Thursday, November 18, 2010

Apple TV + AirPlay + iPhone = The Future of the Living Room

In a previous post I gave my initial reviews of the new Apple TV. I bought the new one because it was smaller, supported NetFlix and also had the promise of a new technology called AirPlay. Based on the increasing number of devices in this area it is clear the tv is the next battle ground and will end up being as intense as the current smartphone war. The Google TV in particular was announced at about the same time as I bought the Apple TV and actually gave me pause. The Apple TV seemed to have a much more limited feature set and only had apps for YouTube, Flickr, NetFlix and some internet radio streams. Google TV had many more apps like Hulu, Pandora, YouTube, Flickr and with promise of many more.

In the end the Apple TV fit best with my home's technology eco-system, and I also really loved the first generation. As you know I really enjoyed it and while it was annoying to open up the MacBook to play music, everything else worked like a charm. I was even pleasantly surprised to see that the source photos for the slideshow are actually cached on the device and don't require the MacBook to be open. We originally had done NetFlix streaming on the TiVo, but this was a bit of a pain since you can only access your Instant Queue, and have to add things to it via a computer or other device. Annoying!!! NetFlix on the AppleTV is infinitely better and lets you browse movies and watch them instantly completely bypassing the InstantQueue.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I got my hands on a beta of iOS 4.2 and started playing around with the audio only version of AirPlay. Basically AirPlay lets you output any audio/video from your mobile iOS device to an Apple TV connected television. The only disclaimer being that the app has to use the native iOS media player. When this was first announced it was only demonstrated using the iPod feature for both music and movies, it wasn't clear at the time that this would be included in ANY app using the media player. It is really easy to use AirPlay, basically the media player on the iOS device gets an additional button if it detects an Apple TV on the network. You just tap the AirPlay icon and choose the Apple TV to output to and within seconds the audio/video shows up on the television. You can then put your iOS device away OR using audio multi-tasking you can continue using other apps.

Why is this so important? Combined with an iPhone and AirPlay the Apple TV immediately gains thousands of apps. This means apps like Pandora, Sirius XM, Hulu Plus, and the MLB At Bat apps are all capable of streaming to a television. Of course this only scratches the surface, basically any app you use on your iOS device to listen to music or watch video can be output to an Apple TV with AirPlay. Of course given Apples standard operating procedure of incrementally adding features the possibilities seem endless. I am sure it won't be long before AirPlay lets developers output the display of a game to the AppleTV, while controlling the game from the iOS device. The possibilities are endless.

The other important right move made by Apple is to realize that people don't want/need a web browser, email client or Twitter feed on the television. These types of activities are personal/private and aren't meant to be shared with everybody in the living room. Keep it simple, people just want to be able to put audio or video content on a bigger speaker and screens.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Storage is Cheap

Way back in 2009 I was quickly running out of space on my 80Gb MacBook hard drive and investigated upgrading to something bigger. I ended up going with a 500Gb internal drive with a 1Tb external for back up using Time Machine. All was going well until this summer when a friend convinced me to start taking pictures in RAW format instead of JPEG. Once I made the switch the drive I thought would take years to fill had less than 50Gb of free space.

I went back to the drawing board to figure out my next steps. One important factor last time was being able to keep all my movies, photos and music on the MacBook so I wouldn't have to find an external drive and hook it up every time I wanted to make a new movie. I went to, the same site I bought the 500Gb from and order a 1Tb internal drive. It arrived a few days later and I started the arduous task of backing it up so I could migrate to the new drive. I used a 20Gb bootable drive to clone the internal drive to an external 500Gb drive I had laying around and started to take the old drive out. Unfortunately I forgot to read the details on and found the drive was to tall. So I sent the drive back and returned to the drawing board. After further review of the internal drives I found they all wouldn't fit in the MacBook and upgrading to 750Gb wouldn't tide me over for very long.

I decided my requirement for having everything on one drive was not as important now as it had been in the past (two kids don't really provide time for much beyond storing and rating photos). I figured I had enough drives on hand to give me some time to really think about it and also think long and hard about how a Mac Mini might fit into the picture. I did add one new piece of hardware to the picture though, the 20Gb drive I had been using as a bootable backup was really old and big, so I decided to drop $40 and replace it with a 16Gb USB flash drive. It takes up much less space and doesn't require a power cord or firewire cable. It took most of Sunday to get everything squared away, but in the end the plan came together.

Here is the setup:

Finally, I did have a problem with Time Machine and I wanted to document my fix here. I was playing around with attaching my Time Machine drive to the AirPort Extreme, but iMovie was recognizing the movies on the movie share when configured this way, so I had to switch back. While I was in the middle of testing iMovie I also attempted a Time Machine backup (big mistake). It didn't recognize all of the old backup files (I could see the backups in the backups directory of the Time Machine Volume) and wanted to do a clean backup. I cancelled the back up and switched the Time Machine drive back to directly connecting to the MacBook. I attempted to do a backup and again it wanted to do a full backup and didn't have enough space. After browsing the forums for an hour or so I finally found the fix. All I had to do was delete the "sparsebundle" file in the root of the Time Machine volume. Once this was deleted I tried another backup and it did an incremental backup. I even verified it by going "in" the Time Machine and looked at what some of the directories looked like a year ago.