The stuff dreams are made of

In the weeks leading up to Macworld Expo I beat heavily on the “Apple TV is more important than you imagine ” theme and then went on to imagine what an upgraded Apple TV might offer. Now that we know the details, let’s see how these imaginings compare to reality.

I said: You’re sitting in front of the new plasma TV Santa stuffed into your very large stocking, wondering what wonders it might be called upon to deliver. Flick on the Apple TV, navigate to the iTunes Store, and browse New Releases, Top TV Episodes, or Top Movies. Make your choice, agree to rent it, and wait a minute for it to begin streaming to your Apple TV.

Reality: Pretty close to the mark. The difference is that movies can be rented while TV shows can only be purchased. Oh, and while standard-def movies should play within a minute or so on a fast broadband connection, from Apple’s description it sounds like you’re going to have to wait longer before an HD movie rental is ready to play on the Apple TV.

I said: Your mother calls. You pause the movie and resume when you like. Your daughter walks into the room and demands that you watch Ratatouille rather than Superbad. Switch over to the Pixar flick until her bedtime and then back to Superbad.

Reality: Points for mentioning the Store’s number one rental, Superbad. Half-point deduction for “resume when you like.” It’s true as long as “when you like” is within 24-hours of when you first started the movie.

I said: Turns out you like Superbad so much that you’d like to keep it. Flip back a page and click the Purchase button on the movie’s navigation screen. The rental price is deducted from the purchase price, a flag is flipped, and you now own the movie, which is synced to your computer so that you can transfer it to your iPod and iPhone.

Reality: Nope. There’s a firm line between what’s for sale and what’s for rent. Currently you can rent Superbad from the Store, but not buy it.

I said: The next day you’re not in front of your TV but rather out and about. You check iTunes on your iPod touch and see that HBO is bringing back Deadwood and the first episode airs tonight. Tap Subscribe, your Apple ID is debited $2.99 (hey, it’s HBO!), and Deadwood is delivered to the iPod as well as to your Apple TV.

Reality: Oooh, and I really wanted this one too. HBO remains missing in action and the iTunes Store siblings (mobile and computer-based) haven’t yet established that kind of cozy relationship. We also don’t yet know if you can subscribe to a series from the Apple TV. As for delivering content to both an iPod and Apple TV, this is possible but not in the way described. Instead you purchase the show from the Apple TV and it’s synced to your computer, where you can then copy it to your iPod or iPhone.

I said: You return to castle and couch and, finding you don’t have enough time to watch a TV show, decide to see what’s happening on the Web. No one wants to surf using Apple’s limited remote control so you whip out your iPhone, connect to the Apple TV via Wi-Fi, and use its Apple TV interface to control the device’s Web browser. The resulting web pages are mirrored on your iPhone. Flick down the iPhone’s screen and the page on your TV follows suit. Email, ditto. Internet TV guide, right at your fingertips. One tap pizza delivery, why not?

Reality: Not there yet but I doubt I’m putting myself in any danger by inching further out on this limb to suggest that the Apple TV update we see this week (if Steve wasn’t kidding with his “in two weeks” remark during his keynote presentation two weeks ago) is just a hint of cool things to come.

As has been demonstrated, the Apple TV is simply a Macintosh running Mac OS X that’s been directed to perform a limited set of functions. A few tweaks to the OS and it could perform these computer-like feats with ease. Ditto with the iPhone and iPod touch.

Okay, so Apple TV Take Two doesn’t deliver everything I’d imaged. Give it time. The future looks absolutely dreamy to me.

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