Apple reinvents the wheel

Apple TV, second only to the Newton in the Cupertino companyís short list of unloved products, is back. Julian Clover assesses its chances.

The launch of the new and improved Apple TV was a strange affair. To start with the resulting product was actually less than the original, in all senses. As one of the few that purchased the device first time around I was obviously intrigued.

The new Apple TV was smaller in size, price and capability than the original version introduced in 2006. Gone is the hard drive that was originally 40 GB and later 160 GB, these days we use the cloud to pull in our content.

Actually Iíve hardly used the hard drive to store content on my own Apple TV. Not long after purchase I chose to jailbreak the device so as to add Boxee, the cross platform freeware, which itself will launch a dedicated box this autumn.

So far Boxee has not been a viable consumer proposition. My major achievement has been to locate and install the apps that allow me to watch the catch-up TV services from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, RTE and the NOS. This isnít straightforward as it relied firstly on the good works of people who have spent their time developing them. The next problem was that there was no single article that listed them all in a single place. I know, I should write one before Canvas comes in and solves the problem.

Personally Iíd rather watch a movie at the cinema, so Iíve only ever purchased one movie via Apple TV, and that was largely because I kind of thought I should work out how it went.

It is also possible to download to buy TV shows. The new Apple TV, and presumably my old one, will offer TV shows on rental, but to start off with only in the US. It took a while for Apple to offer European shows to buy, and though the infrastructure is now in place the UK shelves will presumably not be stocked overnight.

Apple TV is adding to the patchwork quilt of services, also including Google TV, that is creating a basket of products all of which just do a little bit in the pre-Canvas world. If I was to buy a television tomorrow, the existing one is five years old and has plenty of life left in it, I would have to question whether I would even need Apple TV.

Many TVs will display the family photographs, a subset of them offer access to the BBC iPlayer and other catch-up TV services, or thereís IP Visionís Fetch TV that brings in the iPlayer and the Sky Player. It could be that TiVo has it right, reinventing itself as a middleware.

Being able to rent favourite TV shows is attractive, but catch-up must surely be an important part of the mix.

September 9, 2010