). The primarily text-based interface of the old Apple TV has now been replaced by an interface that is primarily graphics and icons based. Does that mean they’re aiming for another touch screen device in the future, or do they just feel that this kind of interface just works better with a remote? Maybe, maybe not! For the moment, all I can say is that Apple loves consistency.
The new Apps
To be truthful, the Apps are not new but Apple just made them integrate a lot better with the iTunes ecosystem. What this means is that you can now subscribe (for instace) to Netflix from right within the Netflix app and would never have to go to the Netflix website again. This is my favorite feature in the Apple TV, even though I still can’t use Netflix in India, I think this is what Apple wants to do, eventually, when they get around to making a real television set. ShowBox is another example, they are making it easier to connect via small mobile devices like phones and tablets.
Apple doesn’t want the user to subscribe to a cable company for their content. Apple would much rather have everyone subscribe to content in individual apps and bill them through iTunes, just like in the Netflix app. It is the future and they will eventually get there.
This was the most obvious feature and the one most people are going to use (and love) the most. ‘Nuff said!
The new Apple TV does everything that the old one did, it’s just better at those tasks. That, is a good and a bad thing. It’s a good thing because Apple is still interesting in innovating around the Apple TV and a bad thing, because I think it’ll still remain a hobby.
The next Apple TV
I know it’s a little too soon to talk about the next iteration but I couldn’t have ended this post without talking about the features that I’d have liked Apple to include.
Third Party Apps
This is a feature that almost everyone wants and I have a feeling that Apple will get to it, eventually. They just don’t think it’s necessary at the moment. iOS devices can mirror their screens to the Apple TV and that works but built-in apps designed specifically for the Apple TV would be so much better and will really bring out the capabilities of the platform.
This is a long shot, but I really think Apple should make a DVR device/interface that just works. The current ones, sadly, don’t and we just want something better.
In the end, I definitely think that the 2012 Apple TV is a step in the right direction but I don’t think this is the product that makes Apple finally admit that it’s not a hobby anymore. I think Apple is moving to a future where they can release a real television set and have everyone use that, but that future is some distance away, if at all.