After reading Jason's piece about the rumored iTV refresh, I got to thinking the iOS platform on the TV and how it could allow the former Apple TV to become not only a truly useful setop box, but quite possibly the broadest gaming platform on the planet.
Granted, bringing iOS to the TV also presents its share of challenges, mainly how one would interact with such a touching interface from the comfort of their couch. I think it's fair to say Apple is far too suave to consider a Wii approach to the iOS touch interface. Inevitably that means revisiting what we all know as the gum stick remote.
It wasn't too long ago that new rumours surfaced, claiming a 7-inch iPad might be in the works for Apple. This may vary well be true, but I certainly wouldn't expect Apple to risk confusing its customers of a very lucrative iPad market with a new smaller edition of the same thing. Still, a 7-inch iPad like touch device might be marketable through a completely different market segment. I previously posted my thoughts on it appearing in the form of a car tech solution, but that's a bit of a stretch.
Here's what it could look like:
As you can see in the image, the iTV would no longer be a hard drive based setop box, but rather a live streaming device. Think of it as a combo iPad docking station and Airport Express with an HDMI port out the back. The back rest of the dock would serve dual duty as a WIFI antenna/repeater. Adding a USB port would then make it possible to access home movies or pictures off you camera or even potentially a portable hard drive. The standard audio jack would simply be inherited from the Airport Express design.
The most interesting part of this design would certainly be the iPad like touch interface for the iTV. Yes, it makes for a very bulky remote, but I think Apple are thinking outside your typical TV interface device here. I've heard people mention the link between the appearance of the Magic Track Pad and the upcoming iTV as a potential input device for the iTV.
Though it certainly could serve to direct a cursor on the screen, it lacks the versatility of a completely tactile interface (how do you type a search on the Magic Track Pad?). We can probably all agree that using a touch screen on your TV to drive the iOS interface is ridiculous. Then why not bring the touch interface to your hands? This could be accomplished with an iPhone or iPod Touch but even those interfaces are limiting when you're talking about interacting with your TV.
Seems to me that a 7-inch solution would fit the bill perfectly here. From a marketing standpoint, it might also serve a dual purpose of not only providing an excellent interface to your TV, but also testing the waters for a smaller format device, while preventing any confusion to customers. What could also be done is allowing the "iMote" to not only mimic the view from the TV screen but also function independently, allowing your kids to watch a movie while you select and start downloading your own movies or TV shows.
Needless to say, the possibilities are endless here. How about using Face Time with your friend in Europe to watch a movie together. How about a TV program showing a QR code in the corner of the screen for more online content that you could simply tap on your iMote and be directed to the website while still watching the TV show.
Most of all, how could Google TV ever compete with such a rich interactive experience while maintaining it as an integral part of a much broader iOS ecosystem. Also, by integrating the existing engineering from the Airport Express and scaling down the iPad technology (no need for Retina display on this thing, nor do you need 10 hours of battery life, or even 64 GB of storage) they could easily deliver such a solution for $249.