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.

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