March 22, 2007

The Apple TV Debate Is Upside Down

The early reports on the Apple TV, from Walt Mossberg at the Wall Street Journal, David Pogue of the New York Times, and Engadget are all saying the device is simple, has a great GUI, and accomplishes the user's needs to sync their computer's media with their television set. But there's an underlying note in many of the pieces, saying that Apple has charged too much for a box that does too little. (For example: Gizmodo: Apple TV: Worth It?)

If this line sounds familiar, it's because the exact same grumblings were lodged against the iPod when it first debuted, and all those naysayers have been proven wrong. They will be again.

Engadget sums this up in an otherwise great-looking photo gallery by saying:

"For someone with a lot of cash invested in a collection of iTunes media, the Apple TV seems a solid -- if pricey -- buy, but for most people with more diverse media collections and saner pocketbooks, this is a hard one to recommend."

Certainly an easy summary, but still wrong.

When the iPod was first announced five years ago, it looked like an overpriced MP3 player. It didn't show photos. It didn't show movies. It was monochrome. It didn't even work on Windows computers. But what it did do was set the stage for what was to come, and redefined the entire conversation about how you interface with your music. What made the device ultimately win was iTunes. The iPod's marriage to iTunes helped Apple sell music to iPod users and sell iPods to iTunes users. Later, the iPod was made available for Windows, added color, added photo support, added video support, and then went through a myriad of form factors, from the postage-stamp like iPod Shuffle you see today to the more brick-like first-generation iPod Photo, and the soon to arrive iPhone.

Check out this quote from CNET in October of 2001:

The iPod has "good features, but this is a pretty competitive category," (Stephen Baker, an analyst at NPD Intelect) said. "The question is whether people want that robust of a feature set with that high of a price."

Tens of millions of devices later, I think it's safe to say people warmed up to the iPod.

I believe Apple TV will see the same growth and has acted as a beachhead for Apple in the living room. And while Engadget says it doesn't matter much to people who may not have all their media on iTunes, it will absolutely change buying behavior - and will catapult the amount of TV shows and films purchased from the iTunes Store to date. There is no question. While today, we have been limited in our purchasing of TV episodes and movies from iTunes because of portability, picture quality, and viewability (on a laptop vs. the TV set), it all changes with Apple TV.

With the Apple TV connected to my flat-screen television, I will definitely go out of my way to find and procure content from the iTunes Store for anytime viewing. As Apple builds out the store's offerings, it will be offering one of the first, and most viable, Video on Demand (VOD) solutions on the market, one that may not have all the whiz-bang features (like DVR capability) just yet, but one that will grow to do all these things.

Those that doubt the Apple TV today, and mock its price or inferred limitations don't see the full picture. Like with the iPod, Apple is establishing the de facto standard in this market, and will further tie in iTunes as the go-to media store for near-instant gratification.

As for my own Apple TV? It's already in San Jose, according to FedEx, and I should have it tomorrow.