Image by Matt Krueger
At a time where a story announcing that the iTunes store might carry Beatles music warrants coverage in The New York Times and new iPod shuffle colors creates a flurry of fuss across the blogosphere, the press seems to be paying markedly little attention to the brand-new Apple TV. On one hand the lack of attention makes sense — it's a souped-up wireless router. But on the other, given Apple's constant recognition in the media, shouldn't the fact that Apple put out a dud product be news?
The New York Times has mentioned the iPhone in 28 articles this year and Apple TV in five. The Wall Street Journal has written about the Apple TV twice, and the iPhone an astonishing 60 times. The Hollywood Reporter published some of the only negative coverage of the product… in the last two paragraphs of its story.
Let's take a look at what Apple did wrong on this one. According to my calculations, here are the major missteps in the Apple TV rollout:
The presumption that anyone interested in Apple TV would have a widescreen set isn't realistic. Less than 17% of U.S. households have HD-capable TVs, according to research done by Leichtman Research Group, and the entire HDTV industry has sold only 18.4 million televisions in the past four years, according to the NPD Group's retail tracking service. To put that number in perspective, Apple shipped 21 million iPods in the last three months of 2006 alone.
Yes, there are surely a few TV owners who have widescreen, non-HD televisions, but the truth is that most consumers, including yours truly, still have regular old tube sets with squarish screens. I couldn't use Apple TV if I wanted to. Apple could have made its product more accessible by including standard-def outputs (it has only component-video and HDMI connectors) and letting the user control the aspect ratio, but by trying to make things "easy," they've alienated a big chunk of the TV-watching population.
The product makes even less sense when you realize that Apple downloads aren't high-def. They're 640 x 480 pixels, about the same quality (a little inferior) as a regular DVD. At this size, the Apple TV can hold around 50 hours of programming. But if the iTunes store ever starts selling HD material — and it'll have to eventually — then Apple TV would suddenly be able to store 6 to 10 hours of video of a time, depending on how it's compressed.
One might counter that the Apple TV is for streaming and not just for storage. But Apple recommends that you copy movies to the Apple TV instead of streaming them: the company understands that wireless screening with broadband is not a flawless proposition.
What does my dream Apple TV look like? Something that really is easy to use out of the box. Something that's compatible with most of the nation's televisions. A product that allows users to send non-iTunes movies to the television. Oh, and since Apple TV is scheduled to come out this month, it should be Vista-compatible. So far, it's not.
What would I like to hear from the media? Less radio silence.