Streaming for the masses: A few thoughts on the Apple TV

My dad recently got an Apple TV for his birthday. Now, I have typically been known as very anti-Apple. And you may be coming into this blog post thinking “here we go, more apple-bashing”. But, let me be frank with you.  I am not anti-apple. I just generally don’t like the products they make. I have to admit that they have some amazing ideas…the ipod brought mp3 players to the masses, the iphone was the first touch-screen smart phone, and it was for a long time the only decent touch screen ever. They also had some great inventions, the Apple newton was amazing, just way ahead of its time.

So, I just announced to the world that I do like some things Apple do. I just don’t like their products generally. Normally too shiny, too silver or white, or just too tacky. That isn’t to say, however, that I don’t like anything Apple make.

I have been playing around with the Apple TV that my dad got. And I have a few thoughts on it (as the subtitle suggests). I will do my typical bullet-style explanation of these.

It does what it does. And it does it well. It streams music, videos and pictures from itunes, it plays internet videos and radio…and thats it…no frills, no nothing. The interface is clean and simple. Very…Apple. This is good and bad. The problem I think is that people expect a project with the name “Apple TV” to do more. It sounds more complex than it is, and that annoys some people.

What it does is not original. I’ve been doing this with my UPNP server and my PS3 for ages, and I have known people who have been doing it for even longer. However, most people can’t create a UPNP server, and this is a lot cheaper than a PS3, or even a box to stream stuff from the server.

Its tiny. I really thought people were exaggerating when they called it the “hockey puck”. But it really is almost that size. It is so small it almost needs a warning for small parts on it. A large child could probably swallow this whole. But thats really good, its also 1 of the few Apple products I like the look of. It is small, black and matte. The complete opposite of other Apple products. I love the look of it. Anything black and matte is, IMHO, beautiful. It just sits beside your TV not shouting at you, unlike other Apple products, and you could completely miss it if you didn’t know it was there. It also doesn’t have that horrible glowing-apple…

I hate this thing. Its horrid. Its silver, shiny, and has hardly anything on it. It doesn’t even have volume control! It is very ipod-ish, but even has less buttons than that. I hold it and wish I wasn’t holding it. It is the complete other extreme from the Google TV remotes (the logitech revue remote or the sony remote), but frankly I want something somewhere in the middle. It is good that it is simple, but a little too simple, I think. However, you can use an iphone or an ipad as a remote using Airplay, but I don’t have them. My dad does…but still.

There are quite a few things in the UI that are just very nice and slick. Remember when the iPhone came out, and the screen was the first good touchscreen ever. And you could just sit there brushing the screen for ages. Oh how I wished for a non-Apple phone with a screen like that, and now we have them. There are loads of them. Its quite like that. They are hard to explain, just loads of tiny little things. You can tell that someone has sat down for ages and just gone over every tiny little detail to smooth it over.

In conclusion, this is a nice wee product for what it does. It streams stuff. Thats it. But, from a product that is called “TV”, it does very little “TV” stuff. It does nothing new, it just does it in a way that people can actually do. I may be able to set up a UPNP server in my house, but most people can’t. And its cheap. It integrates well with Apple products, but that is it.

Don’t expect anything fancy, just expect a media streaming device, and you will get what you want.

If, however, you have a spare box, technical knowhow, and time, you can create a device that does this and much more. But thats the thing, you need the time and knowhow.