Mac Musings

Apple TV Aimed at the High End, not the Mass Market

Daniel Knight - 2007.01.12

I just can't get excited about Apple TV. I'm sure it's a great product for people who use iMovie and/or buy TV shows and movies through the iTunes Store, but it's missing everything I want in a set-top box.

I've been hoping for Apple to enter the TiVo space for years. It's such a natural for the company that gave us QuickTime, AV Macs, and iMovie. I'd like a set-top box that can record countless hours of television, let me quickly and easily import them into iMovie, cut out the ads, and burn DVDs so I can watch them at my leisure on any DVD player.

Apple TV
Steve Jobs announces Apple TV

TiVo does part of that, but it requires a subscription. EyeTV and similar devices do part of that, but they require your Mac be hooked up to your dish, cable, or antenna. Apple TV does none of that.

Instead of being designed around the way we watch and record TV, Apple TV only uses your television set as a display system. It doesn't replace a VCR, DVD player, DVD burner, or TiVo. It just makes it easier to watch computer-based content on a TV in another room.

And for this Apple wants US$299? That's one expensive solution for viewing your iTunes videos on TV!

Sure, it's nicer to watch video on the big screen, but you can buy a lot of DVDs for the same price as Apple TV.

If the Mac were a serious gaming platform, this might make sense as a way to play those high-end games on a big screen, but as clever as Apple TV is, I seem to be outside of its demographic.

The Apple TV Market

Apple doesn't expect me to buy Apple TV, because I don't own a high definition or enhanced definition widescreen TV. Mine's a plain, old fashioned analog color TV with a built-in VCR (how 20th century!) and mono sound. It would probably cost less to replace this 30" or so television than it would to buy Apple TV.

As Apple did when it launched the US$399 iPod and announced the US$499-599 iPhone, the company is going after the high end of the market. You know, the people who have spent over $1,000 for a big TV screen and surround sound.

The people who are less likely to balk at paying US$10-15 to download a movie they could buy on DVD for a comparable price. The people who are willing to pay $2 per episode for Heroes or Desperate Housewives rather than wait until next summer when the DVD box set comes out at a much better per-episode price.

These are the people who are most likely to own the modern Macs with 802.11n WiFi or high-end Windows PC. And if (more likely - when) Apple TV takes off, Apple will offer more models, upgrade the hard drive, and who knows what else.

The Mass Market

Everyone listens to music, which explains the iPod's success. And everyone watches TV, which explains why VCRs were and DVD players are commodities. TiVo is to television as the iPod is to music; Apple TV is not.

If Apple wants to reach the broader market, Apple TV needs a way to record TV shows. Give it that, keep the price reasonable, and include scheduling support through .mac, and Apple will have a huge winner on its hands.

But for the start, Apple TV is a very cool niche product aimed at a market with disposable income. And it will probably grow to success like the iPod did.

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