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.