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I was thinking wondering the other day, whilst running on the treadmill in the gym, watching three tv's simultaneously (cricket (we lost), boat race (Cambridge won) and the football scores (we won, arsenal lost)) if Apple would ever make an actual TV set.

Initially, I reckoned not, but the more I thought about it the more it made sense that there quite likely is a strong possibility that they might.

The reason I thought not, was that a television is not really a product Apple can bring a lot too. Apple does a great job of taking complicated interfaces and making them as simple and user orientated as they can. General purpose computing devices (Macs), devices for storing and playing thousands of songs and movies (iPods) and devices for communicating via email, voice, text and web (iPhone).

In all these areas, the competition has been producing to one degree or another flawed devices. And definitely flawed ecosystems around the actual devices themselves (I just spent 20 minutes trying and failing to open an audio file in the latest windows media player). But a TV isn't really a failed device. For the most part you turn it on and it works. And the broadcast ecosystem is something that I doubt even Apple is foolish enough to take on.

However the ecosystem is shifting away from broadcast to net enabled view on demand. It's not there yet, but it definitely is changing. And TVs themselves (even the good looking ones) actually have never been that easy to set up (find me a TV with an easy menu system) or to wire up, or even to find one with a remote control that makes sense.

Although even that probably wouldn't give any reason to get Apple into designing a TV. Why I think they might do it, is that they have all the bits, and to combine them in a way better than anyone else has done wouldn't be hard.

They already sell top quality high definition displays. Although I can't quite see how any justifies the price, they do sell so I assume I'm just not the target market. And they have just released their Apple TV product, that connects iTunes to your TV. Essentially it's an slightly advanced TV iPod. As more content comes via the internet, this (and these type of) products will become more and more popular.

They also have split OSX into a 'Computer' version and a 'Device' version allowing them to have more advanced functionality designed into a slick interface that makes it easy to use, which is something TVs generally don't have. In fact the splitting of OSX gives them a lot they can do on the TV space. As long as Device-OSX works in such a way that you can turn on the TV and it just works instantaneously, then I don't see why not.

I mean they already do a 24" iMac. The only difference in the iMac is that it doesn't have a tuner, and has too much computing gubbins that TV probably doesn't need. But they could slim down the iMac. Slower (cheaper) processor, enough memory & HDD to do the Apple TV type stuff, optical drive for playing CDs/DVDs/etc and throw in a TV tuner and a bigger screen. In fact down the line throw in some TIVO like functionality and now you have a way of getting broadcast TV onto your iPod too. I have no doubt Apple could do a lot more smart things here as well, that I can't think of.

I wonder if the current Apple TV is as much a tester into the media centre space as much as anything. The problem Microsoft always had with their Media Centre was that it really was a full computer you needed to attach to your TV. OSX for devices is specifically not a full computer. It's a tailored operating system for the device (iPhone, Apple TV) that it works with. That and Microsoft knows shit all about interface design.

I'm not saying Apple would do this. I suspect the TV industry is very competitive with too many players and not enough margins, where the Apple TV device sells quite happily in support of that industry. And there is plenty of competition on the PVR side of things with broadcast companies' (cf. Sky Plus) own products. But it's not an entirely unreasonable line of thinking.

29 Comments

10 Apr, '07 11:07 PM

1. The B

I reckon you’ll just start being able to watch TV on your normal Apple computer, not that they’ll invent a special device. My parents, after all (who don’t have a TV) bought a huge Apple just recently purely to be able to watch DVDs on something that looked pretty.

They are weird though, I admit.

10 Apr, '07 11:26 PM

2. Adrian

You can already watch TV on normal mac’s with an accessory.

But generally people like watching TV on TVs and doing computery stuff on computers. (The whole sit back, sit forward psychological thing)

Whilst their is a market your parents fit into, it’s fairly niche compared to the TV market as a whole.

11 Apr, '07 3:12 PM

3. cian

hacked Xbox with XBMC is the daddy. XBMC is one of the greatest open-source apps out there - I’d actually pay for it.

11 Apr, '07 3:22 PM

4. Adrian

Hacking is not a consumer level solution to anything.

11 Apr, '07 8:37 PM

5. simon

I can concur that the Xbox running XBMC is just fantastic. I’ve got one and to be honest it’s absolutely the bees knees of connected devices. It’s everything that i need. The only thing that I don’t do on it, is play games! It plays every codec (something that the Apple TV doesn’t and therefore precludes me from buying it) . It runs flawlessly has loads of third party stuff going for it and i love it! I realise that hacking is not a consumer level solution, however, I don’t play pirated games so i don’t feel too bad about that.

for me, it seems as though the concept of the XBMC is what apple did look at but they’ve not executed it properly. It could have been so much better and I’m not sure it’s going to be a huge success for them, but then that depends what else they’ve got up their sleeves.

11 Apr, '07 8:53 PM

6. The B

Ok so Apple will do what you said and do a lower grade computer with a higher grade TV ability - I think there is a place for computer abilities on your TV set, TVs are going that way anyway, so why would Apple rip that out altogether?

11 Apr, '07 9:31 PM

7. nrgza

You’re a liar. You told me you were watching cricket, rowing and Avril Lavigne. Don’t be ashamed.

12 Apr, '07 7:30 AM

8. Destructor

Oriented! They make user-oriented devices, Gods damn you!

12 Apr, '07 8:28 AM

9. Gordon

Well said Destructor. Unless the device can be rotated (orientATed) then please drop the ‘at’!

As a side thought, is there a point where technology starts to get too simple? Shouldn’t there be SOME barriers to entry? Or do the more technical among us really enjoy providing technical support to friends and family?

And yes, even if Apple ruled the world and everything was REALLY plug and play (which not even Apple can boast, yet) there would still be ways to ‘break’ things.

Ohh and that “sit forward/sit back” mention, any further links, or do you expect me to do my OWN research…

12 Apr, '07 10:00 AM

10. Adrian

Destructor, the gods can’t damn me, I don’t believe in them.

Destructor, Gordon, I would correct it but then I miss out on you guys making great comments. I’ll try do better next time.

Gordon, you can’t have a side not that is on topic. Surely that’s your main point.

Anyway to answer your point, I don’t think technology can get too simple. Technolgy should serve it’s purpose and technlogy should be as simple as it can be without breaking it’s purpose. Actually maybe simple is not the right word. USABLE is. The controls in a fighter jet most likely are not very simple, but they should still be as usable, efficient and obvious. (You don’t want to mistake the “fire missiles” and “open landing gear buttons” do you)

Why should their be barriers to entry? Should people be barred from using technology because they aren’t as adept as others. I think that’s an argument out of annoyance from helping others do stuff that seems obvious rather than anything else. I get frustrated to. But it’s we’re a thin self selected slice of geeks and not representative. Car mechanics probably think the same of us non petrol heads.

And whilst things will always break, thats a bug or flaw. That shouldn’t preclude us from designing things to be easy to use and workable as possible. (An area where bluetooth leads as failing in design compared to say anything else)

I don’t have any research or links on sit forward/sit back per say, and don’t have time to trawl, but I’ll talk about it briefly.

I worked on the digital TV implementations at Cable and Wireless, Telewest and NTL (all now merged into one company now amusingly). At the time TV internet and TV email were perceived by the stock market as the next best thing and so we dutifully implemented TV internet and email. Which whilst was vaguely used was not the big TV revolution everyone was expecting.

The reason being is that people behave differently in different modes. So when watching tv, you sit back on a sofa and relax. When relaxed you normally want to interact less with what you doing and have low involvement and effort. When you are working a computer (including internet and email) you are sitting forward (normally at a desk and a chair). You can only interact with these mediums. You can’t sit in front of a computer and do nothing. You are forced by the nature of the medium and tool to interact.

So what I recall was that there were these two different brain states, of interacting with, and relaxing in front of. These were talked about in terms of how you normally physically reacted to them (sit back/sit forward). And this was thought to be the reason why TV internet/email was such a failure. The outward response to this is as we see, people generally want to watch TV on their TV and do computery stuff on their computer, and not the other way round.

Note I would put game consoles into the sit forward category, even though it’s on the TV. And if you look how people physically react to consoles this plays out. Even to standing up now with the Wii. I think the physiological state reflects the mental state quite well here, and the mental state determines how you wish to use that medium.

Which in the case of TV is sit back. Which is why for example media center failed to get significant traction.

I’m sure there is some real psychological research on this. This is just from my memory and understanding of the behavior and a bit of some of my opinion. Although I do stand by it.

12 Apr, '07 10:16 AM

11. Adrian

Just saw the comments above now too

The B there might be a place for enhanced functionality on a TV, but probably not full computer functions for most people. Which is why a full Apple TVSet would use the scaled down OS on the AppleTV and iPhone and not the full OS. Think of it in the same way as the iPhone is different to the iMac, but both use the same core OS.

Simon, Apple doesn’t need to play every codec. Just the ones they use in iTunes. I’d wager the AppleTV will have more devices than hacked XBoxes. And as the market grows and matures more product lines that do more. Think of the AppleTV as really just an iPod for your TV.

12 Apr, '07 10:57 AM

12. Gordon

Hmmm, spelling mistakes are allowed but not when they CHANGE THE MEANING of something. That’s when it irks me most. (see effect/affect for example).

As for the barrier to technology, you make a fair point. Technology SHOULD never be a barrier and yes you and I are talking about usability, not simplicity.

However, in your own example, making a fighter jet usable still includes a barrier because of the technology used. You need to train to fly a fighter jet, why shouldn’t you have to train to use a computer (for advanced tasks).

I’ll happily accept usable soft and hard ware, I’d welcome it, but until it is widely available, and dependable, I think the barriers are required.

12 Apr, '07 12:31 PM

13. Adrian

You train to use a fighter yet, because you can’t learn by experience.

I computer is different, you can learn by experience. I did. I assume you did.

I think barriers naturally occur. It’s our job (as designers, and engineers and usability people) to remove these natural barriers.

Requiring them … that’s just crazy talk. I’d call it technoism, if it wouldn’t make me sound like a twat.

If you need to advance your computer skills, you should, as by all things, go an learn how to overcome the gap in you knowledge. But butting barriers in place to make it harder for people to learn by experience, which is what I hear when you say barriers are required … that’s just wrong in so many ways. Computers are the great enabler of our generation, they free people. Why restrain?

(this is going very off topic now isn’t it)

12 Apr, '07 3:24 PM

14. Lyle

<quote>I’d call it technoism, if it wouldn’t make me sound like a twat</quote>

Whereas ‘Train to use a fighter yet’ and ‘I computer is different’ don’t… cough :P

12 Apr, '07 7:31 PM

15. Adrian

Ahem

12 Apr, '07 7:44 PM

16. Matt

I know it’s slightly different (ok maybe a lot different), but I was watching episodes of South Park streamed off the internet on my widescreen high-def TV this morning, via the magic of Wii.

Who needs an Apple TV? Not me. I know the Wii doesn’t have a hard drive, but all I have to do is bookmark a (quasi-legal) streaming video site, and come back to it later. I don’t need no steenking hard drive.

And besides, the Wii will be getting a hard-drive soonish.

12 Apr, '07 8:40 PM

17. Adrian

1) A qualsi-legal streaming video site is an edge case 2) Bookmarking a site and coming back to it later is not usability.

Note that the main market for the AppleTV will be the US until video content is sold in other markets. The key here is getting content from your iPod and iTunes onto your TV. The real comparison here is docks for the iPod with remote controls and connections for the tv.

12 Apr, '07 9:21 PM

18. Matt

  1. Ok, true. But there’s lots of people besides me doing the sema thing.
  2. How is bookmarking a site for later viewing that different than starting a download for later viewing? Especially when the new version of Opera for the Wii is specifically designed for using from the comfort of your couch.

And I disagree, the key here is getting content from the internet or other content provider (such as the iTunes store in the case of Apple TV) onto your TV. An Apple TV (set) would be very similar to the raft of TV’s out there with built-in HDD’s.

12 Apr, '07 9:50 PM

19. Adrian

1) Lots of people is not the same as mass market appeal. Most people will mainly use the Wii just to play games 2) All the content on the AppleTV box will be available to watch on demand (as well as all your music). Your episodes of 24 for example will download in the background once a week when available and appear on your AppleTV box. It wont disappear suddenly. Using a browser to cache a file is a completely different thing to purchasing content via the iTunes store.

I’m not saying an Apple TV would be different to most offerings out there (well beyond Apples normal quality and smarts they inject into products). In fact that’s why I suggested Apple wouldn’t do this. However what I said was, since they have all the pieces in place to do this, barring the fact it’s all in one product, I could see them doing this.

12 Apr, '07 11:10 PM

20. Matt

Lots of people is not the same as mass market appeal

True, but I actually can’t see the Apple TV being anywhere near as mass market as the iPod. I could be wrong.

All the content on the AppleTV box will be available to watch on demand

Also true. But high-speed streaming is pretty much (not totally, but pretty much) on demand. In fact, I forsee a future when most, if not all content (including purchased) will be stored somewhere other than your own hard drive. iPods will stream music rather than storing it, movies will stream rather than be stored, etc, etc. It could be a long way away, but I’ll be surprised if that’s not where we end up.

By the way, will you, Adrian Sevitz, Apple fanboy, be purchasing an Apple TV? Or will your Sky+ box do the job for the foreseeable?

12 Apr, '07 11:22 PM

21. Adrian

AppleTV most likely wont be as mass market as the iPod although future set top boxes may be.

Streaming is a viable architecture when the underlying platform is set up correctly for it. A web browser is not the best way to implement this platform.

I am not an Apple fanboy. I am just evaluating technology on it’s merits. My Sky+ box and service provide me with the content I wish to watch. AppleTV doesn’t. So I wont be getting rid of the Sky service just yet.

Although I might get an AppleTV to do my music.

12 Apr, '07 11:36 PM

22. Matt

A web browser is not the best way to implement this platform.

Ah-ha, but you haven’t used the Opera Wii browser yet. :-)

I am not an Apple fanboy

You have an iPod, a Mac Mini, A Macbook Pro, and have written numerous posts on the brilliance/merits of Apple. You may not think so, but this, in my book, qualifies you as a fanboy of sorts, albeit an apparently reluctant one.

Why would you get an AppleTV to do your music, when you have a Mac Mini already doing it though?

12 Apr, '07 11:45 PM

23. Adrian

I also have owned 5 cars but I’m not a petrol head. I like apple kit sure, but if something better was out there or more appropriate to the job, I wouldn’t buy Apple blindly.

AppleTV wouldn’t crash as much a my M-Audio USB/Toslink does. It would also give me a better interface for playing music, and would allow me more flexibility in where I stick my Mini.

13 Apr, '07 12:28 AM

24. Matt

I’ll tell you where you can stick your Mini…

You may have owned 5 cars, but you don’t still have them all. If you don’t get my point, there’s no point in me arguing it anyway.

On a coincidental TV-related note, I just got an invite for Joost. It’s still very, very “beta”, but it looks pretty good. Or it would, if my PC didn’t creak so much when I run it. Oh well, I suppose I’ll have to wait until I get my Mac in a few weeks.

16 Apr, '07 3:52 PM

25. cian

Joost is pretty neat - quite interesting article

about the p2p aspect of it and how it locally stores Ad’s on your machine to jam in your eyes when watching some banal reality TV show. Actually I saw something about Joost metadata where people could start tagging the shows ie ‘this bird is minging’ which would show up if you are friend with the tagger.

My slight distaste for Apple is their hardware enforced DRM policy - Apple TV only plays Quicktime - therefore you must buy your video from iTunes. I guess there is no legal way of having 100 gigs of xvid movie so a hacked xbox is just as illegal as the content I’ll play on it. XBMC is mindblowing - full IMBD integration, plays and scobbles Last.fm, has shoutcast support and the Python script interfaces for Yahoo Launch/Youtube are fantastic - I’m a total XBMC fanboy.

Unfortunately i do play pirated games on my xbox + xbox360 which has totally destroyed the whole joy of gaming as I put the game in, play 2 mins, take out and never play again. Just bought guitar hero II for the 360 (first game in aaaages) and haven’t stopped playing it both from the financial/emotional investment and the fact it just ROCKS.

16 Apr, '07 4:02 PM

26. Adrian

You can’t compare hacked XBOX to a normal AppleTV. And there are already ways you can play your XVids on hacked AppleTVs.

And I’ll say it again, hacked boxes with python script interfaces aren’t standard use cases.

16 Apr, '07 4:05 PM

27. Adrian

In fact I’ll add Last.fm is actually an edge case. Most people I know don’t even use iTunes playlists.

16 Apr, '07 5:05 PM

28. cian

i agree that the best solutions are not the best solutions for the masses. AppleTV is a sweet bit of kit which as you’ve mentioned can and will be hacked to f*ck. MediaCentre PC’s are just too big and bloated for common use so I agree AppleTv is the easiest out the box solution. Just shame the video/HD offering is gash.

17 Apr, '07 10:50 AM

29. Adrian

Oh and the fact Apple uses quicktime as the player is almost irrelevant. The quicktime MOV format was only a container and is hardly used any more.

Apple and iTunes now use MP4, which is a licensed standard, and has nothing to do with Apple, beyond the fact they have selected to use it.

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