Saturday, September 4, 2010

New Apple goodies aren't that goody Pt.2 -- The new Apple TV

For those that were hoping to finally cancel their cable or satellite subscriptions on the hopes that Apple's new Apple TV would revolutionize your home entertainment system, think again. Apple unveiled, along with its new iPod lineup, a tiny black box they call the new Apple TV. With many expectations and rumors about what exactly the updated Apple TV was supposed to be, I can comfortably say that what they announced this past Wednesday, Sept. 1 will be considered underwhelming at most.

The former Apple TV was already a slick device. Super slim, compared to other set top boxes with similar capability in the market, the ATV already had a gorgeous design that made anything else look cheap and dated. The new one, however, has dropped even more heft (and consequently more features), leaving something resembling a hockey puck one-fourth the size. On the back is a power jack, HDMI, digital audio out, and Ethernet, along with internal Wi-Fi for networking. Gone is the internal hard drive for storage, which eliminates the need to sync with your computer, rather being a completely streaming solution. Of course, the previous generation could receive streaming content just as well.

Besides physical design, the new Apple TV is not much different than what it replaces in terms of features. It adds only two: Netflix access for Netflix subscribers and AirPlay, which lets you stream media from other iDevices like the iPad. Other than that, the only thing Apple announced along with the new set top box is a different pricing scheme for movie and TV show rentals ($0.99 per HD TV episode, $4.99 per HD movie). The point is, nothing revolutionary here. And we've had a good three years since the first Apple TV to imagine all the great things this little box could bring to our TV sets.

I own an Apple TV -- the previous generation -- and must agree with Mr. Jobs when he says that customers love it. It’s definitely a great accessory to add to your home entertainment system, but I have always known it was underpowered and extremely limited in features. Apple knows that the only thing keeping the Apple TV selling and distinguished as a separate product than, say, a Mac Mini, is the remote-accessible front to the iTunes Store that can’t be found in any other Mac’s Front Row software. Front Row is the remote-based media navigation software included in every Mac, very similar to Windows Media Center in functionality. However, Front Row cannot access the Internet for content other than streaming iTunes Movie Previews from Apple’s website. Unfortunately there have been no reliable solutions to putting the Apple TV’s software on a Mac and also no real solutions to bringing the multi-functionality of a Mac to an Apple TV. However, with a few third-party solutions (ATV-Flash, Boxee), I've been able to squeeze a little more fun out of my set top box.

But even through these solutions, there has yet to be a Netflix app for the Apple TV. The only reason I can surmise that Netflix wasn't allowed on Boxee for the Apple TV would probably be for legal issues, but that I'm not sure about. So, with the advent of Netflix for the new Apple TV, its an enticing offer for customers that pay for it, but again, this is not revolutionary. In fact, this would be so very simple to bring to the previous gen. Apple TV with a simple software update. But I'm not sure that's going to happen.

I understand why Apple has made this new device. While admittedly a hobby to the execs at Apple, unlike the iPhone and iPad, the Apple TV wasn't meant for revolution. It was meant to get iTunes on your TV at a cheaper entry price of $99 instead of the previous $229. Granted, to accomplish that, some sacrifices had to be made. But given that the Apple TV hasn't seen anything real changes since it was released, I think most people were expecting a little bit more. I actually believed the rumors that the new Apple TV would run iOS and be able to run a lot of the different apps you find of iPhones and iPads. Amongst those: Hulu Plus, Netflix, Joost, and maybe even Facebook or Safari. I was expecting a complete revamp in the way Apple TV would be presented to the user: new UI and much more capability that could bring everything the internet had to offer to the "lean back experience" -- living room entertainment -- like how Google is trying to do with Google TV.

So what are we left with? Well, the new Apple TV is no show-stopper. It's smaller and cheaper, bringing a little more accessibility to internet content, but the emergence of a full-fledged online TV service is still far off. For now, we'll just have to sit and wait for the next guy to try their luck. Google's up next; maybe the Google TV platform can help bring this dream to fruition.

No comments:

Post a Comment