Some time after all have been said, here is my take on the whole Apple TV, “I finally cracked it!” story. People have been either speculating on the future announcements, or just pointing out how it seems impossible for Apple to make something so interesting as to bring everyone on board for the next product targeting the living room. I plainly wanted to bring up how it could be possible for an disruptive company like Apple to make that exciting something.
With the observation that there exist a few apps out there, running on iOS devices that can stream live video content potentially to millions of users, an obvious application of this for a TV is simply to encourage such apps for content providers, so that it can stream to users not only at home, but everywhere. Plus they get better analytics about their viewers and provide a richer experience. That have been pointed out numerous times on the web lastly. It has the problem of relying on the content providers to do some work, just like what happened with magazines and newspapers.
A faster way of improving the experience for the user would be to wrap video inputs in apps. HDMI inputs could be handled as simply as just a stream of video content, so one could hook up gaming consoles. Cable inputs could be handled at a software level to integrate with other Apple services and functionalities like iCloud, Home Sharing and AirPlay (see next section), while matching video streams with the actual programming. Individual channels could become individual apps organized the way the user wants it to. This could allow the user to view program scheduling from distant iOS devices, selecting later shows and specifying which one to record for later. Knowing how Apple likes to minimize the amount of ports on its devices, it would probably ship it with as least as possible, selling adapters for more flexibility.
The nice thing about this is that, suddenly, everything becomes an app: your Wii or PS3, The Weather Channel, HBO, everything. For the users, it doesn’t matter if the content comes from the cable or over the Internet, they’re just apps, and for them it seems like some of these apps have richer content. So without the content provider needing to do anything, the experience is better for the user, thanks to Apple. Then the user might start prioritizing those apps where they have more control, or that offer that extra something that is only possible when using the Internet. There might even emerge apps that take an hybrid approach to simplify broadcasting: video pushed through cable, but extras pushed through the Internet.
Then, the usual story : Music, Video and Photos apps for accessing content on the network using Home Sharing, AirPlay streaming like it already does, and maybe iCloud to access documents, presentations, music and photos from the cloud. iCloud could also be used with its calendar service to work with channel apps and record specific shows or games. If iCloud can support device-to-device direct communication, and if there is no copyright issues against this, content could be streamed live from Apple TV to your iOS device, wherever you are.
Combine the current iOS remote apps with Siri as a somewhat more human way to interact with that device, we’re nowhere close to current TV sets. What’s still missing in that story is how they’d make us interact with “apps” in such a device. Clearly, the way they’re arranged in the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad is not optimal for a distant display device, with which we’d interface using a remote or voice. I wouldn’t be surprised Apple can come up with a good way to do that.