Is The Apple TV Dead?
I’ve enjoyed using our Apple TV for the past few months. It’s awesome as a media extender (bringing music, photos, and movies from the desktop computer to the living room) and as an entertainment hub for YouTube videos and movie rentals.
But with recent announcements, the competition is becoming more intense:
- Microsoft will integrate the Netflix “watch now” service into the XBOX, coming this fall. I recently got the Roku / Netflix box and it’s really neat.
- Sony announced a movie download service for the PS3. It’s pay per download and pricing seemed very similar to the Apple TV.
- Amazon announced a video on demand service, with movies and television shows streamed to the browser. It will replace Amazon Unbox. The service will also be available to Sony HDTV owners who purchase a $300 piece of hardware.
- Mark Cuban suggests an alternative: have the cable companies house massive video libraries and deliver them to users through the traditional cable, bypassing all the tech companies completely.
Also add video websites like Hulu or ABC.com, VOD cable, and the ever-present free-for-all of piracy, and the Apple TV becomes an increasingly questionable product.
How could Apple TV be improved? Here’s my wish list:
- Ease the rental restrictions. The 30 day time limit and 24 hours once you start watching are prohibitive. I’ve nearly run out of time for both, and it’s occasionally become a disincentive to rent or start watching a flick.
- Lower prices. Nobody would complain about paying a dollar less for rentals, in particular, the HD content.
- Emphasize quality. Focus on the HD content and add more of it.
- Emphasize new releases. The other offerings have a glut of older titles. Also try to get as many day-after television shows as possible.
- Announce some big, exclusive partnership. Now might be the time to lock up Disney or ABC content, or return to NBC and renegotiate for the content that was pulled from iTunes.
- Emphasize ease of use with the iPod and iPhone. Millions of iPods and iPhones out there. How about an app that streams audio and video from a home computer through WiFi or 3G wherever you may be?
- More drastic solutions. A software update with web browsing and games, opening up the Apple TV to applications, or a new product: combining the Apple TV with the Mac Mini.
The New Format War
Video distributed over the Internet to the television is shaping up as next “format” war – beyond the next-generation disc format we just endured, where Blu-Ray dispatched HD-DVD. The winner stands to make a ton of money through bypassing the cable companies. But this war may actually be more pleasant for consumers, what with the wealth of free and ad-supported options and lack of $400+ standalone players.
Still, the ball is clearly in Apple’s court to improve the Apple TV. The device is increasingly a hard sell to many consumers – any current XBOX or PS3 owner isn’t likely to purchase an Apple TV, and with the XBOX price drop to $300, a game console is increasingly a more sensible purchase even if you’re not into gaming.
Apple fan that I am, I fear the Apple TV that I’ve come to love is headed to the hall of shame along with the G4 Cube and the iPod HiFi. Bleah.