With Macworld Expo just over a week away, many expect Apple CEO Steve Jobs to announce further details (and the availability) of the company's yet to be released set-top-box, codenamed iTV. Powered by something similar to Apple's Front Row media center software, the iTV is designed to get the media content that's housed on a Mac (music, movies, and photos), streamed to the living room television. However, with its built-in wireless networking (suspected to be the faster 802.11n), why not bypass the Mac and have the iTV connect directly to the internet? Like the next generation consoles (Microsoft's XBox 360 and Nintendo's Wii) the Apple's iTV is looking like the latest attempt at solving the 'last 100 feet' problem of how to deliver content from the internet into the living room.
In fact when Apple released the Mac Mini, along with Front Row, many customers (including myself) bought the device to connect to a television and use as a basic internet-enabled media center. And whilst Front Row's simple UI, zero-config networking, and integration with iTunes, makes it a joy to use - the software is seriously lacking when it comes to pulling in content directly from the internet. Anybody who has used Front Row to watch movie trailers streamed directly from Apple's website, will have wondered why they can't access other internet-based content in a similar way. For starters, think Flickr for photos, and of course YouTube for video. In fact why not embrace all that the internet can offer, and open up Front Row (or whatever software ends up driving the iTV) to third party developers. If this were to happen, I'd bet it would only take a matter of months before we'd see plug-ins released which pull down content from the most popular web services.
Now you could argue that Apple would never allow this to happen, as it wants to keep tight control over the iTVs functionality - limiting its connectivity to the iTunes store, in order to sell as many television shows and movies as possible. However, Apple makes peanuts out of selling content, compared to the profits made on its hardware. Only a fraction of the songs on an iPod originate from the iTunes store. So why would Steve Jobs adopt a different strategy for the iTV? The combination of iTunes and DRM-free MP3s provided the 'killer app' for the iPod, and YouTube could well do the same for Apple's soon-to-be released set-top box.