Hobby time is over: Time for Apple to get serious about video

Apple Online Store“Netflix is cruising. The cable guys are catching on. Wal-Mart just rumbled in. The Apple TV was the company’s early attempt at enabling users to watch Web video on TV screens. The Web’s video-on-demand sector is filling up fast with some serious heavyweights,” Greg Sandoval reports for CNET. “If Apple wants to make a mark in digital video that even vaguely resembles the one it made in music, perhaps the company should start treating Apple TV as more than just a ‘hobby.'”

“That’s Apple’s attitude toward the streaming-media device, said Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook, who spoke at a conference in San Francisco on Tuesday,” Sandoval reports. “This doesn’t seem to be a good time to toy with online video. Competition is turning white hot. On Monday, the nation’s retailing juggernaut, Wal-Mart Stores, announced its intention to distribute films and movies over the Internet. The company also said it had acquired Vudu, the former set-top box maker that now sells media-distribution software.”

Sandoval reports, “Well, right now, Apple sells films and TV shows for PCs and the company’s ubiquitous handheld devices, as well as the wee number of people who own Apple TVs.”

MacDailyNews Take: That “wee number” of Apple TV owners is likely over 7 million by now; without any promotion whatsoever from Apple. By the way, Amazon is estimated to have sold 2.5 million Kindles to date. If 7 million Apple TV units is a “wee number,” then what’s 2.5 million Kindles? Well, let’s go to today’s arbitrary arbiter of success, Greg Sandoval himself, who, at least a million Kindle units ago, described Amazon’s device as the “popular Kindle electronic-book reader.”

Sandoval continues, “What remains to be seen is whether [iPad] actually spurs sales of video downloads… What may be more intriguing is if Apple takes the same route as Netflix and begins streaming video to people’s TV sets via the Web? A film industry source told me a year ago Apple had discussed launching a streaming video service.”

There’s much more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: What we’ve been saying forever, as recently as Tuesday: Again with the “hobby.” We don’t have much to criticize when it comes to Cook, but please stop referring to Apple TV as a “hobby.” The reason why Apple TV has sold “only” around 7 million units lies somewhere between content providers not offering enough reasonably-priced content to Apple TV and Apple treating the device like a red-headed stepchild.

When your cable company-issued DVR inevitably screws up, Apple TV is invaluable. When you want to catch a movie without any hassle, Apple TV is great (rentals more so than purchases, which are priced too high). For sharing music, home movies, YouTube content, podcasts, and photos, it’s excellent, too. Why Apple either belittles the device as a “hobby” or just completely ignores it and fails to promote it is beyond us.

We have Apple TVs. We use Apple TVs. We love our Apple TVs. Apple TVs are great devices that do many things well. It sells itself to people who see us run it through its paces. Why Apple hates their own product remains a maddening mystery to us.

Here’s a plan, Apple (and this goes for everyone from Steve Jobs on down):
1. Stop referring to your product as a “hobby.” You’re not just talking to analysts; everybody hears you. You’re denigrating the product for no reason. Why don’t you just come out and say “don’t buy it?” Idiocy happens at Apple, too; thankfully, it’s rare.
2. Start – gasp – actually promoting Apple TV and maybe you’ll even surprise yourselves by actually selling units beyond the relative trickle to those who are extremely-in-the-know and who sell your product for you via word-of-mouth alone.

By the way, Apple, if you make a TV ad, it helps to actually run it:

Direct link via YouTube here.


  1. I love my AppleTV.

    I am tired of transcoding video from multiple source and multiple formats into a compatible format. And even more tire of having the video jittery after all of that time and effort.

    But regardless, I love my AppleTV.

    I do wish we could play games as a family on it. Would love to play Risk or Monopoly on our AppleTV with family members in front of the TV and in other parts of the country.

  2. “Netflix is cruising”. Netflix as described in the link sounds like a big winner.

    Netflix last quarter made 31 million profit. Apple made 3380 million.

    Apple TV is a hobby only as Tim Cook explained compared to Apple’s massive sellers like iPod (250 million sold or their billions in iPhone revenues). Cook also said in previous discussions that nobody has truly succeeded yet with video (in the mega Apple sense. To Apple 31 million Netflix profits is a ‘hobby’).

  3. Apple needs to launch tv – Take 3 very soon.

    Maybe they’re waiting for the iPad to gain momentum and for enough iPad custom apps to hit the App Store before they launch a new tv running the iPhone OS.

    If the studios don’t play along, allow iTunes to rip DVDs much like it does CDs. If they have to display a warning that copying DVDs to your HD is for backup purposes only. Stream that content to tv. Most individuals won’t rip their DVD collection using Handbrake or Mac The Ripper. They want Apple simplicity!!!!

    Also, Apple should give tv a new look — aluminum and black to match their latest gear. It would blend better with most home entertainment equipment than white anyway. Also, update the Mac Mini, Airport Extreme and Time Capsule with the same look.

  4. Apple will decide when Apple TV’s “self titled” hobby status is advanced.

    By calling Apple TV “a hobby” Apple meant to illustrate it’s open direction and development that was not set or written in stone…

    Apple has shown over and over again how it pays attention and is in tune with t’s customers – it is probably the only company in America that has no problem making amends and changes where necessary to all it’s products and policies, based on feedback.

    Apple TV by being “self called” a hobby just illustrates the open development and direction of this product in a fast changing technology frontier. It’s better to allow it as a hobby to flexibly be able to change, than dedicating it exclusively and finally to functions and then killing it for a new product.

    Apple TV despite being self branded a hobby is doing better sales as a hobby than many established bona fide products…Don’t kid yourself it’s a real product and a great one – don’t judge a book by looking at the cover – relate to it’s substance….

  5. @ daugav369pils

    You have a nice setup, but a 30″ monitor is small by most standards when it comes to the home. That is a great setup for a small apartment or dorm room but doesn’t cut it in a house.

    The tv is a nice product but most people would say a DVR is far more valuable. Sure, I’d like to stream my iTunes library and photos to another room in my house but my Tivo DH XL is much more valuable.

    Buying shows doesn’t work for families. You’d go broke if you bought seasons of everyone’s favorite shows. You need cable or satellite for sports and when you just want to browse. Keep in mind that many HOAs (Home Owners Associations) include basic cable in your assessment anyway. You’re paying even if you choose not to use it.

  6. Apple doesn’t do ‘me too’ devices. They are still watching the market to see where they can make a major difference, not a small difference. Tim Cook said they pass up great ideas regularly in search of the ones that are industry changing, then they put everything they have behind it. Most of the suggestions for the ATV are great, but not revolutionary game changers. In the mean time, the ATV hobby box fills a nice little gap. Easy to understand, harder to swallow….

  7. I love my tv also, especially in conjunction with my MobileMe account for Gallery photos/videos. I agree with MDN, I too am baffled why  treats this product as a “red-headed stepchild.”

  8. Apple, turn DVR capabilities on and people will buy it. Even if that’s not what they will be using it for, that’s the added feature that will get them to put it in their cart.

    Advertising helps to.

  9. Blame the studios. They charge too much for “almost DVD” quality rentals and refuse to offer subscriptions or rentals for much content.

    Why would I pay $4 for rentals when I can pay $1 for DVDs at my local grocery store via a Blockbuster kiosk (formerly Red Box). In South Florida there is a Publix on almost every corner and I’m in there several days a week picking up something anyway.


  10. I don’t think Apple hates their own product. I think Apple does not like the fact that it has little to no clout in dictating pricing or content selection. I think things are about to get a lot more interesting once the iPad comes to market. They you will have not only one premiere device, but two to promote content and entice content providers to jump on board. I think if the iPad pans out for Apple, it will have a halo effect on from the iPad.

  11. I’d love for Apple to buy Tivo but I know that will never happen.

    I’m willing to pay more for my Tivo service and buy the box rather than rent a second rate DVR from Comcast, the same way I feel about Apple products over PCs.

    Too bad Cablecards never took off and most people don’t even know what they are (including most cable techs). Sony built them into tvs a few years ago but has since stopped.

    Only Apple could improve Tivo, such as the long wait time whenever you make changes in your Season Pass Manager.

  12. AppleTV will benefit hugely from the iPad.

    My biggest issue with AppleTV is the interface. It’s just not great for discovering and purchasing content. It’s great if you have a large library and basically know what you want to watch.

    I can see “AppleTV” evolving two ways.

    It could become some sort of hard drive-free HDMI “dongle” (like an AirportExpress) that wirelessly streams video from a Mac/PC iTunes (or one day direct from an iPad).

    The iPad on a coffee table becomes the primary way of buying and browsing content. (Similar to using an iPod Touch as a remote, but actually letting you use a “full” version of iTunes right on your lap).

    I could see this kind of AppleTV including a Wii-style remote, if you do want to interact with it directly (ie: your iPad isn’t in the room).

  13. love my apple tv and converted my entire video library to m4v… I don’t watch regular tv / cable anymore and think this is a very elegant way to bring itunes to the living room. However, I do think it is time for an update as the hardware is a bit sluggish & struggling a to keep up at times. What would be great in the new apple tv:
    a) faster/cooler processor
    b) better video output
    c) larger HD
    d) wifi n protocol/better streaming/faster synching
    e) dashboard like optional screen/button (weather, clock, etc)
    f) customizable menu (i.e. add ‘iTunes U’ or ‘Music Video’ column remove ‘Youtube’ etc)
    while we are wishing:
    g) apple tv apps?
    h) USB synching option when moving a large number of files.
    i) visualizers for music…

    For those of you requesting a DVR, it doesn’t make sense if they are also trying to sell TV shows and movies…

  14. Hmm, I would agree that Apple TV is already a great product, but it’s not (yet) on the same level with other apple products like the iPhone or the iPad. So I think, it’s adequate to still refer to it as a “hobby”.

    I think, that for improving the success of Apple TV, marketing and uplifting of its status ist not enough. Apple TV needs some substantial expansion in features, which are common in other apple products. An app store is maybe the most essential one. This would give access to various other VOD services and other apps, which make sense to be used on a TV (actually Boxee is showing, how a good app store for a TV OS/mediacenter can look like). Second, Apple TV should give a useable way out in the open internet, like safari on the iPhone does for touchscreen devices, to be able to at least somehow access all the valuable content out there. There are other things one can think of, like some more pre-installed apple apps/widgets, a video recorder for online content from the web, a sensitive integration of alerts/events (like having a new mail/twitter message/…) while watching video content, ….

    To sum it up: Yes, what there is already as functionality on Apple TV is definitely “Apple style” and realized in a beautiful and usable way. But the functionality can definitely be broadened up, and this without loosing the focus on key features Apple is famous and loved for.

  15. Me thinks the AppleTV was designed to revolutionize TV itself. Perhaps the only mistake was that it was a bit ahead of it’s time. And Apple is willing to wait.
    The AppleTV makes sense when the reality is that networks are a thing of the past, the idea of a show coming on at a certain time on a certain day will be dead. You will subscribe to the shows you like, same as you would a newspaper or magazine. Shows would just exist, they would not be “aired.” Apple cripples the product in the hope of being front and center for the delivery of the new way of “broadcasting” TV shows.
    I know, sports and live events are different.
    But I think the fact that Apple TV does not do Safari, DVR and a bunch of other attractive things is because they are trying to position themselves for a perceived future.
    Till then, it’s a hobby.

  16. Dear MDN

    Comparing the number of Apple TV units sold to the number of Kindle ebook readers is a false comparison. The number of Americans that watch TV every day far, far exceeds the number that read books (sadly).

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