I was hoping to spend $100 yesterday on a brand spankin’ new Apple TV. If rumors were to be true, the device would be tiny, would include access 99¢ TV show episodes, and potentially run iOS, too.
All those rumors were true, but now, I don’t want the darn thing.
During Wednesday’s event, Steve Jobs said that customers don’t want computers connected to their TVs; they want entertainment. I don’t know that he’s exactly right on that.
I have three computers connected to my TV right now: A TiVo HD, a Nintendo Wii, and a Mac mini.
The TiVo is the most-used device. It records all our shows for us, and it streams Netflix. (It can also stream from Blockbuster on Demand, Amazon, and other services.) The Mac mini is next on the popularity chart. We rip some of our kids’ shows to it, and it functions as our DVD player. It’s also our main interface to Hulu, when we or the TiVo miss shows on major networks. (We use the mini to stream Netflix when TiVo has issues, which hasn’t happened in many months.)
The Wii is used solely as a gaming device, though it could stream Netflix in a pinch.
But it’s not a stretch to call all three of those devices computers. The difference, of course, is the interfaces. It’s a small pain to use the mini to watch Hulu; I’ve got to launch Hulu Desktop first, and then use either the Apple remote (if I can find it), or my iPhone, iPad, or Mac to navigate to the show I’m after.
The TiVo, though, is a computer too. It has an interface built for watching TV, a full-featured remote (not Apple’s goofy minimal shtick), and provides near-instant feedback that makes it feel anything but computer-ish.
What the TiVo and Mac mini offer that Apple TV can’t is access to free television. You know, exactly like we’ve come to expect from television all our TV-watching lives. TiVo can grab shows as they air, and I can start watching an hour show twenty minutes into it — thus getting to watch the show commercial free, and seeing the ending at the same time as everyone else watching live or nearly live. With Hulu, or with the iTunes store for Apple TV, I’ve got to wait an extra day — or for some shows, an extra week or more — for a new episode to become available.
At least on Hulu, it’s still free to watch. Paying $1 a show isn’t terrible, but if you watch just five shows per 22-episode season, now we’re talking enough money to buy another Apple TV. Or, perhaps, a Roku. (The Roku, of course, can stream from Netflix, Amazon, MLB.TV, Pandora, and a bunch of other providers that I doubt anyone ever watches.)
The new Apple TV has no storage; you stream everything, either from Apple, Netflix, or another computer in your house. There are some advantages there, but not enough. I can stream music and photos to my TiVo. I can stream those, and even video, through my Mac mini — or, as I actually do, from it.
Apple may one day allow developers to make third-party apps for Apple TV. At that point, it’ll become hard to resist: That would mean Hulu could have an app, along with ABC, CNN, and others. And maybe we’d start to see some Apple TV games using iPads or iPhones as multitouch, motion-sensitive controllers. (With the gyroscope in there, I imagine some Wii-quality gaming could be recreated on the Apple TV pretty impressively.)
But as an underpowered Netflix-streamer that can also access paid-only TV shows, the Apple TV leaves me wanting a lot more than it offers.