Article: Why the Apple TV Won’t Die

by on December 21, 2007

While doing my usual daily surfing of the web, I came across Phillip Swann’s prediction (via MacDailyNews) that the Apple TV is doomed in 2008. As a TV geek and an Apple fan (can’t ya tell?) I have a few problems with that prediction.

“Apple will dump Apple TV by year’s end. Despite much hype, the Internet TV set-top has been a bust, selling only about 400,000 units. Apple will try to boost sales in early 2008 by introducing some new features such as high-def video. But it won’t work, in part because Americans have ‘set-top fatigue.'” —Phillip Swann

First of all, I don’t want to turn this into a “let’s gang up on someone sharing their commentary on the web” piece. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Instead, I think that the Apple TV does need some work to gain mass appeal. Most of the negative press has been by Mac users who probably have a few external hard drives, countless other peripherals, and plenty of upgrades in their computer. The Apple TV is not for them.

Since I like to use people around me as inspiration for some of my articles (whether it be someone who is a faceless nobody on another web site or someone I actually know), the Apple TV has been on my mind a lot lately. I have a friend who recently purchased a new HDTV. They have a Power Mac G4 in the next room (a home office) with tons of music on it and some photos. Currently, a cable goes from the computer along the wall to the stereo system to “stream” music. While this has been good for the last few years, the idea of controlling songs without having to go to the computer has been kicking around my friend’s head for awhile.

Of course, there are a few options: buy a new Mac and (probably) make the old G4 be a media server connected to the TV through DVI to HDMI, pick up a Mac mini (new or used) and make that a media server, or buy an Apple TV. The first two choices give you more power (a standalone computer and an independent iTunes library). However, there are also problems with that. First, you have to keep the iTunes libraries and other media files updated on both machines which can be tedious. Secondly, connecting the computer through a DVI to HDMI cable does not allow for audio connection (this particular TV has 3 HDMI connectors, 2 sets of component video jacks with RCA audio, and a composite/S-video jack pairing on the last input). This would require the connection of the computer to a stereo all the time for audio and never allow use of the TV speakers, which can be cumbersome. Let’s not even get into the added expenses of Bluetooth, with the G4 requiring a receiver along with the purchase of a mouse or keyboard.

Instead, the Apple TV is a fraction of the price of a new computer (even a mini) along with the accessories and cables, provides audio connections to both the TV and the stereo independently, and has a dead-simple interface that can be completely navigated with just a remote. Some might say that it’s underpowered and talk about the benefits of having a full computer connected to a TV, but for the average user who wants to bring their Mac (or iTunes-equipped PC) and TV together, it’s a quick and easy solution.

That brings me to the point of this article. I don’t want to make this a how-to for bridging a gap between two rooms and two different kinds of electronics, but give an example where the Apple TV works. At this point, Apple has sold enough to at least probably hit break-even on R&D. Besides that, since it is a stripped-down Mac (rather than an stationary iPod), it can be made to do more than it currently can, such as play higher quality video. In fact, Apple should work with the networks that offer streamed versions of their shows (such as ABC) to bring that functionality to the Apple TV. Not only will it help commercial television bring viewers back to watch ads, but it will sell Apple TVs. It’s a rather slick solution that anyone who doesn’t obsess over computers could buy, set up, and use in a matter of minutes.

Some complain that it’s not a DVR, can’t store their ripped DVDs, or play DiVX files, but it’s not designed for them. They can hook up a Mac mini or some old retired Mac to a TV for those purposes. The Apple TV is designed to bring Apple’s simple, our-way-works attitude to the living room and with a bit of work, can be a real hit…especially since we’ll all have HDTVs in 2009.

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