Apple TV 2.0: Still A Sucky Hobby

by Hadley Stern Sep 20, 2010

It took Apple the better part of 4 years to revise and release the latest Apple TV.  Almost 4 years to make it is smaller, allow you to rent movies and TV shows on it, view Netflix, and view your iPad content on it. But is the new Apple TV worth the time it took to tinker with it? Do the new features truly make Apple TV better?

1.     Smaller

Apple, in its typical obsession with both form factor and marketing words is practically orgasmic about the size of the Apple TV. Don't get me wrong, I get turned on by form factor, but mostly ones that have a reason to be beautifully designed. Like the iPhone or iPod in my pocket. Or the Macbook Pro that I constantly interact with. But some friggin box I stick in a closet or under a TV?! Who cares. The form factor of the Apple TV is completely irrelevant. And while I haven't seen the new device in person, one could easily argue that the old Apple TV had a nicer design.

2.     Rent TV shows

OK, cool. Although I much prefer the Netflix model. But now we can rent TV shows and movies. The problem here is this has absolutely nothing to do with the new hardware. It is a software feature that happens to concide with the new Apple TV. And as such, it's kind of a giveaway. It would be missed if it weren't there, but there's no wow factor.

3.     Use Netflix

This is arguably the most important feature of the Apple TV. Without Netflix this product would be dead on arrival. But, like number 1 it is devoid of having anything to do with the new hardware. With some hackery you can run Netflix on the current Apple TV. So, it's nice not to have to hack to use Netflix, but essentially, whoopdeedo.


4.    View stuff from your iPad on it

OK, we are starting to get somewhere. This is something new and pretty nifty. You can transfer what you are watching on your iPad to your Apple TV. I'm not sure if this required any new hardware, I assume it is all working over wifi, which the old Apple TV has. So, unless I'm wrong, again, this is a software feature.

The Apple TV product line, or product team seems like a completely cursed entity. All I can think of is that Steve Jobs doesn't really care about the product, otherwise it would just be so much more. Unlike the iPod, which reinvented the mp3 player, or the iPhone, which invented the touchscreen phone, the Apple TV just sits there like a dumb terminal with nothing to offer in terms of reinventing the living room experience.


So, the new improvements are just that, but certainly not revolutionary, and more to the point, they don't really do anything NEW. Here's what's missing:

1.  iOS, anyone?

The most glaring, obvious omission is iOS. You would think, Apple could have taken a page from the iphone developers: The iPhone SDK has led to an explosion of creative ideas and applications that are just as significant if not more signficant than the iPhone itself. Who knows what designers and developers would have been capable of if they had iOS in their living room? Forget just transferring movies for the iPad to your TV. What about applications that are aware of each other and are inter-operable? The iPhone as a controller for an Apple TV game? The opportunities are endless.

Perhaps the only point that can get Apple's attention in all this is Google. Apple, Google is going to do just this with the Google TV, which will allow for the development of Android applications.

The lack of an SDK in the Apple TV will, years from now, be looked at as the strategic blunder that rendered the Apple TV still a hobby, and, ultimately, a failure.

2.     Lack of DVR functionality

Apple wants the Apple TV to be this cloud-like device, which is all well and good. But one of the more popular features in a device like this is integration with your cable television. There are 3rd party products on the Mac side (Elgato) that do this well. And on the Windows side, Windows Media Center is a shining example. Now, if Apple used iOS perhaps Elgato could have written an app for that (can you tell I'm still steaming about number 1!)?

Or, Apple could have reached out to Elgato. Regardless, this lack of functionality relegates the Apple TV to the type of box Steve Jobs criticized Google TV for being— yet another box in the living room. Tivo rocks because it is a replacement and consumers are willing to pay for something to replace their cable-provided box. Apple should have created a product that integrated with cable TV, providing recording functionality, schedules, etc.


I had really high hopes for Apple TV, hoping against hope that Steve would finally embrace the living room as more than a hobby. The new Apple TV is a disappointing iteration of a disappointing product.


  • If I am correct, I believe the new tv runs on iOS. Steve even left the door open to the possibility of the tv running apps when asked by reporters.

    My thinking is that Apple will wait until a significant number of tvs have shipped. And at $99 and even a little promotion in-stores and advertising they will. Once Apple has, say 2 million, devices connected I believe Apple will release a SDK. I think they want to have a built-in audience in order for developers to support the device.

    You’ll see, tv will grow by leaps and bounds over the next year as iTunes goes to the cloud when Apple puts their SC data center online and opens the tv to apps.

    In the meantime, I’ll gladly pay $20 more than an Airport Express for the features it already includes. And I’ll keep my Tivo until Apple makes a DVR because nothing else comes close.

    GerberG8TR had this to say on Sep 20, 2010 Posts: 4
  • Yeah when Hadley says iOS he really means running Apps - reread his comments in that context. I’m still unsure whether he literally wants an iPhone app (which needs touch input!) or just a really easy system for developers to port to aTV which makes more sense to me (like iPad apps share much code with iPhone apps).

    BUT I am worried about the amount of people saying apps is the answer to content. I really don’t want to have to remember which of my 9 TV apps I need to open to watch my show - an integrated interface is far more useful. Perhaps Apple can get app-writers to put hooks into their app to get the best of both worlds?

    I expect that Apple is already talking with select app developers and giving them early access. So we’ll see a limited range of apps before long. At some stage, they’ll open that up to other developers. This also could be the best of both worlds, if it gives Apple intense control over early development, while avoiding complaints from other developers about supporting multiple platforms and lets Apple wait for that demand to increase first.

    Greg Alexander had this to say on Sep 21, 2010 Posts: 228
  • Lack of internal storage is a major step backwards.  The inability to sync content and just have it on the device and available is beyond shortsighted.  My workstations at home (mostly Mac) are multi-user, that way we all get the screen settings, browser favorites, etc. that we want when we use the computer.  So now with this new device while my 5 year old is waiting for a movie, I have to turn the home theater on, go run upstairs and see who is logged on, log them out if it isn’t me, then start up iTunes, then run back downstairs to turn the kid’s movie on.  Yes adding supported streaming is cool, but I have 10 years+ of digital content, that with this device would be significantly harder to use.  Digital Living Room indeed.  I don’t want to stream what I own, I want it on the device.  BTW the “old” AppleTV could stream live from iTunes too.  Maybe what I would want is a firmware release from Apple for the “old” style AppleTV that would make me not have to reboot the thing every few days.

    jpolson had this to say on Sep 30, 2010 Posts: 2
  • By the way I would be happy with the ability to put the content on a TimeCapsule, or and AirPort with a drive attached, then I’m in.

    jpolson had this to say on Sep 30, 2010 Posts: 2
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