The New Apple TV Kinda Disappoints Me

Somewhere along the path of logic and rumor, reality struck. As the new Apple TV isn’t yet the iOS app-ilicious platform many of us (including me) had anticipated. Sure, it’s got apps… but they’re a pre-loaded and limited affair managed by Apple. The notable and possibly contradictory partner service is provided by Netflix. But there’s no CNN, Hulu Plus, SlingPlayer, or countless other video apps (or framework?) as seen on the iPhone.

Given Apple mindshare and retail domination, at $99 and in a much more sophisticated looking package than say the Roku, they’ll surely sell a ton of these devices. Yet I won’t be one of the new Apple TV early adopters — TiVo and Roku handle the vast majority of my VOD (Amazon) and Netflix video streaming needs. And then some.

While I’m disappointed by the absence of an Apple TV App Store, two new Apple features in particular do appeal to me and will be worth keeping an eye on. First off, AirPlay looks promising and appears to put newish, competing technologies like Intel’s Wireless Display (WiDi) to shame given the numerous ways you can beam and control multimedia to or from various devices. In fact, depending upon how it’s implemented in iPhone iOS 4.2, AirPlay may just overcome the absent software marketplace by streaming AV from an iPhone to Apple TV. As the evolution of AirTunes, AirPlay will also enable you to stream audio around the house from iPod or iTunes to upcoming, third-party audio devices. Sonos better watch their back.

Related, it makes perfect sense to use an iPhone or iPod Touch as an enhanced Apple TV remote control. Indeed, the Remote app appears to have an upgrade on tap:

with a flick of your finger, you can rent new movies and TV shows, scroll through the Netflix catalog, and browse your media collection. If you want to find something specific, use your device’s QWERTY keyboard to quickly tap out the title instead of clicking letters on the Apple TV screen.

The new Apple TV ships in a few weeks. Are you in?

37 thoughts on “The New Apple TV Kinda Disappoints Me”

  1. I’ll tell you what– since it offers Netflix streaming and cheap shows I’m considering it for an infrequently-used guest room TV that doesn’t justify the monthly cost for cable and a DVR. But If the Apple TV had a Slingbox app, I’d be in heaven because it would mean live HD TV and TiVo in an additional room without an additional monthly fee for either.

    But I’m not holding my breath…

  2. It remains to be seen how AirPlay can be integrated with third-party apps. If they already support the Dock-to-VGA adapter do they automatically gain AirPlay support with iOS 4.1 (or 4.2)? But I’m in…

  3. I agree. This Roku box with an apple on top really appears to be nothing special (I own the 160gb Apple TV).

    I think the big problem with this is going to be a combination of (a) home networks, and (b) DSL or Cable modems. I’ll bet it’s only 720p because streaming 1080p would be a nightmare for any network, and even 720 is going to be slow.

    My current apple TV takes about 45 seconds to start a non-high def movie that is streaming from my PC via itunes. But once it starts downloading, I have never had a problem. For this, you stream everything from somewhere else, so nothing is on the machine.

    I think this is a mess.

  4. I’ve been thinking about the 720p decision too… In combination with the lack of component connections, I wonder if content piracy and keeping the studios happy was part of the equation. On a more practical and financial level, it appears they’re reusing the same A4 chip found in the iPad and iPhone – which probably doesn’t have the horsepower for 1080p. Also, as Steve suggests, streaming 1080p is a special trick that possibly only Vudu and Xbox Zune HD approximates. (As Chucky always reminds us, there’s more to resolution than pixel count – bitrate plays into it. And pre-caching content may be part of the equation)

    Bakk, yeah I’m interested in Google TV and Boxee more than ever after this announceent. As polished and inexpensive as Apple TV is, so far it’s just another box. There’s room to do more. Of course, having a good idea is not enough – it’s all about execution in the end. It should be a very interesting fall… and 2011 in this space.

  5. 1080p – the xbox streams it just fine.
    As for AppleTV – what’s with AirPlay. Why not DLNA like everybody else?

  6. I’m in,
    Just the sight of it makes me sort of tingle. :-)

    But seriously, for 99$ this thing is a real no brainer. Itunes to the LR, wirelessly! netflix, youtube (which will have rentals soon enough) podcasts, photos, this thing is really going to sell.

  7. There was a lot of speculation about the Apple TV supporting ‘apps’ before the announcement, but it didn’t make sense to me;

    1. iOS is a ‘touch’ based interface, rather than a ‘pointer’ or focus based interface. Whilst using an app on an Apple TV from your couch you would expect to see the currently selected UI element highlighted. CocoaTouch doesn’t support (AFAIK) persistent focus; a control is focused for as long as your finger is touching the screen. I can’t see Apple wanting to bifurcate iOS into a version for devices supporting touch input, and a version for devices supporting pointer input (even if the pointer is crudely up/down/left/right via a remote).

    2. Given #1, you could say ‘well, just use it with an iPod touch/iPhone then’. Apple’s products certainly complement each other, but you aren’t required to purchase another product to make another one work (other than iTunes, which is free). The Apple TV needs to standalone (apart from a PC/Mac).

    3. Given #2 they could have chucked in a touchscreen remote, but then they wouldn’t be hard pressed to hit the $99 target.

    I agree an Apple TV that had the Apple fit and finish but supporting ‘open’ development via the App Store would be great, but for the above reasons and Jobs’ comment that “people don’t want a computer in their living room”, I don’t think it is going to happen.

  8. The major divide about this device seems to be around to what role iOS devices already play in one’s life. If you are a dedicated Mac user with an entire music library in iTunes, and you have an iPhone/iPod you take pictures and videos with, and you have an iPad for surfing and games, then this really is a no-brainer.

    However, if you don’t have a Mac and an iPhone, and are not using iTunes, it seems really, really limited. So the choice is not really AppleTV versus Boxee or Roku or XBox or whatever, it’s really between an Apple eco-system versus the non-Apple world.

    And of course I’m sure that is just fine with Jobs, the number of people with iOS devices seems to be growing by leaps and bounds daily. I’m not one of those, so it holds very little appeal, but I understand why it would to Apple fans.

  9. 1) Worth noting that Steve-o made a very specific point out of noting that the Apple TV’s Neflix implementation kicks the ass of every other Netflix implementation.

    2) Worth noting that Apple got ABC because Steve-o owns so much of Disney. And worth noting that Apple got Fox because Rupert wants favors for his print business on the iOS platform. One billionaire indulging another billionaire’s hobby in exchange for indulgence for his hobby.

    3) Super-high walled garden. Apple video services rentals for the deep pocketed idiots, Netflix for the cheepies, and nothing for establishing a robust platform. Not only no SDK, but no effort to re-invent the UI for lean-back.

    4) The only thing I was really surprised about was that they didn’t roll-out a seamless “everywhere” feature with their streaming store.

    In other words, I expected them to have a feature where if you rented a movie via Apple video services, it would stream during the rental period on any of your iOS devices attached to your account. Rent it anywhere, and you’ve got 48 hours (or whatever the time period is) to watch it anywhere.

    I’m just baffled why they didn’t see the importance of doing Amazon’s Whispersync for video. It seems to me that one of their few trump cards in the jungle market of video services is to leverage the hell out of the success of iOS devices, and they’re not doing that.

    The window was open just a crack for them for a moment, and they didn’t jump through. Their iOS leverage will never be greater than it is today. And very soon, streaming services will be built right into new TV’s.


    I won’t buy one. I’m good with TiVo and my Mac Mini HTPC. If Dave gives a review copy away for free, I’ll enter the drawing. But I wouldn’t even pay $29 for the gizmo. (There real value of the gizmo is simply as an iOS accessory. If you’ve already got a couple of iOS devices, the Apple TV might make more sense than buying an extra case or stand.)

    At the end of the day, Steve-o simply doesn’t get lean-back. That doesn’t mean they won’t sell boatloads of the toys as iOS accessories, but they coulda been a contender…

  10. All this is immaterial. You could buy an Airport Express and stream music to it for the same price last week. Now I can plug that box into my TV, get a nice TV interface for my music, for the same price. And there are a few other goodies on it at the same time. Sold.

  11. If you can’t give me live, HD sports, you blew it.

    While AirPlay demos well, I want to ask all Windows 7 users how much they have used the PlayTo feature. The problem with this feature is that people want to pull content. They don’t want to push it.

  12. This product will be very popular in the hi end audio community. Being able to access the digital out signal from an ipod for $99 is awesome, and the fact that it will happen wireless makes it even better.

  13. It’s kinda sad when you (and by ‘you’ i mean ‘me) are basically begging for Apple to give you a reason to buy something, and yet they fail to come out with something compelling enough to warrant that impulse buy.

    When I first saw that tiny Apple TV box, i had my credit card in hand, ready to go. But as they went on to explain how it was basically a neutered TiVo (which i already have), i begrudgingly put my credit card back into my wallet.

    Sorry Apple. Try harder next time. What ever happened to doing the impossible? Or at the very least, doing it better?? I’m sure it’s a lovely product, but unless you can give me a REAL alternative to broadcast television, count me out.

  14. A couple of questions.

    Is Airplay + AppleTV the only way to get video out to an HD television from the iPhone?

    Can I access content on an external harddrive from the new AppleTV so I don’t need to turn on the computer?

    What about existing AppleTV owners?

  15. I actualy ordered one, only to cancel it when I finaly found a spec sheet and realized It has pretty much zero codec and format support. No DLNA? Feh f*ck that.
    A few months after the community has turned it into something usefull instead a drm’ed riddled middle man between other drm points it might start looking pretty good.

  16. I wanted to want this so bad… at the end of the day… it adds zero capability for me… I can already stream netflix or amazon or content from my pc from various devices (amazon has the same .99 cent deal), the lack of storage is actually less appealing to me because I would like to think of this device as a jukebox of sorts (maybe i could find an old apple tv on clearance?)… this thing has form factor in it’s favor… other than that… tivo or roku is way better… just not for me.

  17. Amazon threw the gauntlet down with the announcement of $0.99 HD TV stream purchases which trumps $0.99 stream rental IMHO.

  18. All Roku has to do is update their current firmware to support 1080p and local file streaming, both of which seem to be in the works. They already lowered the price and have an open API. What’s the value of Apple TV? What does it offer that is new and revolutionary? Everyone already knows that Google TV is offering apps right out of the gate in November so why Apple would squander a 2 month advantage on that is just dumb.

  19. mike, I figured it’d be only a matter of time before 99 cent TV shows spread beyond the Apple ecosystem. Although, I imagine Amazon is subsidizing this move until they work their own studio deals (and so far, only two studios are onboard with the new terms).

    John, Chucky, I’m willing to concede there are no apps now. But I still believe they’ll arrive at some point. But hopefully in a similar fashion as mobile iOS devices versus Apple curation/ partnerships. We shall see…

  20. “All Roku has to do is update their current firmware to support 1080p and local file streaming, both of which seem to be in the works. They already lowered the price and have an open API. What’s the value of Apple TV? What does it offer that is new and revolutionary?”

    If you’re new to streaming, you’ll buy an Apple TV instead of a Roku. That’s what it offers that is new and revolutionary: lots and lots of boxes will be shipped. (Well, that and a best-of-breed Netflix UI.)

    As stated upthread, I don’t want one, since my existing gear already handles my streaming/downloading needs. But if I were walking into the market fresh to the game, (as 99% of the public is), I’d buy an Apple TV over a Roku because I wouldn’t know what a Roku is…

  21. Coming at it from a different viewpoint is the WAF problem. I’ve currently got Tivo, Roku, and a DVD player connected to the TV. Too many boxes (not to mention the alarm clock). What is very cool is the form factor. I would hope that soon, we’ll see devices such that we can just almost tuck it up under the TV, right next to the cables.

  22. “John, Chucky, I’m willing to concede there are no apps now. But I still believe they’ll arrive at some point. But hopefully in a similar fashion as mobile iOS devices versus Apple curation/ partnerships. We shall see…”

    Time is of the essence here, though. They won’t have nearly the head-start in lean-back that they had in mobile.

    They need more partners, and they need them now. (But I think they’re well aware of that.)

    As stated, the thing that confuses me most is the neglect of an “everywhere” component to the video rentals. If they would have rolled out a version of Amazon’s Whispersync for video on iOS devices, they’d have made the whole ecosystem significantly more compelling going forward. (And I can’t imagine their suppliers would have had a major problem with that concept.)

  23. I imagine that apps like Pandora, BBC, etc. will show up sooner rather than later. It is hard to believe that they would have apps like that available on the iXXX series of gear and not bring it to the AppleTV. Also, I am interested to see which third party devices AirPlay will be compatible with and I would be curious to know if the AirPlay feature will work with apps such as Hulu Plus.

    If what was revealed yesterday is essentially ‘it’ for AppleTV, this second iteration of the device wil be no more successful than the first. Conversely, if they are able to leverage what they already have with the app store and if AirPlay is given the capability to stream to a multitude of third party devices as well as iXXX devices, the new AppleTV could find success.

  24. “I imagine that apps like Pandora, BBC, etc. will show up sooner rather than later. It is hard to believe that they would have apps like that available on the iXXX series of gear and not bring it to the AppleTV.”

    It’s easy for me to imagine them not bring them to the Apple TV, especially soon. They want to be a sales middleman on content delivery. (They still have internet radio buried pretty deep in the menus, for example.)

    Apple has a dilema between shipping a compelling lean-back platform and using the fact that they’re going to sell boatloads of these boxes as iOS accessories anyway to just drive their own delivery of content.

    Depending on their approach, they could well keep things closed for quite a while. (I think that’d be the wrong decision for them to make, but Cupertino’s decision-making seems unsound to me on a variety of fronts of late.)

  25. What’s clear is that Apple is not providing any new or exclusive content with this new Apple TV. I have a (now) old one, and use it to stream kids’ DVDs that I have ripped into MP4 format, as well as music and video.

    What does this offer that Roku and the others don’t? Itunes integration, I guess. What does it not offer? Local storage (so you can use it to play your own files when your computer is off) and, apparently, the ability to buy and keep media.

    Steve Jobs wants you to rent a movie. If you want to watch it again, rent it again. Not good for parents with kids.

    Also, none of these boxes address the real killer app in my opinion for TV as they battle it out with cable/broadcast: Sports. Put local baseball, football, basketball and hockey on my box and it’s a done deal. Otherwise, I will continue looking for the cheapest solution that compliments my cable service so I can watch ESPN after the kids get done watching movies.

    This box is not a leap forward from the old Apple TV. It is a step sideways into a new rental business model.


  26. I agree for parents with kids the rental cost is prohibitive. plus even if they sign up all the studios a show like Lost costs $124 Apple rental, $24 for Netflix discs (assumes you can get through all the discs in 3 months) or $150 for the complete box set that you can watch over and over and lend to your friends. so is 0.99 tv rentals really a market that is going to sustain this box vs the other media streamers and netflix & amazon enabled devices

  27. It was a total Meh to me. There are countless ways to get VOD and netflix. Looking forward to the PS3 getting integrated netflix streaming.

  28. I’m not paying a dollar to watch a tv show till I can stop paying the cable company to bring them. Show me the all-you-can eat plan and then we’ll talk about giving you $100 and total control over my tv. Till then I’m sticking with my series2 tivo and netflix on xbox.

  29. “Also, none of these boxes address the real killer app in my opinion for TV as they battle it out with cable/broadcast: Sports.”

    Um, Roku has MLB.

    “I’d buy an Apple TV over a Roku because I wouldn’t know what a Roku is…”

    That’s funny because guess what was on the inside of the Netflix envelope I just got in the mail? A big stinking ad for Roku, not Apple TV. People who have Netflix know what it is.

    One bonus of Apple TV though is that it will almost certainly increase Netflix watch instantly usage and may actually increase subscriptions overall. As a netflix shareholder I’m thrilled that Apple is on board.

  30. John: “One bonus of Apple TV though is that it will almost certainly increase Netflix watch instantly usage and may actually increase subscriptions overall.”

    I agree that it’s good. It’s also interesting that it is an admission from Steve Jobs that the walled garden, at least with regard to movie rentals, has failed.

    Seems to work for music purchases, and maybe for movie purchases, but my guess is that Apple just wasn’t making the dough from movie rentals.

    But, of course, nobody ever points out Apple failures. It’s just a different kind of geniusnessosity.

  31. Other than lack of apps, the most surprising decision was the fact that you can stream FROM iPad/Phone/Touch to Apple TV but you can’t stream rented content from Apple TV TO iDevices.

    Lack of decent codec/format support is a huge deal, but it’s to be expected from Apple :(

  32. Apple has historically tried to keep the number of feature small but do them very well. Remember all things the first iPhone did not have: app store, cut and paste, etc….. To them, it’s better to get something out there that does a few things well then not having anything at all or something with lots of mediocre features.

    They do need to find a way to compete with Amazon’s 99 cent shows to buy. Amazon’s current execution on the tivo series 3 is just ok. Don’t know how it is on other platforms but Apple will probably beat them on execution if not price. We’ll see when the AppleTV box shows up.

  33. I think it’s a fine first step. I like using my Apple TV to show photos or play music during a party. And we rent movies once in a while on it. The new one does all that and is much cheaper and supports Netflix. Probably a better solution than Roku for most Netflix users. Course the original Apple TV was a failure. So what do I know?

    I was hoping for apps and think that could break the thing into popularity, but that could still be coming someday. And the AirPlay stuff could be a decent substitute for a while. Course it depends on what apps implement it. Pandora? ABC? Hulu Plus? CBS’s HTML5 video? Guess we’ll have to see…

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