iOS on an Apple TV? A VERY Bad Idea

by Chris Seibold Aug 27, 2010

By now you've probably heard that Apple has scheduled a press conference for September 1st. You never hear the words "Apple has scheduled a press event" without an immediate deluge of speculation over what the press event might reveal. And this piece will not dissapoint you.

Honestly, this event shouldn't be too difficult to decipher. It's in September and that means...drumrolls please...iPods. The iPod touch looks a lot more like the iPhone 3GS than the iPhone 4. Hence, the easiest guess is that the iPod Touch will be updated to be more iPhonish.

You know, a front-facing camera for FaceTime functionality, a camera on the back for snapping photos, a better screen and so forth. Updates to the other iPod models will also likely show up but does anyone really care about anything in iPod land but the Touch anymore?

The FaceTime update makes particularly good sense because by adding FaceTime functionality Apple can tout the number of potential FaceTime users out there without noting that the number of actual repeat FaceTime users is laughably small. (Everyone tries it once, right?) So updating the iPod Touch to iPhone standards seems like a lock. Consumers get a better value, Apple sells more iPods and gets some great marketing out of the event.

At this point you're thinking "A front-facing camera on an iPod? We need more drama than that!" Two things here. The first thing to remember is that Steve Jobs will be giving the promo. It won't come off as just a front-facing camera. Steve will pitch it as a revolution of some sort. One imagines it might go something like this:

"When we put FaceTime on the iPhone we didn't realize just how revolutionary it would be. Every single person with an iPhone has tried FaceTime. The biggest problem with FaceTime? People are running out of other people to chat with. Today we're going to solve the problem. Today, we're adding FaceTime to the iPod Touch. You know who has touches instead of iPhones? Kids, that's who. Now you can yell at your kids face to face one hundred miles away! BOOM!"

Or something like that. Some fail to grasp the power of Steve Jobs' presentation skills and imagine there has to be more to the press event than just some iPod stuff. If it has to be more than just iPod updates that means there will be Apple TV shenanigans. The iPhone update is only a few months old, Macs have been recently refreshed, so the only thing left is the Apple TV.

What do people imagine will happen to the Apple TV? They imagine it will be renamed the iTV and run iOS, the same OS that runs the iPad, the iPhone and the iPod touch. The benefits of such a change are immediately obvious. Apple will sell more apps, people already know how to use iOS so there is no learning curve and Apple can make everything more integrated. The idea is perfection encapsulated, a no brainer, the easiest move in the world, right?

Not so fast. What commonality do all the iOS devices share? It isn't screen size—the iPad is much larger than the iPhone or iPod touch. And it isn't the need for a contract, you can't get an iPhone without a contract but you can get an iPod touch or an iPad without a contract. The one commonality across all the iOS products though is the touch screen.

Now, slam iOS on an Apple TV. How do you use any of the apps? How do you fire up, say, the Weather app? In iOS you touch it. Chances are your TV doesn't have a touch sensitive screen. So you can't launch the app by touching it. The obvious solution is to add a cursor to the Apple TV remote right? Well, maybe not. When you touch something in iOS it launches, just a pointer won't do that because if it did you'd launch every app you accidentally hovered over. Well, you could add a button, just one, so that the app wouldn't launch until you actually clicked the button. Congrats you've just invented the mouse.

It actually is a bit more problematic than all that. Designing for touch instead of mouse click goes a lot deeper than replacing your finger with a cursor. Let's use Flight Control (a popular game for iOS) as an example. The idea behind Flight Control is that you direct various aircraft to land at specific spots using your finger. It works great on an iOS device where you can use your fingers, but it would be horrible trying to direct the planes with a mouse from across the room. You may argue that the Wii does exactly that and you'll be correct, but the telling difference is that the Wii games were designed with the Wii-mote in mind. In short, expecting Apple to come up with some kludge to make a remote act like your finger on your non-touch screen TV is too much to ask.

At the event expect to see an updated iPod touch but don't count on much with the Apple TV. If an iOS Apple TV does show up, sell your Apple shares because despite  iOS, Apple will have lost its touch.


  • iTV will be controlled with your iPad, iPhone or iPod, so iOS will be completely intuitive. I imagine their will be at least a couple dozen iTV specific apps at launch with hundreds to follow.

    Anyone, like myself, that has Apple TV knows the remote app is awesome for navigating your media collection and searching the web. It’s one is the best parts of the device that people forget about. We don’t know for sure if the iTV is coming Sept. 1, but do your research man!
    Apple will not be as short-sighted as you.

    swiller had this to say on Aug 27, 2010 Posts: 5
  • like the previous commetor, a couple thousand other folks posting on the web have already figured out iOS on ATV would use an iPhone/touch/iPad as its remote control. in fact, you can already use them as a remote for AppleTV now with the Remote app! duh!!

    do you have any idea what you are blogging about?

    Alfiejr had this to say on Aug 27, 2010 Posts: 18
  • So Alfiejr you envision the Appl eTV as some sort of iPod/iPhone accessory? Where it is necessary to own an iPod touch or an iPad or an iPhone to use it? I suppose it is possible…

    But then what’s the point of putting iOS on the AppleTV. You can’t run any apps from your Apple TV cause you have to use your iPhone to interact with it and you might as well run the apps on your iPhone.

    One supposes the iTV (which I bet won’t show up) could just be an iPod touch that hooks to your TV but that’s not really an iTV that’s an iPod touch with a dock.

    And surely, if any company can pull off such a feat it would be Apple. That said, cramming iOS onto the Apple TV doesn’t really help anything.

    Chris Seibold had this to say on Aug 27, 2010 Posts: 354
  • Chris, I suggest you find a Apple TV and download the remote app. It might just be the best remote you have ever used. It also controls multiple speaker configurations easily. I play my music and pick music on my patio, for instance. No you are not going want to play Flight Control but navigating You Tube, Netflix, Internet Radio and your media library will be a breeze. And yes, iphone and iPad user will be first adopters. But if $99 is to be believed, it will have plenty takers.

    swiller had this to say on Aug 27, 2010 Posts: 5
  • Hey Chris,

    Why do think Steve made this.

    Nice job overall!

    SJBS had this to say on Aug 27, 2010 Posts: 1
  • Swiller,
    I have an Apple TV and the remote app. It is fantastic but I’m not seeing how iOS on the Apple TV would make it any better.

    As for amount of research done about Apple I think I’ve probably done my share. I think I wrote a 600 odd page book about hacking everything from the Apple TV to the iPhone…

    Chris Seibold had this to say on Aug 27, 2010 Posts: 354
  • A cursor? A touch screen TV? This is so simple my 11year old sun figured it out. You either use your iPhone/iPod as a remote or you can use an accessory like Apple’s new Magic Track Pad. If you can’t figure that out you have no business writing about technology.

    Techlectics had this to say on Aug 27, 2010 Posts: 3
  • Techlectics,
    You can already use an iPhone as a remote so where is the gain by putting iOS on the Apple TV?

    Imagine playing Text Twist on your 60” TV. You control it with you Magic Trackpad, how do you know where your finger is on the screen? You’ll need some sort of indication where your finger is hovering. Perhaps a shadow or tiny hand like a wiimote, right?

    You know what that is called? A cursor.

    Congrats on the 11 year old sun by the way, I didn’t realize fusion technology had come so far.

    Chris Seibold had this to say on Aug 27, 2010 Posts: 354
  • Running iOS apps on a big screen TV via iTV plus an iThing remote offers a lot of great possbilities, some immediate, some potential:

    - easy web browsing. many efforts have been made to display web browsing on TV screens (e.g. PS3 and even ATV hacks). but the clumsy inevitable crude cursor controls ruin it practically. problem is solved via app touch screen control just like your iThing. opens door to “group” surfing together in your living room.

    - info-type apps displayed like widgets. not great, but not useless. real potential for future expansion with a wide range of extra in-app content (some monetized).

    - media content apps of all kinds. obvious immediate potential here. aspect ratio and screen resolution factors can be optimized with a new generation of iTV-specific apps, but iPad apps will work decently right away. all the video stuff, the magazine stuff, and more.

    - and games of course. like media apps, current iPad apps will work decently until iTV specific apps are offered. graphic intensive action games obvisouly could look great.

    being a life-long TV-loving couch potatoe, i can expertly adivse you that with an iTV like this i would not need my Mac Mini HTPC plus blutooth mouse/keyboad anymore. so, ultimately one less computer in the house. save some money.

    the one other nice iTV feature i would hope for is a live USB port to connect a huge external drive to hold all my media files that could then be streamed anyplace on my LAN or via the web. right now it is plugged into the HTPC. but that means that computer has to be running all the time and that user logged in, which is not ideal. however, Jobs seems to have some bias against this - the ATV USB port has been left unused - so i don’t have much hope.

    Alfiejr had this to say on Aug 27, 2010 Posts: 18
  • I apologize Chris. That was uncalled for.
    Their will be a fair amount apps that can be quite useful and appropriate, like the Netflix app. Also, current media players like the Xbox 360 and PS3, that serve the same type of content (music, movies),  don’t have search. As you see with the Apple TV remote app. Search is very useful on a multi-touch screen remote. I figure apple feels they can offer something better then a harmony remote and can dial up content on your tv, as easy as a typing in what you want. It may seem niche. But I don’t doubt Apple can be successful and profitable at it. I also expect it will be cool, based on the evolution of their tech.

    swiller had this to say on Aug 27, 2010 Posts: 5
  • No need for apologies swiller, I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

    I do imagine when Apple gets around to updating the AppleTV it will be substantial and likely great (At least I hope so). I don’t imagine it will be based on iOS or run iOS apps. There just doesn’t seem to be a substantial benefit to doing so.

    Chris Seibold had this to say on Aug 27, 2010 Posts: 354
  • Of course many iOS apps would not transfer well to TV that’s obvious. But, how about Hulu, ABC, Netflix, AccuWeather, board games, the list is endless… and how about apps that could be specifically developed for the iTV.  Yes, I already ues my iPhone as a remote for my Apple TVs but imagine, if you can, the endless possibliities an App store would provide. Again, if you’re going to write about technology and have people take you seriously you can’t be this short sighted.

    Techlectics had this to say on Aug 27, 2010 Posts: 3
  • The benefit, is the development community! I’m biting my tongue here. You have seen it to be successful? right? Sorry, you are making me snide again.

    If this works, like I think it could, it won’t be long till Google and Microsoft follow suit in having their multi-touch devices play nice with their set top boxes.  Leveraging the smart phone tech revolution, is a smart move and apple may take the lead on this too.

    You think the remote app is fantastic. I just wish you saw this potential, when writing your article.

    swiller had this to say on Aug 27, 2010 Posts: 5
  • I see what yopu’re saying swiller, all the iOS developers can now be iTV too and that’s worked out pretty well for Apple so why not?

    But there is a substantial difference between developing an App that runs on a touch device and one that runs iTV simply because the way you are forced to interact is vastly different. While I think greater integration between the iPhone and Apple TV would be cool (I guess, the remote app is pretty great already though I ‘m sure Apple could add a lot to it) the idea of iOS on the Apple TV just doesn’t seem to be a huge benefit.

    Certainly Apple could open up development for the Apple TV and get third party programmers developing nifty apps for the Apple TV but there isn’t a huge installed user base like the iPhone to instantly motivate people to jump on in. Though it isn’t a bad idea at all, some of the most compelling reasons to buy an iPhone are third party software products, third party software products for the Apple TV would be welcome.

    I’m not trying to say that Apple won’t get more integration going, or that Apple shouldn’t get more integration going, I’m just saying that a) you won’t need iOS to do it and b) iOS isn’t a good fit for the Apple TV. Apple can come up with some version of OS X that fits the Apple TV perfectly and expands the devices ability without having to resort to iOS.

    Of course, Apple already does this. The company uses a version of OS X to run the olden style iPods (nano, classic, shuffle) a version of OS X for the touch devices (iOS), a version for the Apple TV and, of course, versions for full blown computers. iOS isn’t the solution for every device.

    Chris Seibold had this to say on Aug 27, 2010 Posts: 354
  • Look we can disagree on strategy, but I think it is fair to point out two pretty significant points left out of your article.

    1. iOS will work fine on a Apple TV/ iTV when controlled from your iTouch device.

    2. Having iOS on a TV device opens it up for existing developers to create now.

    One important thing we do agree on, is their are many different and cool ways to interact with your TV with a touch device. Apple’s Remote app is the tip of the iceberg. It does also have great potential for games and to interact with media. Think of Nintendo’s Four Swords on gamecube using the gameboy as a controller. Awesome new game ideas but impractical. Think of the Scrabble iPad app that use the touch for tiles? Think of tabletop board games or trivia games on your iTV? Interactive Live touch tv? No, not a 60” touch screen, silly!  This interface has the potential to create games and interfaces not explored yet. People doubted the iPhone as a gaming device too. The developers, not apple, made it happen.

    In short, tons of potential with this interface and iOS gives them a leg up on developing new apps before Google and MS gets wise and do the same.

    swiller had this to say on Aug 27, 2010 Posts: 5
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