FaceTime could be Apple's iTV killer app

FaceTime could be Apple's iTV killer app

Summary: I'm betting a FaceTime-equipped iTV device will create entire new legions of rabid, insane, Apple fans. Oh, joy.

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TOPICS: Hardware, Apple, Mobility
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On Saturday, Digg's Kevin Rose posted that Apple's rumored Apple TV replacement, expected to be called the iTV, will (and I quote) "change everything". His premise is that the iTV will replace cable and satellite services. Honestly, I don't think so, but I wouldn't put it past Apple to try to control what you're allowed to see, read, and watch through yet another medium.

Kevin also suggests how the iTV would work if it were based on the iPad's iOS. I've been a long-time, long-suffering Apple TV user and it's relatively easy to picture some of what Kevin's suggesting. But I also think he's missing a very, very big possibility: FaceTime.

Let's first look at the Apple TV and what it might become.

Today, the Apple TV is, essentially, a half-high Mac Mini running Front Row, Apple's 8-foot interface for media centers.

Front Row is usable -- buggy as heck -- but usable. I use the Apple TV primarily as a podcatcher, watching all my favorite podcasts streamed down from the cloud, while chilling comfortably on my couch.

This implementation is rough. The device regularly loses icons, won't let you unfavorite favorited items, regularly tells you the iTunes store is unavailable when it is, and so on. While the Apple TV has gone through a number of major UI upgrades, it really is something of an orphan -- the Apple TV is not a Mac and is certainly not an iPad or iPhone.

It makes sense for Apple to refresh the Apple TV and transform it into an iOS device. First, the current Apple TV is a complete orphan, with a hacked OS that doesn't really work for anything. Moving it to iOS would improve maintainability, if nothing else. Then, of course, iOS would almost immediately score the device Netflix. That, alone, would be a major upgrade for the Apple TV. But there are many apps that would be nice to use from a couch, including some unexpected ones, like writing tools and ebooks.

I regularly read, write, and browse from the couch. I'm writing this article on my media center PC, keyboard on my lap, mouse on the armrest of the couch.

Of course, iOS devices are gesture-based.

It would be possible to use a regular remote control to move between apps, select, and launch them, and that's probably going to be the default behavior. I strongly doubt we'll see a Wii-like motion control for the iTV.

Undoubtedly, though, we'll see gesture controls for the iTV via the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. After all, Apple already allows you to use your iPhone as a remote control for the Apple TV, and it makes a lot of sense to link these devices to the iTV and bring gesture control to the couch. Since they're on the Wi-Fi network already, it's a pretty straightforward task.

Then, gesture control becomes very interesting. Using an iPad and an iTV, it would be possible to do John King-like magic board manipulations with photos, for example. Gaming might also have some potential with this type of interface, at least for casual gaming.

But here's the killer app: FaceTime.

The Apple TV actually ships with a USB port. Crazy. I know. USB. As if you'd want to connect stuff to an actual Apple product. As if the Apple plug police didn't feel you'd dirty their pristine, virgin box by attaching, you know, something useful.

Snark aside, although Apple is unbearably restrictive in how it allows anything to connect to iOS devices, it makes a metric frak-ton of sense for Apple to ship an iTV device that allows a webcam to be plugged into it.

At that point, you no longer just have little tiny screens talking to little tiny screens, like a modern day, incredibly annoying Dick Tracy. Instead, you can have Mom and Dad on the couch, talking to Muffy in college. Or grandma on the couch, talking to Baby Biff in his crib.

Now, I have to admit that this all seems quite horrid to me. I don't really want to see people when I talk to them. But I'm not a grandparent. I'm anti-social, and all my friends are ugly.

For the rest of the world, I'm betting a FaceTime-equipped iTV device will create entire new legions of rabid, insane, Apple fans. Oh, joy.

It'll also give Microsoft's Kinect (i.e., Natal) a run for its money. Then, of course, there's the potential for porn.

Update: ZDNet guest blogger Alain Grignon wrote a very interesting, related post.

Topics: Hardware, Apple, Mobility

About

David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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27 comments
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  • RE: FaceTime could be Apple's iTV killer app

    I already use something, on a daily basis, which changed everything for me. I call it Windows and Windows Media Center. Fantastic DVR capabilities, Netflix streaming easily available, stream video podcasts through the Zune app inside the Internet TV section, and listen to music through the music interface. I'm sure Apple will sell millions, but I'm not sure if it'll really "change everything"
    clindhartsen
    • RE: FaceTime could be Apple's iTV killer app

      @clindhartsen : and how long did it took to configure?<br><br> MS tried that approach once (dell and hp offered remote only PC using XP Media Center, there even was a DirecTV decoder) but those babies ran out of mojo quickly until an "unexpected error" appeared and you had to squattle in search of a keyboard and mouse just to click the *darn* OK button. <br><br>Ironically, those times (and the moments when you spot a dialog box on an ATM) puff the bubble and make you realize that the mouse and keyboard era can't get past the desktop, even if MS ponders to the contrary.<br><br>BTW: I think iTV will come with a Magic Trackpad included and people would have the option to tether an iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad. Else, why introduce this strange beast...
      cosuna
      • I think you are confused with something else.

        as Windows Media center takes no time to configure and I have yet to encounter any errors using it, and it does indeed do all that clindhartsen had mentioned, and more.
        Tim Cook
  • RE: FaceTime could be Apple's iTV killer app

    I really don't want Aunt Sally watching me scratch my balls while I talk to her on the phone. As if the phone itself weren't enough of an intrusion in our busy lives. Now we have to stand there in front of a TV during the whole interruption?
    dmccall
  • RE: FaceTime could be Apple's iTV killer app

    I didn't bother with Apple TV - just hooked a Mac Mini to my TV. 1080p no problem, and it does everything but bring me a beer. Maybe grandma
    clueless would appreciate less possibilities, but I don't have a problem with them.

    As for gestures, no need for an iPad if you've got the Magic Trackpad.
    rlhamil
    • Agree ... but the Mini is missing BD player

      If it had a Blu-ray player it would be perfect.
      wackoae
    • RE: FaceTime could be Apple's iTV killer app

      @rlhamil Agreed. I also use the new Mac Mini to get all kinds of streams, Netflix, ESPN3, Hulu, etc... I use the Apple Remote to navigate all that through Plex Media Center. Unfortunately I'm hooked up to only a 720p TV.
      MSFTWorshipper
  • RE: FaceTime could be Apple's iTV killer app

    Yes, Facetime would be cool on the big screen, and I also think the next gen Apple TV will be an iOS device, which is how it will change everything- it's all about the SOFTWARE!
    Now your Apple TV (using your iPod Touch/iPhone/iPad or.... the Magic Trackpad) will have access to all the apps in the app store!
    Now THAT changes everything!
    Yes you will have access to rent/buy/stream TV and movies, but really more importantly, it gives the consumer another device which enables them to buy MORE Apps! Not to mention a bigger screen to play games (from the App store).
    I have read some people don't think the track pad will work as an input/control for a device they are not looking at, they're wrong! I had the opportunity to play with a trackpad for a few hours and I didn't need to be looking at it, to control and use gestures, it's called hand/eye coordination!
    Apple creates hardware to deliver their software, this is the point most people miss, it's not really about the new iphone, or the new Mac or the new iPad, it's about the ability to keep selling you consumables (apps) after you have bought the hardware ( genius!). Oh of course they make amazing hardware, but it's really just delivery devices for the software and it has to work seamlessly, and it does.
    billre
    • RE: FaceTime could be Apple's iTV killer app

      @billre You have it backwards.... Apple makes the majority of its money on the hardware it sells. It hardware sells because Apple makes great software. There might come a time when that is reversed but that is not the case now.<br><br>If it was you wouldn't see 30% profit margins on Apple hardware because the goal would be to extend the reach of hardware as far and as fast as possible. You need only look to the printer or video game market for this strategy.<br><br>Interestingly they do seem to be making some moves in this area but they are a long way from it being their total strategy.
      David Turner
  • Also read: iTV leapfrog potential

    I wrote this last Friday, interesting parallels to be made. It was posted this morning as a guest blog.

    http://www.zdnet.com/blog/apple/the-itvs-leapfrog-potential/8007

    Alain
    agrignon
  • RE: FaceTime could be Apple's iTV killer app

    "...(and I quote) change everything." The last time I saw a quote like that was about a product call "Ginger" and it would "change everything" about pedestrian traffic. We now know it was the Segway...which didn't do much to change anything. Other than maybe help fat people keep from walking.
    ItsTheBottomLine
    • Segway works very well in BIG factories

      nt
      wackoae
  • RE: FaceTime could be Apple's iTV killer app

    I bought a $200 Acer Revo last November specifically to hook up to the TV for using Skype. Instead of a webcam, I using an old camcorder that has a remote control, allowing me to zoom. Okay, I've only used it 4 times, but it practically saved Christmas when one son was unable to make it home, and his wife was already here. Being able to see him almost life-size on the TV instead of on a notebook screen was great.

    Hard for me to think this is a killer app, though, because I'm one of very few people who really seem to want to do this.
    AlanLaRue
  • The Apple plug police

    [i]As if the Apple plug police didn?t feel you?d dirty their pristine, virgin box by attaching, you know, something useful.[/i]

    Ok that was good. lol ;)
    klumper
  • RE: FaceTime could be Apple's iTV killer app

    I've had an Apple TV pretty much since it came out. While it does have its flaws, for the most part I love it. I use it primarily to watch TV and use with my stereo when listening to music. At parties, people like to sit there and use it like a jukebox...much better than plugging an iPod or iPhone into your stereo. Plus, if they make a sh*tty choice in music I use the remote app on my phone and change the song <img border="0" src="http://www.cnet.com/i/mb/emoticons/happy.gif" alt="happy"><br><br>Having said that, I REALLY hope they don't lessen the storage and move to a mostly streaming device. I think that would be a big mistake and is going in the opposite direction of what most consumers want. Imagine if it had a coax input on the back that you could use to hook up your satellite or cable. Gone would be the ugly, slow interface most of the satellite and cable companies utilize, replaced by a beautiful Apple interface. Throw some apps in there and the ability to control it all with an iPad and you have a big winner! Lower the physical storage, make people stream and make people rely on unreliable internet connections??? I guarantee that would be a loser.
    lawgone
  • Re: itv

    They can't call it itv in the UK as that acronym has already been in use since Sept 1955 by the independent from BBC TV companies.
    dfruk@...
    • RE: FaceTime could be Apple's iTV killer app

      @dfruk@... Sure they can. They've got enough cash to cover the lawsuit and they'll most likely settle with ITV outside of court.
      lawgone
      • RE: FaceTime could be Apple's iTV killer app

        @lawgone It seems as though they wind up dealing with someone's trademark every so often: "iPhone" with Cisco, "iPad" with Fujitsu, and now this. If I were the conspiracy-hunting type, I'd guess that they do this to get publicity for their wares--for that matter, they're probably working out the deal with ITV even as I type this, if they haven't already.
        Third of Five
  • hahahahahahahahaha

    you plan on watching all those TV shows and movies over the internet? hahahahahahahahahahaha
    once the cable company gets wise to what is happening they will throttle down the bandwidth from any Netflix type provider because it competes with their own pay per view service. the cable companies did not get big by being stupid.
    stevejg61
  • Re: Re: itv

    I know all about ITV, it provided up Benny Hill :)

    Any how you better ask the Beatles about this. They held the Apple trademark, but Apple was allowed to as long as they did not sell music, but some how they can with iTunes.
    stevejg61