by Greg Mills
With bits of information the Mac rumor mill conjures up both interesting and unlikely product ideas. Historically, Apple can be expected to repeat product concepts over time and improve them as technology allows. We can know what Apple has been thinking recently by what it has shown us in the past.
Consider that the Newton was a forerunner of the iPhone, iPod and iPad. The Newton was ahead of its time and not supported by the modern parts we see today. In many respects, it is sort of like the helicopter, which was invented by Leonardo Da Vinci 400 years before the internal combustion engine, which was required to actually make it fly. Sometimes ideas are too far ahead of the general development of technology and thus can't be done in their day. But given time ...
To an extent, the Apple TV suffers from the "ahead of it's time" syndrome. Internet pass-through speeds have been a bottleneck, but that's getting better. Remember when the term WWW was understood as World Wide Wait? Now we expect fast Internet in which the information comes in a what was considered blinding speed on a few years ago. The FCC is pushing for really high speeds everywhere sooner than later. You can be sure Apple is watching the developments closely.
The high definition interface, 1080p is the current gold standard for HDTV displays. There are lesser formats that still offer digital video but a half the density of the higher standard, but at half the data required. The lesser standard was considered a compromise that offered really good pictures but still downloaded in a reasonable period. Apple TV uses the lesser standard and doesn't have a decent DVR control system to manage the home video, across the board. A lot of us Apple folks are holding off purchasing an Apple TV, anticipating further development and full HDTV and DVR functions.
Personally, I hate the controller clutter around the TV. We have a TV controller, a sound controller. a Dish Network DVR controller and a Sony Playstation controller. Ask "Has anyone seen the remote?" and the answer is "Which one?"
Apple is secretive for very good reasons, so we can only speculate on what the next "one last thing" might be. Killing off Microsoft, while it has its pants down by offering OS X for any PC or stealing NetFlix's bacon sound dramatic enough to solicit the recent, cryptic comment, "you won't be disappointed," from Steve Jobs.
Imagine a box the size of an iPhone that amounts to an ethernet modem with HDMI ports. With a remote that operates on BlueTooth or controlled by an iPad, iPhone, iPod touch or Mac over WiFi. Then imagine just about every movie or TV show that has ever been shot mounted on servers at the new server farm Apple is building. Short sell Blockbuster and NetFlix.
Combine the hardware explained above with software only Apple can produce that runs on anything Apple and perhaps even on a PC that would allow you to search and play back over the internet any content you want in full HD. Store it with a USB hard drive hooked up to the new Apple TV modem for future viewing or see it as it comes in, buffered to allow your system to store the data stream a few minutes ahead of the TV display. Now you have something really neat. Next, imagine a monthly cost that is cheaper than cable TV, Dish or other content providers, and you have a market that would interest Apple.
If you consider the lousy service, high cost and customer dissatisfaction of cable and satellite TV suppliers, you have the sort of situation Apple looks for. A well established market with enough money in it to make the bank account sing, technology that can be leapfrogged by thinking different and industry wide software that sucks, that can be replaced by Apple's software eye candy, is the combination of factors that make Mr. Jobs lose sleep.
The numbers are awful when one considers customer satisfaction with current TV content suppliers. can recall numerous spats I had with DirecTV before I dumped them and burned their boxes with glee. I also recall the crappy software TimeWarner provides on its DVR. Apple could fix all that.
The final piece of the puzzle is games. Could Apple get serious about providing games for HDTV? As always, there are a lot more questions than answers, and we will have to wait for the next "one last thing" announcement. Despite the recent roll-out of the iPad, Apple is big enough to have more than one blockbuster product in the final states of development. My money is on the "hobby" Apple TV being taken seriously at last -- tiny footprint or not.
(Greg Mills is currently a Faux Artist in Kansas City. Formerly a new product R&D man for the paint sundry market, he holds 11 US patents. He's working on a solar energy startup using a patent pending process of turning waste dual pane glass into thermal solar panels used to heat water. Married, with one daughter still at home, Greg writes for intellectual web sites and Mac related issues. See Greg's web sites at http://www.gregmills.info . He can be emailed at gregmills.mac.)