A better Apple TV

I’m a big fan of the Apple TV; not so much for what it is right now but more for what it could be.  With continuous rumors about this little box being nothing more than a “side project” (or that it is slated for deadpool), I think it’s time us Apple TV users start cheering for a new upgrade.

Here’s how to make the Apple TV better:

Make it snappy

The controls on the Apple TV currently feel slow and cumbersome; things don’t just “happen” when you click on them (there is often a delay).  Speeding those response times up will give the regular couch potato the same feeling they get when flicking through channels.  It needs to change from a “browsing” (web) paradigm to a “flicking” (TV) paradigm.

Apple TV apps

Just like the iPhone, the Apple TV is ripe with potential for mini-applications that can be downloaded and enjoyed instantly.  Here are a few app ideas I like:

Games: it could be an actual gaming system, if the games were played using your iPod touch/iPhone as a controller.  Simple games, like Tetris, could use the existing Apple remote.

Social networking: see what people are tweeting about the current show you’re watching or maybe see how you’re friends on Facebook reviewed the movie you’re about to rent.

Boxee: come on Apple!  These guys have done all the hard work for you; just allow people to install it easily.

Keynote: display slideshows on your TV

Video editing: this app allows you to create quick videos and slideshows on your TV screen

Push notification: allows on-screen alerts for calendar events, new TV episodes,

Add the ability to view streaming content: sports, news, and major events.  These all need to be enjoyed in real-time.  There are a dozen providers (like Ustream and Justin.TV).

Web browsing

Using the iPhone or iPod touch as a touchpad and keyboard could actually make browsing the web on a TV screen a good experience.  People are using their iPhone for browsing the net at home already; expanding that same type of experience to a bigger screen in the living room is a logical next step.

Know your market (improve parental controls)

After talking to a variety of Apple TV owners, I think Apple doesn’t realize who the primary market for this device should be: families.  My wife doesn’t know what a torrent is, and doesn’t want to watch movies on the computer.  She wants to be able to sit down on the couch, and navigate a system that allows her to watch movies and TV: the Apple TV does that.  My kids have their favorite TV shows (Shawn the Sheep and Wonder Pets are two of them).  They want to watch them over and over again.  When we had to rely on DVDs, the discs would get scratched beyond use after a couple of months.  On Apple TV we buy their favorite shows, and watch them as many times as we like, and there’s no physical media that gets damaged.

Despite the fact that Apple TV is perfect for families, the parental controls are terrible.  The new user interface from the latest update is slick, but it shows scary thumbnails at the top of the screen that can’t be turned off.  Furthermore, while I can set parental controls for the movies and shows that I own, I can’t control what movie trailers my kids could access (or even turn movie trailers off at all).  These things need to be fixed.

Quit calling it a hobby

When Steve Jobs called the Apple TV a hobby, he put a nail in the coffin before the device even had a chance.  Steve: there is a lot of potential to reinvent the “TV world” the same way you did for mobile phones, and portable music players.  Get off the “hobby train” and make it happen.

appletv

Yes! Apple TV!

Apple TVI’m not the type of purchase things impulsively. I’ll stew over something for months: reading reviews, checking prices, and thinking about whether the old budget can take it.

Last week I finally caved in and bought an Apple TV. I got it off Craigslist, new in the box, for $60 less than buying it from the store.

I wish I’d bought one ages ago.  My wife and kids can easily use the interface to watch TV shows, photos, podcasts and movies. We’ve also found purchasing and renting movies quite convenient: click “rent” and the movie is ready to watch (almost instantly).

Blockbuster recently joined the digital media game with its own box.  I can see Blockbuster having a slight advantage in that they have existing retail stores from which to promote their new box. However, I think a lot of this is about how “cross-platform” a given solution is.

When I buy a movie on iTunes, it becomes available to my wife’s iPod, my iPhone, our home iMac, my work Macbook and our Apple TV. That makes it a convenient, and attractive, choice for homes that already own one more of those Apple products.

This kind of cross-platform functionality just isn’t there for the competition: Vudu, Roku, Xbox 360, TiVo, or Blockbuster.