Apple TV update looks good but doesn't offer much more

Apple issues a software update to AppleTV and, while the user interface is more appealing to the eyes, it masks the fact that there isn't much new there.

As Larry Dignan has repeatedly pointed out here, I am one of the few people out there who has an Apple TV device in my living room. For the most part, we like it, using it mostly to rent HD movies or share the occasional photo slide show with friends or family.  But just because we like it, doesn't mean I would automatically recommend it to anyone.

The latest software update - now at version 3.0 - brings a new look to the user interface, making it look more like the "cover flow" look used in iTunes to give browsers a sneak peek of content via thumbnails. But beyond a new UI, the new version of Apple TV doesn't offer much more. 

That's disappointing.

Apple has been one of the most innovative companies when it comes to understanding how people want to interact with their digital media, whether photos, music or video. And given what the company has done to introduce us to the power of apps, it's frustrating that the company hasn't done more to bring that experience to the Apple TV device. Where's Hulu? Where's Netflix? Where's Pandora? Where's the innovation?

Quarter after quarter, Apple TV barely gets a mention by the company during its earnings call with analysts. In its 2009 Q1 call back in January, Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook - who was seated in the CEO's chair while Steve Jobs was on medical leave - said the company would continue to invest in Apple TV, even though it had repeatedly been referred to as a "hobby." During that call, Cook noted that Apple TV growth was almost triple from the year-ago quarter and that movie rentals were sparking some interest among consumers.

We like the movie rentals, too. But we're finding more value these days in our Netflix subscription, which comes with some titles available for streaming. In recent weeks, I've connected the laptop - with Netflix streaming - to the living room HD TV for Family Movie Night.

It's too bad there's no Netflix button on Apple TV. Having it there might feel like there's actually some value in having an Apple TV set-top box in the living room.

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