… we can easily recommend it for people who are yearning for a simple way to show on their big TVs all that stuff trapped on their computers.
Apple is hoping that, just as the iPod trumped earlier, but geekier, rivals, Apple TV can do the same by making a complex task really simple.
The review continues on, and Walt gushes about the device quite a bit. The only competitor he points out is the Xbox 360, which he dismisses because it’s twice the price. I think this is a dangerous dismissal, as the price points aren’t really the issue in this category yet. We are in early early adopter-land, which means the people who really want it, are gonna buy it. $299, $399, $599, whatever. The bigger question to ask is: is this really a market they can dominate?
In 2 years, over 20 million Xbox 360s have shipped, and as The Online Reporter observes, the biggest Apple TV competitor could already be on the market. Xbox 360 owners who have the Live service tend to love it, my friend (and fellow blogger and now Sling Media employee) Dave Zatz told me he felt the 360 was the best device he bought last year. Also, the NETGEAR EVA8000, which I reviewed last week boasts a more robust feature set at a similar price point. I read a lot of conjecture about how “Apple TV is just like iPod year 1” but folks, I’m saying now it’s not anywhere close.
When Apple launched the iPod, the category already existed (even if you ignore other mp3 players, people already were comfortable with buying portable music devices). The problem then was: there was no really convenient way to get existing and new music collections on to portable MP3 players. I had a Rio Karma, it was great (like really great), but you had to be pretty savvy to get music onto it, and there was ZERO services on the Internet with new content. In the living room, on the other hand, it’s not just a question of simplicity and furthermore, there’s tons of content out there. It’s not hard to get “mainstream” video to a TV set, especially in comparison with the challenge of getting “mainstream” music to an MP3 player (circa 1999).
Now I’m not dismissing the product, nor am I dismissing Apple’s ability to move their marketing muscle into the living room. But this certainly isn’t a slam dunk. Take a time out to read Thomas Hawk’s list of why he isn’t interested in the “dongle”, then go check out Phil Swann’s reasons why he thinks Apple TV will “bomb”. If you aren’t too saturated, I’d also stop by WIRED’s fair and balanced thoughts on why it “rules and sucks”.
Here are some of my specific problems with the product (note that I haven’t used it hands-on, so I have no comments about it’s user interface, which is probably great):
- No YouTube support. This is a very questionable move at this stage of Internet/video/PC/TV convergence. The EVA8000 does it, and after a few days using it, it’s a very fun application.
- Widescreen-only. I love the HDTV market, and about one third of all new TVs sold are flat (which implies widescreen), so that’s a lot of screens (I’ve read before the number of households is in the 20 million range, but cannot find that source to quote here). But this is the kind of product decision that creates returns, something I have a feeling Apple doesn’t have to deal with in other categories. Also, there’s a distinct lack of HD content offered at launch, which makes this even more… ironic?
A computer must be on all the time. One thing I like very much about my Sonos and EVA8000 setups are they work directly with my networked hard drive (aka a “ NAS “). With the Apple TV, I need a PC/Mac on all the time, and while this is clearly a growing trend, it’s a requirement I don’t like in a product this expensive (it’s one thing for a $99 media adapter, it’s another at $299).UPDATE: I was corrected (by Ben at EngadgetHD), I misread the usage with it’s internal hard drive.
Is it a good product? Probably. After all, Walt is a pretty picky guy, and even though he clearly has an affinity for Apple products, he seemed impressed (although he didn’t really talk about video quality in the review, which is an interesting omission). Also, Apple does tend to make the product experience great, and I’ve got to assume that heavy iTunes customers are going to think this thing was sent down from the stars above. As Sonos’ worldwide PR manager Thomas Meyer said to me, “Mr. jobs is definitely going to do this right.”
My hunch is they’ll do a very good job appealing to that core market, but have a tougher time getting beyond. I don’t think they’ll be as strong in the HDTV segment as they want to be, as even enthusiasts such as Ben Drawbaugh (contributing editor at Engadget HD) who thinks “it’ll be awesome” (and has blogged about wanting one) doesn’t think it’ll be all that useful for HD content. If I were Apple, I’d be doing everything I could to get associated to HDTV, as betting on the future is more important than the past.
I’d guess they can out-market a company like NETGEAR in this space (but will probably drive them unit sales for some of the reasons I stated above). I think they’ll probably be the #1 leader in “digital media adapters” by the end of this year, and can probably move over 100K units in 2007 alone. That said, I don’t think they are positioned to utterly dominate the living room the way they do in the portable space.