News about Apple is every where today, as they are after all of their press conferences. Though today was supposed to be about their new line of iPods the real winner was the release of the new AppleTV. Oh, they also announced an update to iOS that should fix the horrible performance on iPhone 3G. The iPods were an evolutionary step, everything has touch, cool but not worthy of a repurchase. The AppleTV on the other hand is a brand new beast.
Even without plugging it in, at only 20% of the original size it’s clearly not the same device as it’s predecessor. Internal hard drive, gone. Instead everything streams to the device via WiFi leaving you with the device, a power cable and the HDMI to the TV. All pretty cool but not a whole lot different then Roku, Boxee or WD-TV. Also not too different is the ability to access Flickr, Netflix and YouTube.
Apple is hoping the differentiating feature of their new device is the ability to rent TV shows and movies. Though this may work for some, anyone already paying for cable/directTV/FiOS isn’t going to be thrilled about repaying to rent something they can easily DVR or watch OnDemand. Don’t get me wrong, this will be a win for them, just not as big as I think they are hoping. I say this because unlike when Apple launched the iTunes Store they now have some solid competition. Amazon’s Video on Demand will sell you a episode for the same price Apple wants to rent it to you. And Hulu Plus offers a subscription method to watch the latest shows as much as you want on multiple platforms. Finally, there’s the Internet at large, choc full of places to watch much of the same content for free.
So then what is AppleTV’s differentiating feature…I’d have to say it’s AirPlay. For two reasons, the first is the ability to stream anything from your iTunes library to your AppleTV. With the popularity of the iPod, iPhone etc. everyone has iTunes; even better, they are already heavily invested in using it. It’s hard to compete with the simplicity of connecting one’s current entertainment collection to the TV/home entertainment center without needing to deal with a computer or other complications. The second and this is where I think their biggest win is, you can stream content directly from your iPhone or iPad to the AppleTV. So that video of little Johnny’s first steps can go directly from the camera that shot it to your TV for everyone to enjoy. People live on their iPhones, being able to easily share all the moments collected on it is perfect for people like my mom who never off loads the images from her digital camera because it’s too much of a hassle. The fact that one can use the iPhone as smarter remote also doesn’t hurt the simplicity factor either.
Apple isn’t stupid, the leveraging of their other products to sell you additional Apple products is nothing new for them and in the case of the AppleTV it’s that leverage that makes the AppleTV such a strong product. They’ve also priced it right. At $99, it’s cheaper then some of their competition and at a price that easily justifiable for anyone that dropped thousands for their entertainment center.