Take Two

You may have gathered by now that I’m no stranger to the world of Apple. In my working day, I’m fortunate enough to be able to switch between a MacBook Pro, which comfortably handles pretty much everything I throw at it, and a fully-loaded 8-core Mac Pro workhorse, for when the editing and graphics production gets a bit more serious. At home, I’ve used iMacs in my studio for some years now, with my first all-in-one being the beautifully designed ‘angle-poise’ G4 iMac, while currently I’m using last years 24″ Intel model, which does what it says on the tin, and does it very well.

Over the years I’ve worked and played with many more Apple computers, from the humble Classic back at University, through Performas, PowerMacs, G3, 4 and 5 towers, to Minis and Xserves – I think I’ve pretty much used them all. You’ll no doubt know from previous posts that apart from my desktop Macs, I also have an iPhone, an iPad, and with the help of my wife and eldest daughter, the collective Apple experience extends to a whole range of iPods too, including Touches, Classics, Minis and Nanos.

So why do I choose Apple products? Because they work, and when I’m being creative, I find the technology doesn’t inhibit the process. It goes without saying that they are well designed too, cohesive, integrated and even desirable, and although not always the cheapest option, you do get what you pay for.

Which brings me neatly to the subject of the updated AppleTV, the first product to come out of Cupertino to leave me cold. Having got my hands on one to test out at home, I found it to be much smaller than I had expected, but still beautifully designed and constructed as one could only reasonably expect from Apple. Getting up and running was straightforward – just connect the little black box to your TV via an HDMI cable, plug in the power cord and the AppleTV comes to life, requiring only a few moments to configure the wireless connection to your router before you’re ready to go.

Having already turned on Home Sharing in iTunes, I was instantly able to browse and view my photos and movies, as well as listen to all the albums stored in my iTunes library, all effortlessly from the comfort of my sofa. Listening to internet radio, watching movie trailers, and surfing YouTube, mobileme and flickr galleries only required a few clicks of the sleek aluminium remote control. The user interface is simple, elegant and easy to navigate. Predictably enough, it all just works.

So, I hear you cry, what’s the problem? Well, nice though the AppleTV is, it feels incomplete – almost as if some key ingredient is missing. The obvious answer may well be a hard drive, but it’s definitely not that. Streaming content from a master iTunes library makes perfect sense to me, and it works flawlessly, although only being able to rent content directly on the unit may put some people off.

No, for me, considering what every other iOS device is capable of, what’s missing is simple – applications. In reality, the AppleTV is the perfect ‘cloud’ computer, with more than enough horsepower tucked under the hood to satisfy the needs of the everyday user. Just add mobile Safari and suddenly the AppleTV is a completely different proposition, allowing anyone with a flat-screen TV to turn that TV into a proper internet-enabled TV, Apple style.

YouTube, Flickr and MobileMe are great, but give me the whole internet (or at least the entire flash-free HTML5-compliant internet). Give me social networking. Give me online shopping. The AppleTV has the same brains and guts as the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad so is perfectly capable – it’s just that it’s been neutered. Why? I have absolutely no idea.

So, as an interface to your HD TV, like my iMac, the new AppleTV does exactly what it says on the tin, and does it well. At £99, even the price is right too. But AppleTV should and could have been iOS for the living room, and clearly it’s not. I’m disappointed, and Granny is too – she won’t be getting one for Christmas after all.

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4 thoughts on “Take Two”

  1. I got a Rev1 Apple TV and really like it. Its hard drive is useful in that i can travel and take content with me. I used to deliver previews for Wedding Client’s by projector from a laptop, then replaced it with an ATV which was better. I can even make it work on a regular non-HDMI TV :->

    Rev 1’s only downfall was poor choice of weak Pentium processor. It would lock-up for 2-10s after watching each movie, tv show which made it feel unpolished – a hobby? It never paused on playback though. Also perhaps not supporting 1080p is a competitive weakness to Google TV.

    Rev 2 does need more options, like apps, browser etc. Perhaps thats the plan for Lion OS – to use the sync mac’s apps ? It apparently has 8GB of flash storage which is slim. I have 5.4GB of apps on my iphone although TomTom is 2GB of that. Not sure ATV needs turn-turn, but wouldn’t it be useful to plan a journey on say ATV then add the route to ical with a link and sync with phone via MobileMe?. Angry Burds on TV ? That would cheer-up Granny…

    John

    1. Sadly, I don’t think we’ll see apps on AppleTV v2 – except of course via the jailbreakers. Hopefully when v3 arrives, Apple will have stopped treating it as a hobby.

      I’m not sure games are up Granny’s street, but a spot of eBay and Amazon bargain hunting most certainly are. Of course, the argument there is “buy an iPad!”, but with ‘free’ basic broadband a reality, I’m sure there are plenty Grannies out there (and younger folks too) who don’t own – and perhaps don’t want to own – a computer, but would love to get t’internet on their TV in the living room. A little black box that delivers that with a healthy dash of Apple ‘magic’ for under £100 would fly off the shelves. It’s a missed opportunity if you ask me.

      You’ve reminded me of something else though… Forget AppleTV – the best device for previewing photos and videos to clients on location is the iPhone 4. It’s got the storage, and with appropriate connectors, it supports video and VGA output up to 720p.

      Come to think about it, give us iPhone syncing via WiFi, and the iPhone (or indeed the iPod Touch) is the perfect AppleTV. Angry Burds ‘n’all 🙂

  2. The new one I find pointless especially if you own a laptop or 2 it make streaming your content a bit pointless. ATV 1 is good I have one which should be delivered today. It will be hacked allowing play back of all file types from it’s internal HD and an external or 2 now in this guise it makes sense, even bordering on portable (room to room, or even away for a week or 2 on holiday for instance). Apple really should have built on the existing platform and not done away with the storage……improve what you have and make it better, not move backwards…..that’s my thoughts and opinion others may feel differently.

    1. Clearly different people want AppleTV to be different things, and perhaps even Apple themselves had the very same problem working out exactly where their little hobby ‘fits’.

      When I found out AppleTV v2 was coming, I was fully expecting apps (specifically Mail and Safari), and for the revised version to essentially be “iOS for the living room”, so I’m a little disappointed. Then again, if you were in the market for an Airport Express to stream your music around the house, for a little more you can have HD visuals too – the price is right, and ATV2 does what it says on the tin! Is it pointless? For some folks, perhaps (me included right now).

      Personally, I don’t think removing the hard drive is a backwards step though. In fact, it’s pretty forward thinking. OK, so at the moment you need to stream media from your master iTunes library on your network, which I agree could be a minor PITA if you’re a laptop user. However, once the imminent iOS update lands you’ll be able to stream from any iOS device to your TV via AppleTV. You’ve already synced your media to your portable device, right? Even with the status quo, let’s face it, streaming is much more efficient than syncing.

      Maybe it’s just me, but I wouldn’t look at loading up an AppleTV to take it on holiday – I’d put the media on my iPhone (or iPad) and pack an Apple Composite AV cable. Boom! Job done.

      Now if there was room inside that little black box for an SDHC card reader, perhaps that would silence the nay-sayers? Me and Granny – we just want t’internet.

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