Sales of the Apple TV have now surpassed the 1m mark and user feedback has, for the most part, been very positive. Although features differ slightly depending on your region (TV show episodes can only be rented in certain countries, because of licensing issues), the ability to stream audio and video from your iTunes library, watch YouTube, NetFlix and rent movies on your TV directly from the internet has so far proven sufficient incentive to encourage 1 million users to welcome the device into their living room.
And sales continue to grow into 2011.
So will this increase in popularity encourage Apple CEO Steve Jobs to expand development of this product beyond its current status as “a hobby”? Or was Jobsʼ aim in this flippant title to hide the real purpose of the Apple TV, which was clearly important enough to the company to deserve a 2nd generation, redesign and relaunch?
Having decisively seized the initiative and cornered the first market wave in tablets, while simultaneously setting the standard for smartphones, Apple has left little room for their competitors to innovate and amaze. Google, Microsoft, Boxee et al have recognized the opportunity that the living room represents to become the centre of the digital entertainment and internet media ecosystem. New devices abound for delivering and navigating internet content via the TV, and each offer their own insight into what shape such future convergence will ultimately take.
But it could be said that none but Apple have the advantages of consistent user experience, application developer community or diversity and depth of library that the perfect home media centre would require — if only Apple would apply these strengths to the evolution of the Apple TV, it could quickly become the bellwether of the connected living room.
Should Apple start publicly taking the Apple TV seriously, thereʼs no doubt they could quickly and conclusively transform the product far beyond its current humble features. So-far marketed purely as a streaming device (hence the disappointing absence of mirroring/cacheing your iTunes library from your desktop/laptop to Apple TV, á la iPod), the unit does in fact have 8GB of on-board flash storage as well as a slot for future expansion of storage capacity through the addition (most likely an in-store Genius upgrade) of an extra NAND module.
The iOS platform is undoubtedly the rocket-fuel that could propel the Apple TV far ahead in the current ʻbattle of the sofaʼ. If deployed onto this device, iOS could change not only the way in which we receive our content, but the type of content we receive. Imagine apps for your TV to deliver news, weather, advice, opinion and entertainment in a whole new, bespoke and relevant way, tailored and refined in real-time to your own particular needs.
While Microsoftʼs Xbox has evolved from a gaming platform into a media centre, Apple TV could – with the addition of the iPhone or iPod Touch as wireless controllers – advance in the opposite direction, becoming a gaming console with titles delivered via the App Store and scores tracked in Game Center.
Furthermore, apps on the Apple TV could enable the device to become the definitive hub for home automation, home security and energy saving; just a few of the many emerging trends that are crying out for a familiar and intuitive interface. Compatibility with a Kinect-like, gesture-driven input and an ability to output in 3D could make the Apple TV of the future an immersive augmented-reality experience for next-level gaming, learning and communicating. The possibilities would be almost unlimited.
Users are becoming more technically proficient, better informed and more discerning of their content and devices, and broadband performance – a key factor in the ubiquity and reliability of the experience – is set to improve during 2011 with the advent of FTTC 40mb services. These aspects, combined with the determination of the competition to steal the march, could signal to Apple that the Apple TV is the next device likely to warrant a breathtaking keynote. And perhaps 2011 could be the year we see it happen.