Apple TV

Since Apple introduced the new Apple TV on Wednesday I’ve been trying to figure out why I wasn’t as excited about getting one as I thought I would be. I haven’t ordered one yet and might not get one until Christmas or at all. You see, I use my Apple TV in an interesting way. Very little of my content actually comes from iTunes, the majority of what I watch on my Apple TV is TV shows that I have recorded on my iMac using an Elgato EyeTV.

I thought that at 99-cents an episode I could finally get rid of commercials altogether, spend $20-30 on TV shows per month, and quit recording TV shows on my computer. Let’s face it, it isn’t very convenient to have scheduled times where I have to have my iMac on or I’ll miss the latest episode of Big Bang Theory. However, I’m starting to rethink this a little bit and I might be willing to put up with the commercials and the slight inconvenience as long as I can keep my 99-cents per episode. And on top of that, I still plan on recording re-runs of TV shows on my iMac so that I always have something to watch.

So, why is this a problem? The new Apple TV will let me stream content from my computer to my television. That’s exactly the problem, Apple has removed syncing from the equation, so if I want to watch any of my recorded content on the Apple TV I have to keep my iMac on with iTunes running, all of the time. This becomes even more annoying when I have to explain to my girlfriend that she’ll have to turn my iMac on and open iTunes if she wants to watch any recorded television at my house.

The interesting wild card in this scenario, however, is AirPlay. When November rolls around and iOS 4.2 is released we’ll be able to stream video from our iOS devices to the Apple TV. If the iMac isn’t running we could always grab one of the three or five iOS devices that we have in the house and stream a TV show or movie from it. But this brings another problem into the situation, now instead of wirelessly syncing an Apple TV, we’ll have to tether an iOS device on a much more regular basis to ensure that we have the most relevant videos available to stream at all times.

But, AirPlay could and might be much more than just streaming regular old video to your Apple TV. If Apple truly opens up the AirPlay API to developers we could see all sorts of interesting integration with iPhone, iPad, and even Mac applications. Hulu or ABC could build AirPlay into their applications allowing you to playback their content through your Apple TV. But, what excites me even more is the idea that Elgato might be able to integrate AirPlay into EyeTV allowing you to stream recorded (or maybe even live) content from your Mac to the Apple TV. A simple iPhone remote app later and you’ll be able to watch television through your Apple TV, never needing to switch inputs on your television.

It’s not just the possibility of an AirPlay API that keeps me from being completely negative about the Apple TV. Business Week spoke with Steve Jobs after the September 1 event where he mentioned an App Store for the Apple TV.

Peter Burrows paraphrasing Steve Jobs’ words:

when the time is right, Apple could open an App Store for the TV that could do for television sets what all those apps have done for the iPhone.

This may be what has left me so undecided about the new Apple TV. Netflix streaming is great, cheap TV show rentals are great, the possibility of an AirPlay API is great, but an App Store for the Apple TV sounds fantastic. This would give Apple the opportunity to replace every box I have connected to my television. Everything I read seems to mention entertainment apps for the Apple TV but not very many of them mention games. If I could replace my Nintendo Wii with an Apple TV, I would. Not just because I like Apple products, but because of the developers. When anybody with $99 and a Mac can build games for a device that competes directly with the XBox 360, Wii, and PS3, things start to get really interesting.

The unfortunate part about the new Apple TV is that nearly everything that I’m excited about for it, doesn’t exist yet and may never exist. I would find it surprising if Apple didn’t announce an Apple TV SDK by WWDC next year, but I’ve been wrong before and I know I’ll be wrong again. The Apple TV might never get an App Store. And that, alongside the Apple TV’s streaming shortcomings is what has kept me from getting too terribly excited about spending $99 on Apple’s new set-top box.