How Apple can ‘fix’ Apple TV

“It’s no secret that Apple TV — the company’s would-be digital hub for your living room — isn’t selling like hotcakes. Late Friday, Macworld published new Apple TV sales estimates from Forrester Research: the firm guesses Apple has sold 400,000 of the gadgets since it went on sale this spring and may sell another 400,000 during the holiday shopping season. But Apple will likely miss Forrester’s projection of selling 1 million Apple TVs this year,” Dan Frommer writes for Silicon Valley Insider.

“iFlop? Maybe. But it’s not too late for Steve Jobs to fix things. Despite plenty of claims to the contrary, the device still doesn’t have much serious competition,” Frommer writes. “How can the company make Apple TV a winner?”

“Step 1: Upgrade the software on current Apple TVs. The device has impressive hardware specs: it can play HD video, connect to the Internet, and has a USB port. But in the present tense, most of these features are useless: the video content on iTunes looks bad on a HDTV, and the USB port doesn’t do anything,” Frommer writes. “Step 2: For Version 2.0, re-think the Apple TV as a better DVR/set-top box.”

Full article here.

First order of business: Has any other company sold 800,000 units of such a device in the first year? If we had to guess, we’d say “no.” Not even close.

That said, Apple TV can certainly be improved. Frommer’s article is an “everything and the kitchen sink” piece with some pie-in-the-sky stuff that the content providers likely won’t allow – ripping DVDs via iTunes, for example – to downright misconceptions about what Apple TV is meant to be – put a big hard drive in there and turn it into a DVR. Still, since the article offers something for everyone, it contains a few interesting ideas.

One thing that makes a lot of sense that Frommer doesn’t really cover is the idea of using the rental/subscription model for movies and TV shows via iTunes. That model works best with how people interact with such media. We listen to certain songs over and over again; not so with TV shows or movies – such repeat viewings are very rare. We want to buy and own or music and rent our TV shows/movies because we consume each type of media differently.

As we repeatedly say: Business models that fly in the face of human nature are doomed to failure. Apple TV and the iTunes Store – at least when it comes to TV shows and movies – currently fly in the face of human nature. We watch TV shows and movies once; it make more sense for most people to pay a monthly fee and watch what they want. No matter how cheap storage becomes, we don’t want to store episodes of “The Amazing Race” forever. It’s disposable, one-time-only viewing.

Let us subscribe/rent with the option to buy the comparatively few titles we actually want to own via iTunes Store directly from Apple TV, add Safari with wireless keyboard support via software update, get more content, convince the content providers to let you upgrade the video quality (as Frommer suggests), advertise the thing properly, and Apple TV will go from a “hobby” to a real business in no time.

Almost all of Apple TV’s problems stem from the content providers not Apple:
• Not enough content
• Content’s quality (resolution) lacking
• Can’t rip existing DVDs for which you’ve already paid (as iTunes allows CDs to be ripped)
• Can’t buy iTunes Store content directly from Apple TV (as you can already with iPhone and iPod touch)

Here’s one that Apple could probably fix on their own:
• Allow users to browse the Web (which would allow for viewing networks’ ad-supported shows and other video content online)

(Apple TV is already great for sharing photos, home movies, and music on the big screen with friends and family.)

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