Apple TV – Worst Product of 2007?


Before the Apple fanboys come after me, let me state up front that Popular Mechanics has declared Apple TV as one of the worst products (#2) this year. Not Dave.

Rather than going for the most obscure or ludicrous gadgets, we based our choices on missed opportunities, hype gone awry and some mysterious fumbles. DVRs and Video On Demand have fought their way into American living rooms. The only way Apple could have trumped them was to offer a huge selection of movies and monthly, all-you-can-eat plans. They did neither

While Mari and I have questioned the usefulness and positioning of Apple TV, I wouldn’t categorize it as one of the worst products of 2007. However, Apple TV is pretty limited in its current form and it’s clear Apple hasn’t yet fully committed to the ATV concept – even Steve Jobs called it a “hobby.” Which seems at once both accurate and ludicrous. I assume Apple isn’t sitting still and has some ideas how to invigorate this platform. (Macworld 2008, anyone?) If not, NewTeeVee offers a few suggestions to “fix” Apple TV:

  • Step 1: Allow users to do more
  • Step 2: Start working with movie studios
  • Step 3: Apple must pretend like it cares

In addition to providing on-box browsing and ordering (Step 1) plus adding more studios to their stable (Step 2), they need to embrace movie rentals before Apple TV will take off.

By the way, Forrester estimates Apple has moved 400,000 units – which hasn’t met their prediction of one million. However, 400k is not insignificant and has gotta be more than any other dedicated media extender.

17 thoughts on “Apple TV – Worst Product of 2007?”

  1. Fanboy or not, I have to say I’m not even considering an Apple TV with my over $300 in Amazon gift balance. But I am trying to decide between an HD-DVD player or a Blu-Ray player. I expect to order one or the other before the weekend’s out! Thoughts? Feel free to comment.

  2. Why would you only compare it to a dedicated media extender (a la one trick pony)…? Part of the issue with AppleTV is how very limited it really is — essentially it’s an dedicated iPod for your TV.

  3. Mark, still a tough call. At $99 it was a no-brainer for me to get the HD DVD player. But now that prices are back over $200, it’s hard to say and it could be a gamble. Though I suspect both formats will co-exist indefinitely and studios will ultimately produce for both platforms. The PS3 ($400) is a reasonable deal if you or anyone in your family is also into gaming.

    Charlie, “Media Extender” in the general sense because that’s the best I can do in defining a product category that brings digital media to the television. “Dedicated” because it doesn’t provide additional functionality like a TiVo (DVR) or an Xbox 360 (gaming). But I agree with your sentiment and also used the word “limited” above.

  4. At $99 it was a no-brainer for me, too, I was just too late. :-)

    But the current crop of freebies if I buy a Toshiba HD-DVD player from Amazon right now might make it worth it. Two in the box, three from Amazon, and five by mail?

    Also wondering if there’s any good reason not to splurge for $10 more on the HD-A30 vs HD-A3.

  5. As far as I know, the only differences between the A3 and A30 are 1080i versus 1080p. I’d pay that extra $10 as insurance. (My current plasma is 720p and the bedroom CRT is 1080i.) The free movies don’t move me one way or another, since I Netflix (or Xbox or Unbox) everything – I didn’t bother redeeming those discs.

    By the way, I’m hoping for a firmware update on this thing (A3). I accidentally hit ‘stop’ instead of ‘pause’ while watching Bourne Ultimatum the other night, and instead of resuming playback I had to scan through the scenes and fast forward. Not cool. If we’re nit picking, the status light is way too bright and doesn’t match the color of the LCD text. It also takes awhile to boot and I can only seem to access the player’s setup menu when no disc is present. Wow, I think I just wrote a new post!

  6. its funny how you go into a best buy, and the apple tv is hidden in the bastard-product-corner. i think the atv was released to hold people over for the iphone, and since the release of the iphone thats all they care about

  7. If you look at Tivo’s annual report, you’ll note that AppleTV (at 400K to 600K units)probably “sold” more than Tivo (new subscriptions – canceled subscriptions). Of course, AppleTV hasn’t outsold all DVRs combined.

  8. I’ve pretty much given up on getting good general media playing capabilities from the big brands.

    You have Apple putting out a product that seems orphaned from the get-go, or Microsoft tacking on half-complete features to the 360 with updates coming only every 6 months. Or Tivo (as much as I love them) who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near PC software.

    I’m still depending on my old modded Xbox as my workhorse media player. Although, I have been looking at the Popcorn Hour.

  9. I don’t care what people say. I’m going to get an Apple TV. I don’t care about DVR functionality since I use Snapstream’s Beyond TV for that. I use iTunes and iPhoto for all other media, so it should be a great solution for me.

  10. I notice that pretty much all of the criticism of the Apple TV comes from folks who do not own and use one. I bought one when they first because available, and over the past months I have found it tremendously useful — in addition to providing a great conduit from my computer to my TV for movies, I also use it constantly for presenting pictures and home movies and accessing YouTube. For me, just the convenience and elegance of using my Apple TV to display home movies is worth the price, and all the other features are icing on the cake. My family and I use it constantly.

  11. Example of company executive’s “pet project” or “hobby”

    Fuji Heavy Industries ( makers of oil tankers ) have their favorite little disruptive car that just happen to win the world rally championship after a slow start:

    Also, with his Steveness on the board at ESPN, Disney and Pixar I doubt content will be an issue in the long term…

    …I also wonder if the day you can start shooting video with a future version of the iPhone is the same day Apple TV gets a whole lot better.

  12. Bill, that’s interesting. Most of the criticism I’ve heard and read has come from members of press and industry who’ve used the device. Though you’re right that we don’t “own” it – someone else usually makes the purchase.

    Update: I’m thinking more about Bill’s comment… If general consumers don’t see value in the Apple TV, they won’t buy it. Perhaps the lack of advertising and education (compared to iPhone, iPod, and iMac) supports the idea that Apple has not (yet) fully committed to this platform.

  13. BluRay is outselling HD HVD 3:1, that’s why HD DVD makers are having fire sales during the holidays. BluRay has a big enough installed base to survive even if it “loses” the format war. (And with Microsoft paying studios to make HD DVD exclusives and give away titles to buyers of the fire-sale players, it just might!)

    Like TiVo, The Mac, and DTS, it doesn’t matter that the “other guy” wins the war if you survive it. As long as I can still buy and use the one I want, petty cola and burger wars are irrelevant.

    HD DVD seems doomed to follow DVD-Audio as good base technology ruined by stupid implementation.

    Re: AppleTV – It’s ahead of it’s time.

    AppleTV is the box you use when you stop feeding the middleman cable/satellite company to deliver content on a closed proprietary network in a linear fashion and start getting it directly from the artist (or their vendor) on the open internet in an a la carte fashion.

    This requires a whole different way of thinking about the pre-recorded entertainment that we call “television”, and where you get it.

    These things take time. Instead of waiting in a chicken/egg way for content in h.264 to start showing up before releasing it, they went ahead and started generating a profit on it while waiting for the content.

  14. @Dave
    The resume function needs to be added by the studio (per disc). For some reason, no one is making their discs with this function (HD DVD or Blu-ray). HDM is much more complicated because of the interactive/custom features you can have. All these features are coded differently, so the players can’t know what “state” the programs are in, so it can’t resume to that state.

    I think they screwed up here and should have made resume a required (common code) feature.

    With that 3:1 ratio, you must be including the PS3. To bad the software sales don’t follow that ratio. That’s where the real money is in this game.


  15. Re. Apple TV. If Apple would make it less of a walled garden, it might have a chance. Let me stream my DivX and Xvid and home movies to it. Offer shows from England and Australia and Canada that we can’t get here, not just the ones we already have access to. Top Gear from the UK. And Long Way Down. And Celebrity Survivor from Australia. And This Hour has 22 Minutes from Canada.
    Offer shows from the past–I’d love to watch old Carson Tonight Shows for example.

  16. Dave, thanks for your comment (December 16) on my comment of the experience of actually using an Apple TV. You make an interesting point about Apple’s seeming to have dropped the ball on promoting it. I sometimes see an Apple TV display languishing in remote corners of stores featuring television displays, say at Costco — sort of a technological ugly duckling. You look at the device without much of an idea of what you can do with it. Maybe it would show better among the camera displays as a fabulous way to display your archived home videos and photos to friends. David Pogue did a good piece on the usefulness of the Apple TV in one of his NY Times videos, available on YouTube at

    Another point: from what I can tell most of the compliants about Apple TV not playing DivX and other formats can be answered with a conversion program, such as VisualHub, that provides an easy way to prepare video for Apple TV — or an iPod or iPhone for that matter.

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