How To Fix The AppleTV (Hint: It’s not DVR functionality)

During the long stretch between Last Hardware Updates Of The Year and MacWorld there is little news coming out of Apple, Inc.. This is the time of year when Apple Talk turns from news and rumors to OpEd pieces.

In the last month, I’ve read more than a few articles telling the world what Apple needs to do to “fix” the AppleTV and send sales through the roof. Most of these articles recommend adding a DVR or an optical drive or both.

I hope not. AppleTV is a box for internet-delivered content.

Americans need to re-think Video Delivery
Americans think that you “get TV” from broadcast/cable/satellite and “get movies” come from shiny discs and Premium Channels. Therefore, anything that wants to rule the big screen will have to handle the content coming to it via these means.

…but what if TV and Movies came via internet? What if every single piece of programming that the cable company wants you to pay them to send to you could be sent via the internet connection you already have?

What if you could pull up a TV show as easily as a web page? What if you could subscribe to a TV show as easily as subscribing to a mailing list or an RSS feed?

Stop wondering “what if?”, because it’s all possible today.

(Now that you know this, how long before YOU cut the cable?)

AppleTV isn’t perfect
AppleTV needs to do better, not do more. The machine needs to be a better internet-delivered entertainment device. With this in mind, it’s easy to see where Apple TV could improve.

In addition to a processor/memory/storage bump, the AppleTV Take 3 should boast one of the two following features:

App Store / Plug-Ins
Yes, I know you can use plug-ins now. I also know they’ve gone from hacking and jailbraking-level mods to plug-and-play simplicity, but in the end… they’re still hacks.

We need an Apple-sanctioned solution to adding Boxee, Plex, Joost, or even games to the AppleTV. An App-store like package manager can easily do the trick.

Also, an App store would allow Netflix and Apple to combine forces without an official partnership.

It is widely known that Apple makes the bulk of it’s money on hardware sales and all other endeavors (including the iTunes store) work with the slimmest of profit margins. Apple is in the hardware business, first and foremost. Netflix is not.

Netflix doesn’t make ANY hardware, instead they are doing their damnedest to get their SaaS on everything from TiVo to XBox360 to Macs and PCs to your cable box. It is certain that they would make an App Store app.

Plug-ins boost the value of Apple’s hardware offering with minimal effort and minimal OS bloat.

– or –

Hulu
Apple needs to show the world that there is more free content than just Podcasts and YouTube Rants available online.

Streaming new/current TV Shows from Hulu beats Netflix’s tiny and ancient TV offering, plus Hulu is as free as broadcast, but with fewer commercials.

With MGM adding full-length movies to AppleTV via YouTube, adding Hulu to AppleTV at the factory will make it a REAL linear-delivery killer.

Having Hulu on the main menu next to YouTube would boost the value of Apple’s hardware offering with minimal effort and minimal OS bloat.

[Update: As someone pointed out to me, The Take 3 Software (if released before February) would be free to all AppleTV owners, thanks to the iPhone-like accounting method Apple uses.]

What AppleTV DOESN’T need is DVR features.
DVRs are for wrangling [linear-delivered video] sent on [a proprietary network].
AppleTV is for sorting [non-linear delivered video] sent on [the open internet].

Like a Gas Dryer vs an Electric Dryer, they’re incompatible with (and redundant to) each other. They do the “same” thing, but in two different ways; and no one needs both.

Yet, some people still don’t get it.

Thanks to non-linear deliverable video available on the open internet, I no longer pay a cable or satellite bill and I’m not missing any of my favorite shows.

In it’s current state, AppleTV can help wean you off of cable and satellite… but only if you combine it with Bittorrent, TVrss.net, and VisualHub. Hulu-on-AppleTV makes those other tools unnecessary, makes television-over-internet as simple as a DVR, and makes it that much easier to “cut the cable”.

Without cable, you don’t NEED a machine to wrangle it.

AppleTV DOESN’T NEED a DVD or BluRay Drive
Optical discs can compliment internet delivery, but I feel a dedicated box (like a DVD or BluRay Player) is a better solution for anything with moving parts.

I bought my first two DVD Players in 1998. A Creative Labs DxR2 for the computer and a Panasonic A110u for the television. Since then, I’ve gone through 5 DVD drives and 4 stand-alone players.

Luckily, each replacement was cheaper, faster, and had more features that the one it was replacing; although each one also got lighter and more fragile feeling, too.

Like component AV equipment, the optical disc player and the internet-delivered content player should remain as separate as the cassette player and the CD Player.

But that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.

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6 comments so far

  1. Doug Petrosky on

    Wow, someone who is not an idiot! I’m not sure Hulu or netflix on AppleTV is the real solution, but it sure would sell a lot of AppleTV units and make shutting off cable much easier.

    Even without Hulu, AppleTV could work for many people, and if more people would take the plunge, it would work for even more people. Apple does not need Hulu if they increase TV show sales by 3 or 4 fold. They will be able to get networks to sell TV shows cheaper. I can see SD shows drop to $1.49 and HD at $1.99 for 1 hour shows and down to $.99 and $1.49 for half hour shows. Give a little bit deeper discount for Season passes and presto, I can buy TV cheaper than I can subscribe to TV.

    Depending on your current viewing, you can even do it at current prices. You should do the math. For me $70/month is what I pay. That’s $840/year and I watch about 24 new season shows per year. At 22 episodes for a full season, that’s about 500 shows or $1000. With season passes saving between 10-20% and pre-paid cards available at 5% discounts we are talking about the same or less money.

    There is still the problem of sports and older shows, but I’ll back fill my library over time. The big win for me, is all my media available to all my computers, iPods/iPhones and AppleTV’s totally comercial free!

    My contract with DirecTV ends in January. I plan to switch then and I’ll let you all know how it goes.

  2. alvin on

    great article. i hope the right people at apple read it too!

    doug, while Hulu and other content sites supported by advertising may not be necessary for everyone, it would be a great addition/alternative option to the current “pay to view/own” model of the itunes store.

    i just added boxee to my appletv, and i find the internet sources like Hulu to be a fantastic compliment to both the itunes content and live television. it’s great to be able to watch shows on demand for free with limited advertising on Hulu, and it’s also nice to be able to purchase episodes on itunes that i can watch anywhere with my ipod or laptop.

  3. Neurotic Nomad on

    @Doug – Glad to hear you’re cutting the cable. I too crunched the numbers and realized that I could buy TV shows cheaper than I could subscribe to a linear feed of programming.

    That’s right… if I paid a la carte at iTunes for every show I watch, it would still be cheaper than cable.

    Then I discovered streaming.

    For things I plan on watching only once (and plan on sitting on the sofa while watching it) streaming video can save me $2 to $6 per day over iTunes purchases. It only costs me about 90 seconds of my time per show, a fraction of the 8 minutes per show on broadcast.

    Now I’m saving even MORE money on shows I would have deleted after watching anyway.

  4. Doug Petrosky on

    There are issues with streaming. Quality is not as good or reliable, I can only watch the re-runs that they make available, and I can’t take the shows with. But worst of all, I don’t get rid of the ads which are what are starting to really bug me.

    Something hit me after I did the math on purchasing content. Today, we all pay twice for our TV shows. We pay once to the cable company for distribution and then a second time with the ad’s that we have to watch. Someone is making some serious cash on me here! Maybe the advertisers should pay the cable company so I don’t have to? Maybe the studios should offer a better distribution method that doesn’t cost so much money? But I sure should not be paying someone for the pleasure of being advertised to.

    The really crazy thing is why don’t the studios back iTunes better? By my math it appears that studios are charging $.50 to $1.00 per viewer per hour for ads. Even at my reduced figures iTunes gets them about the same money and at current prices it could be better than double. I just can’t figure out why they care who pays them?

    Once I cut the cable, if it starts to cost too much or I run out of content and just can’t figure out anything better to do, I’ll look into boxie.

  5. pwb on

    I agree that AppleTV needs to be able to stream Hulu-style ad-supported TV and movies.

    Agree that it does not need to do DVR (but I haven’t seen many people suggest that).

    However, I think from a marketing standpoint, putting in a Blue Ray drive might move boxes. Blue Ray is a feature that people can understand and do not already have.

  6. Doug Petrosky on

    How about this to spur sales?

    Black Friday event, AppleTV $99 40GB or $149 for the 160? Include along with that a one day expansion of the Under $5 movies sale to include many of the $9.99 movies and reduce the $14.99 to $9.99.

    Apple needs more people to fall in love with this device and a special deal might be just enough to push some of them over the top and clear inventory so they can update early next year.


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