I’ve owned an Apple TV for a couple years now. The diminutive streaming box allowed me to move beyond using a Mac Mini as a media center PC (making the experience much simpler and freeing up a considerable amount of space in the entertainment center). While the experience has been a very good one, it could be even better with just a bit of investment from Apple.
Consider the Apple TV’s biggest rival, the Roku. The two devices are very similar; both are small black boxes that act as streaming portals between your TV and various internet providers. There were two reasons I chose the Apple TV over the Roku- access to iTunes (including streaming access to all my previous purchases) and AirPlay, Apple’s device-to-Apple TV mirroring feature. While the Roku has access to several rental and purchase portals like Amazon, in my experience the iTunes store has more of what I want to see (and provides better support across all my Apple devices). AirPlay has been great not only for the ability to push games and video from my iPhone to the big screen, but sharing content amongst company as well. Everyone with an iPhone is able to push whatever viral YouTube video they’d like to share, or easily display a whole photo library.
The Roku has two features the Apple TV needs, however. The first (and biggest) is the ability to install more apps. Not happy with the default apps on the Roku? No worries, just go to the app store and download some new ones; they have a respectable library to choose from considering how small the user base is. The second is additional means of input and output: the highest end Roku’s remote control provides a headphone jack allowing for easy private audio, and has Nintendo Wii-like control functionality built in so that it can act as a controller for various games (Angry Birds comes with the device).
The Apple TV is actually running a pared down version of iOS, the same operating system on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. Inside the device is an A5 processor- the same that powered the iPad 2, iPhone 4s, and fifth generation iPod Touch. The Apple TV already has an ethernet port, N-band wifi (possibly to be replaced with the much faster AC band as Apple’s product lines refresh) and Bluetooth. That combination is capable of so much more than they are currently tasked with. With the release of an Apple TV SDK (software development kit) developers could begin to adapt the iTunes Apps Store’s massive library to the Apple TV, making it something that could potentially rule the living room in a way that Microsoft is attempting to do with the XBox One. Apple has recently revealed that they will be opening iOS 7, the upcoming new version of their mobile operating system, to development with Bluetooth gaming controllers. With the addition of controllers (or simply the adaption of an iPhone or iPod Touch as a second screen controller) paired with native Apple TV apps Apple could have a newer, less expensive and more functional version of the Nintendo Wii- all with little development. The infrastructure (app store, existing apps, operating system, and customer awareness) are all in place.
Secondly, while I can use AirPlay to push any non-Apple TV video source to my television I’d prefer to have the app installed on the device itself. The experience would improve (there are times that AirPlay has hiccups) and would add considerable value to owning an Apple TV- practically to the point of replacing devices like a TiVo. News sources have already discussed Apple’s recent talks with television providers about an agreement to allow Apple TV users to skip television ads when using the device (something that if it were paired with native apps to provide streaming content would allow me to take down my external TV antenna).
Much pontificating has been done on the development of an actual Apple branded smart television. While I’m still skeptical (televisions are a typically low margin market, something Apple tends to avoid) the setting is perfect for Apple to capitalize on their existing ‘hobby’ set top box, allowing users to pick the TV of their choice.
- Apple TV vs. Roku LT: Which streaming box should you buy? (reviews.cnet.com)
- CHART OF THE DAY: Why Apple TV Is Dominating Despite Weaker Content Selection (AAPL) (businessinsider.com)
- Apple TV accounted for more than half of all the streaming boxes sold last year (imore.com)
- Should you care about built-in AirPlay on your AV receiver? (reviews.cnet.com)