Apple TV already won the battle for your living room

Apple TV already won the battle for your living room

Summary: Whenever I write a piece like this, I generally get an equal amount of support and an equal amount of grief. This will likely be no different.


Whenever I write a piece like this, I generally get an equal amount of support and an equal amount of grief. This will likely be no different. I believe this is the year we'll see a major paradigm shift from the traditional time/space-shift technologies of cable/DVR to the web 2.0 method of media delivery. All the pieces are there, and Apple, is really the first to pull many of them together in a true customer friendly package. Right price point...easy to use...and millions and millions of iTunes users who already use the platform.


Some time back I wrote that I believed Apple was poised to tear down what we've known as cable/live television and reinvigorate the industry. I made the audacious claim that Apple could possibly destroy Tivo and the idea of time/place-shifted television, because who needs to have a DVR when your shows are simply delivered to your television, commercial free?

I also claimed that Cable as we knew it was dead, it just didn't know it yet. Cable is cost prohibitive, and gives you more junk than value. Tivo gives you great DVR functionality, with a lifetime leash of at least $200 a year. Combine Cable and Tivo and you are spending more money for the stuff you actually want than buying a Apple TV, some season passes, and cutting your cable altogether.

Back then I postulated that if Apple were able to offer more options from iTunes, like free "sponsored" shows, sports, streaming, etc., we'd likely see an end to what we've traditionally become accustomed to when it came to cable. I've predicted that Apple TV would be an enormous hit...and I think early buzz is proving that to be the case. There are a lot of mixed reviews about the Apple TV solution...a lot of the complaints are about the hardware limitations when it comes to HD...but I don't think that's that big of a deal right now.

The key to this whole battle isn't coming up with the best online video client (as many are attempting), the key is getting the video to your television. Who wants to watch TV on their laptop? And as for the other video streaming boxes on the market today, most have terrible UI's, are hard to setup and configure, are abysmally ugly, and have failed to capture any of the publics imagination or attention.

Here's why Apple has already won this battle.

  1. First to market box that combines ease of use, small footprint, great software, and is cross platform...all-in-one. Yes you do need iTunes for Mac or Windows, but it is free.
  2. Most affordable time/space-shifting device available. Tivo may be $99 for entry level, but once you add the monthly fee, you have an additional $200 a year leash...forever. As for the MS Media Center, don't even get me started.
  3. Turns out (as many of us expected) that this puppy is hackable six ways from Sunday. Already some clever people have Joost working on it, DIVX is running, and I've seen several instances of people running full versions of OS X and a number of other applications. It is only a matter of time before this box can play every media format under the sun, from just about any source. And then when you think about it...for $300...things just got a lot more interesting.
  4. For all you Tivo defenders who got all ticked off at my suggestion that the Apple TV could kill that platform...and pointed out how much better a DVR was...well the Apple TV has a USB 2.0 long before we see an EyeTV port of their DVR/terrestrial digital video products?
  5. Sports! MLB is doing some interesting content for iTunes, but imagine when you can subscribe to your favorite teams and have all the games streaming or delivered right to your television, iPod, or iPhone.
  6. With all the current hacks on the Apple TV, what happens when the legit plug-ins start to come out for Netflix, Blockbuster, the BBC, etc? Netflix wants to be in the music download business, but it isn't enough to provide downloads, you need to get them to the TV. I would not be surprised at all if companies like Netflix offered an Apple TV option in the future. While it might cut slightly into Apple's own TV and Movie offerings, it further cements Apple's solution as a platform, and the more people adopt the platform, the more Apple TV's are sold. Let's face it, the money isn't made off the music or is made off the hardware. Yeah, I know the Netflix founder recently joined the board of MS, but companies generally hedge their bets, and I'm sure if they aren't interested in working with Apple, Blockbuster will.
  7. User generated content. I think by next year we'll have a whole slew of video podcasts available that rival some big studio content we've grown accustomed to over the years. One of my favorite shows, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, reportedly shot their pilot for less than $200. With today's technology, people can walk out of an electronics store with everything they need to create professional looking media for under $10k. And at that point, all you need is a bunch of talented people with passion to create and produce the next Seinfeld...without any backing from any studio...selling their show directly. iTunes or Apple TV can help get that material to televisions without any help from the cable company. I suspect I'll be subscribing to 4-5 independent video productions through iTunes within the next year.   

I think the thing many people missed when considering the Apple TV as a serious device and platform, is that the Apple TV is proving to be a lot more flexible than people originally thought. We'll no doubt see quite a bit of interesting talk come out of Apple's Developer conference this June in regards to legit app creation and expansion of the core functionality...I wouldn't be surprise if we see an official SDK for writing Apple TV plug-ins.

I also think what people aren't taking into account is that this is the first generation of this device, and I would be willing to bet that we'll see a series of Apple TV boxes ranging in price and functionality, supporting all sorts of storage sizes, HD options, and maybe...just maybe, some type of hybrid technology that converges televisions with the Apple TV components already inside, with a built-in touch screen. I'd kill to have something like that on my kitchen counter.

While it is still very early, this isn't the first time that people have questioned Apple's wisdom when it comes to product development. Not all Apple products have seen unparalleled success, but in my lifetime I've seen a lot of people bet against them, only to regret it later. Many of the analysts you read every day have been predicting their demise for a long time now, and much to their chagrin, they've failed to get a single prediction right. I think the Apple TV is one of those instances, and I believe it is going to be a huge success as a device, and as a platform.

BTW, here's a good piece on the Top 10 Myths about the Apple TV. 



Topic: Apple

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  • Taking over the living room

    Of course, the whole discussion begs the question of whether consumers give a hoot. There's little in the way of market results to suggest that they do; if it doesn't come as an (at most) inexpensive option with their cable or satellite service, they mostly don't even bother to time-shift.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • New market

      It's a new market. It took Apple several years to build momentum with the iPod -
      and now look. I've already gotten several of my friends interested in ditching their
      cable or satellite services in favor of Apple TV. All it took was a few minutes playing
      around with mine and they were sold. It will come.
  • One Fatal Flaw

    This before maybe the best thing since slice bread, it as one fatal flaw that prevent it from been a total success: Apple.
    • Clueless

      And the iPod is such a dismal failure, right? Apple itself was the one fatal flaw there
      too, right?

      Give me a break.
    • Right

      Aren't you tired of all your wrong predictions on Apple over the years Mectron?
  • Limited interest

    Sure, it would be cool to be able to download and watch any episode of any series ever made. But the a la carte method of iTunes sure adds up fast, dollar-wise. My current cable bill of $60/mo would get me 30 hours of shows at $2 each. That's about an hour per day. OK, I'll confess I pay Tivo $7/mo also. But for that, Tivo automatically snags all my favorite shows. So far, there's no contest.
    • How much do you watch?

      I guess it all depends on how much TV you watch. Like me, you pay roughly $800
      per year for TV. I'm not a channel surfer, so I'm only interested in the shows I want
      to watch. At $35 (average) for a season pass on iTunes, you'd need to buy 20
      seasons to pay the same as your cable/TIVO combo (plus the upfront cost of the
      Apple TV). Do you watch that many shows? If you watch 10, you can buy season
      passes to all of them, plus the Apple TV box, and still save money over cable. And
      there are no commercials.

      The more I do the math, the more compelling Apple TV becomes.
  • One Fatal Flaw

    This device maybe the best thing since slice bread, but it as one fatal flaw that prevent it from been a total success: Apple.
  • Way too little and way too late

    The dependence on itunes and ipod formats does not make it useful with the dozen or so other formats out there already covered by Windows media players. Microsoft has been doing the media stuff far longer than Apple has and the inclusion of media player and others in Vista sort of makes moot the need for a separate media player box but these are already out there, cheaper than the telly-ipod, too. So why bother going with a system that only handles Apple formats?
    • Clueless

      First of all, thanks for the laugh. M$ "has been doing the media stuff far longer
      than Apple"??? What planet are you on? When did Apple release QuickTime? Oh,
      nevermind. If you're so uneducated about the history of the industry to where you
      believe that M$ has been "doing the media stuff" longer than Apple, there's not
      much I can say.

      As for the "dozens of so other formats" out there, this is precisely one of the
      problems in the industry. Consumers suffer - and don't spend money - when
      they are confused. And the more formats that exist, the more confused they

      Apple's dedication to AAC for audio and MP4 for video (neither of which is a
      proprietary Apple format, as you imply) is a great benefit to the consumer. It
      keeps everything simple. Furthermore, whatever Vista does or does not include
      isn't really the issue. Most people don't want a PC hooked up to their television.
      Only M$ would be boneheaded enough to believe that. Apple was very wise not to
      present Apple TV as a Mac (even though it is one) in any way. They've pitched it
      as a consumer electronics device and have created a stellar UI that makes setup
      and navigation a snap. This is what consumers want. Simplicity.
    • you're not thinking about consumer mentality

      Most consumers in the mass market could care less about "formats" etc. Those of us here in techie land do, but we aren't really the market makers. Just look at the iPod success if you need an example. I personally used many MP3 players that all stunk, and then bought the bullet and bought an iPod. It is superior, easy to use software, bundled so that even a middle aged person with limited knowledge can use it.

      I think that the price per show issue is going to keep it back. I don't watch anything more than the Daily Show, but if I did, I'd have cable. Paying for each show adds up to more than cable quickly, and cable can lower their costs if under attack. We haven't even discussed on demand video, which is already rolling out from some cable vendors.
  • $200??

    I don't know who saw you coming, but I pay $.95/month for my cable DVR-that includes the recorder & programming. $200/year works out to over $16/month; can I interest you in any land in Florida?
  • Talk about reality distortion field

    This article and especially the companion "10 myths" aricle, could have been composed by any pre-pubescent fanboy on any video game forum.

    1) This article insinuates that the MS equivalent to Apple TV is Media Center. Which of course it isn't, it's the Xbox 360.

    2) The "10 Myths" article denigrates the "11 million sold" for 360 as poor sales. Still, it's 11 million more than Apple TV has sold, and I would wager if Apple actually sold 3 million Apple TV's the 1st year they'd call it a raging success.

    If "11 million sold" excludes the vast majority of Americans, then where does Apple TV stand, even 16 months after it goes on sale? Do you really think they'll sell 40 million of them?

    Regarding the attempt to denigrate the sales figures as MS dumping them on the retailers - a) MS just can't make a retailer take stock they don't want (Wal-Mart is not a MS franchise) and b) look at the actual NMPD sales figures - that shows the actual sales of the consoles, and they show the 360 as a good if not great seller (about 50% of the red-hot, and brand new, Wii.) If NMPD were being duped the way the "Myth" article author tries to claim, who would be interested in NMPD's reports? Again, look at the monthly figures.

    3) Wireless and the HD size are reasonable points, but counterbalanced by the fact the 360 plays games - I can tell you which function(s) outweigh the others.

    Since 70% of the HDTV's in existence are 720P TV's, the lack of HDMI is largely irrelevant. Which seems to be borne out by sales of the 360 compared to its main (direct) competition, bringing me to:

    3) Both authors ignore another player in this space - Sony and its PS3. They haven't started their IPTV story yet, but they won't be far behind Apple. Sony already has a huge media empire to leverage, has a big hard drive and wireless, and it can play games,has HDMI, and on top of it, can play high-def precorded content (Blu-Ray.) Though higher in price, for the purposes of home entertainment, the features make it a far better value proposition than Apple TV.

    The PS3 is a much better proposition than Apple TV.
  • MCE + XBOX 360

    How can someone compare Apple TV to the XBOX 360 (or even Media center)?
    Apple TV allows a user to pay for a TV show (huh? Pay for a TV show I can see for free on TV!?!?!?), download it on a PC or a Mac and stream it to the Apple TV device. It also allows user to stream other digital content (MP3s, home videos, pictures, etc.). Did I get this right?

    Media Center lets me watch live or recorded TV either directly on my PC or on any other remote TV using an extender (I use a 360). I can even switch channels remotely using my 360. And since I bought the premium package I have all the cables I need.

    No download, no extra payment, nothing. No monthly fees either like TIVO. I can also stream other media like pictures, songs, home movies, etc. And if someone installs some free software like TVersity (great stuff) I can use my 360 to watch any kind of file format as TVersity will convert about any file format on demand (yes, even Quicktime) and without modifying my 360. I can even stream my content to other devices like UTStarcomm cell phones, other PCs, etc.

    Oh, I can also pop in a DVD in either my Vista Media Center OR my XBOX 360 and - voila - a very good quality movie! it gets even better since I added an HD-DVD drive to my 360 for 149$ CAN (that's around 110$ US). It even came with my first HD-DVD movie: King Kong (ok, not the best movie but at least I had something to test the equipment). And as a bonus the HD-DVD drive works on Vista. Can't ask for more -- until we know which of the new format wins: HD-DVD / BluRay.

    Another bonus: with the free software MCE My Movies I can rip my DVDs as ISO files, store them on my PC and it will automatically mount the ISO file as a drive and the movie will start.
    Until Apple gets a Media Center equivalent there is simply no comparison.

    So, in short: the combo Media Center with the 360 may cost marginally more than a computer and an Apple TV device but I can watch Live or recorded TV anywhere in the house, no monthly fees and oh! I can play games. No monthly fees like Tivo but I get an even better TV Guide and I don't pay to download stuff that is available on TV anyway.
    • TV is NOT free

      "Apple TV allows a user to pay for a TV show (huh? Pay for a TV show I can see for
      free on TV!?!?!?), download it on a PC or a Mac and stream it to the Apple TV
      device. It also allows user to stream other digital content (MP3s, home videos,
      pictures, etc.). Did I get this right?"

      No. Because you cannot see a show for free on TV unless you're watching
      something broadcast over the air. Otherwise, you're paying for it every month. If
      you buy from iTunes as well, you are paying double. But if you disconnect your
      satellite or cable TV service and ONLY buy from iTunes, you stand to save money
      --- unless you're a total TV baby.

      As for streaming, yes, Apple TV will stream anything in your iTunes library,
      including your music, podcasts, photos (from iPhoto or folders on your hard
      drive), and movies. Video can be from any source, including DVDs you've
      converted to H.264.
      • TV is NOT free

        I agree, TV is not free. But you can't simply disconnect TV because you can download stuff from the Web. Apple TV (or any other content store) doesn't give me local news (or any other local content), live hockey or live football, and I'm sure I'm forgetting many other things.

        So, my cable bills total is around %45 for 100 channels. And since I own Media Center I can record anything I want, anytime and watch it later. How many downloads do I get for 45$? Let's say Apple eventually provides TV news at 1$ each. I don't watch the news in the week-end so that's around 22 days at 1$ each. Then let's say I watch one NFL game a week. With playoff that's 20 games. Obviously the NFL will take a premium on this so let's price it at $4 for an HD version (if your bandwidth is good enough to stream 1080i signal without too much compression). let's assume there's four week-end that month. Total: $38. And I still didn't watch any movie, documentary or social issue. That's only my use of the TV. Kids have different tastes, wants to see different things.

        Apple TV is a fine first step but Apple needs to get its act together and provide a PVR instead. I can't imagine many people will disconnect their TV service. Apple TV is only another media box with a cool face.

        Not interested
    • Sold!

      I've always wanted to see the Blue Screen on Wide Screen.
  • Guess you were wrong

    'I generally get an equal amount of support and an equal amount of grief.'
    looks like a lot more grief on this one.

    One thing I'd like to point out, however, in the 'don't get me started' link. The picture has MCE($1000) vs AppleTV($299)

    You realize, of course, that the AppleTV is a $299 paperweight without a computer backing it up? And unlike the XBox360 or Unbox/Tivo, it can't go and get its own media?
    So it should read MCE($1000) vs ($800 computer of your choice) + $299.
  • Cut the cable???

    I am not into Apple, Windows, or Linux bashing or zealotry. But I have one thing that makes no sense to me, and I may be wrong, and I AM open to correction.

    I have high speed cable modem service. I have to buy basic cable TV in a package to get it. Great service, and with Netflix I don't care about movie channels with two year old movies on most of the time.

    Unless we get some FCC legislation to eliminate the requirement of most cable companies to have basic cable to get the high speed service, I don't see cutting the cable. How do you download the Apple TV or Xbox 360 content without Internet service.

    I know they aren't going to be streaming to dial up users. I also know that most folks who have cable modems are sure not backsliding to DSL, at least not here . . . sloooooow.

    Not all of us live in metro areas with fiber access, dang few around here. (read none)

    So if I am missing something, I am open to comments.
    • Cable TV + Internet

      Strange. I have cable Internet, but no cable TV. You are right, however. You need
      *SOME* form of highspeed Internet access to buy shows from iTunes. I suppose you
      could do it over dialup, but that would be a nightmare. And streaming things like
      movie trailers wouldn't work very well.