Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The New AppleTV and AirPlay

Leading up to the big Apple event at the beginning of the month there was a lot of speculation about a new AppleTV which would be able to run iOS, in my previous post I had my doubts and it turns out I was right.

The new AppleTV had a form factor redesign, it now fits in your hand, and also lost its internal storage capacity. The other changes include the all important inclusion of a NetFlix app and the ability to only rent media on the device. Since the internal storage is no non-existent our favorite use of the current AppleTV, playing music with our photos as a screensaver now requires a little more effort, because the music and photos now have to be streamed from iTunes on a separate computer. The problem with the setup at our house is the iTunes library is on a MacBook, which sleeps most of the time, as opposed to a desktop machine which is always up and running. So in order to replicate the current experience we would have to go into the kitchen, open up the MacBook and make sure iTunes is running. Besides that minor annoyance, we don't often buy movies and our current AppleTV drive is full of music, so we usually end up streaming video from the MacBook anyway.



Overall I understand people's complaints with the previous generation: syncing was a pain and confusing, besides iTunes there weren't any useful apps, and renting movies is what most people want to do anyway (seriously how often do you go back to your huge DVD collection and watch an old movie) The new one truly improves on these and makes it a lot more user friendly for the average person and most importantly allows people to use it without the need of a computer.

Oh yeah the one new feature I got to mention is the new AirPlay functionality. It basically allows you to play video, music or photo content from an iOS device to the TV connected to the AppleTV. The example given by Steve Jobs showed him watching the movie Up on an iPad and by the simple tap of a new button on the video controls of the iPad it could be output to the AppleTV. At first I was kind of disappointed because I was hoping for something that would put music, videos, etc. into the cloud so the little 16GB drive of my iPhone4 would have a little breathing room. However, after thinking about it some more I realized just how much of a killer app AirPlay could be. In my previous post I pointed out the difficulties that would be faced by making the AppleTV an iOS device. It wouldn't have a touch screen and would require a cursor of some sort and while it sounded like a wonderful idea wouldn't really be that practical in reality. However, what if Apple exposed the AirPlay API to any developer they could then display their app on the AppleTV with the simple tap of a button. In the area of gaming this would be huge because people could then use an iOS device as a game controller. Now developers will certainly find clever ways to use this, but it seems to get around that difficult area of introducing people to yet another set top box and instead makes the TV an extension of a device they already use everyday. I would love to see an implementation of FaceTime that allows you to AirPlay the video of the person on the other line to the AppleTV. Only time will tell if this turns out to be true, but I think it is an interesting way of entering the living room.

In review the Apple TV is truly a wireless HDMI adapter for an iOS device using AirPlay.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Annual iPod Announcement Day

School is back in session and once again Apple is hosting an event today to presumably announce some changes to the iPod lineup. The almost sure thing for today is a new generation of iPod Touch with a Retina Display, front facing camera and support for FaceTime. The less sure thing, but also highly likely announcement is a new generation of iPod Nano, with a completely new form factor (think half the size of the original). All signs so far point to a new touch screen display and the elimination of the current click wheel. I have seen varying rumors about the iPod Nano getting WiFi, but that seems less likely.

Now all of the above doesn't really interest me, because I have the iPhone 4 and also a 3rd generation Shuffle (which I rarely use anymore because I never go to the gym). However, I will definitely be keeping tabs on today's event because of the alleged iTV (aka Apple TV Take 3). The biggest rumor floating around seems to be the announcement of a brand new AppleTV. The alleged features include: no internal hard drive, NetFlix streaming, support for iOS apps, the size of an iPhone and a $99 price point.

I am an avid fan of the AppleTV, but still think it is very limited in its functionality right now when compared to things like Boxee that support all sorts of web video besides just YouTube. Apple is rumored to be securing TV Show rentals for 99 cents, which is intriguing, but with a TiVO I am going to catch most shows anyway. As for the iOS support I don't think its going to happen for a couple reasons, first and foremost the touch input just wouldn't work the same because you aren't touching the TV and iOS doesn't have a cursor. I think it is possible for it to use a controller much like the Magic Trackpad instead of the annoying teeny tiny white controller. Also Apple has been very good about ensuring iOS apps only appear on very specific screen sizes (iPhone4 Retina Display, iPad, and all other iPhones and iPod Touch devices), I don't seem them adding another screen size to the mix. One possibility for the iTV might be to allow people to mirror their iPhone display on the TV. This would be great for playing games and other apps that don't require precise tapping.

In closing it is hard to say what is going to happen today. Apple has always classified the Apple TV as an iPod, so today would be a logical day for making an announcement about it. At the same time the invite had a picture of a guitar on it and there is likely to be an iLife update soon, which might be a more appropriate tie in with the Apple TV. Either way for the first time in five years Apple will be streaming video from the Keynote to any Mac with Snow Leopard or any iOS devices.