What the iPad means for the AppleTV

30Jan10

There’s been a lot of hype, and a lot of talk (both positive and negative) about Apple’s newly announced iPad. I’m working on my a post outlining my own views of the new device, but I just wanted to through this thought out there and see what anyone else thinks.

The AppleTV, for those who do not know, is a kind of set-top media extender. One way to think of it is an iPod for your TV. For our family, it fills the role nicely, allowing us to view our own photos, movies, TV shows, and music on our living room TV with minimum hassle. It also lets us rent and buy stuff from the iTunes Music Store. There are many devices in this category, and I’m sure there are others which do more, and/or are cheaper. As usual, however, AppleTV provides the best end-to-end user experience.

However, of all of Apple’s products, I think the AppleTV is the most lacking in the special sauce Apple uses to create their products. Its hardware is not quite up to the task, and has not been updated since its introduction in spring 2007. The interface has been tweaked a few times, with the latest version finally putting my own content ahead of iTMS content (a long-time complaint I’ve had), but it is still based on an older version of OS X (Tiger), and often times lags far more then I’d like.

So what does the iPad have to do with this? Well, take the Wi-Fi iPad, remove the screen and the battery, add A/V ports and presto, you have then new AppleTV hardware. The A4 processor in the iPad is more then good enough for the task, and from what I can tell it can push 720p graphics (and possibly 1080p), which is all the system would really need. I’d even say stay with flash memory, and the price should still be below $200 (possibly go with a small hard drive and bring the price below $150). Next, take the newest version of OS X (iPhone OS 4, Mac OS X 10.6), optimize it for the devices, and put the newest user interface on it. Having BlueTooth in it would allow for more interesting controls then a simple IR remote. At this point, as it’d be running on the same hardware platform as the iPhone OS, Apple could open it up for app development as well (using the same tools we use to develop for all of Apple’s other products). It wouldn’t compete with the big, hard-core game consoles, but could fit in as a casual games console.

This, I think would make the AppleTV a much more compelling buy. Software-wise it would leave the old generation (including ours) behind, but I think at this point Apple can afford that. It’s a device I would certainly like to see in my living room, and I even have some ideas as to what I’d program for it.

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