Apple TV

Every time we write a story about the iPod, we get inundated with e-mail messages from readers demanding that we stop wasting valuable paper and ink on Apple’s popular music player. (See this month’s Feedback for the latest.) I agree with one point many of those correspondents make: the name of this magazine isn’t iPodworld .

But I don’t think we cover the iPod too much. It’s the hottest consumer product in existence, but if you accept the idea that the iPod is a Mac accessory (and I do), it’s the most popular one on the market today. That’s reason enough for Macworld to cover it extensively.

Still, I understand the complaints: yes, we, along with the rest of the world, are abuzz about the iPod. What about the poor, neglected Mac?

Here’s the thing, though: with the new iMac G5 (complete with remote control and Front Row software) and the new video iPod, both announced on the same day, the Mac-iPod relationship has turned a corner. Because when it comes to transforming home entertainment, the iPod isn’t enough. The Mac is going to have to get in the game, too.

To the couch, potatoes!

When it comes to making the Mac the center of a home-entertainment hub, Apple has so far taken only baby steps. As we detail in “The Multimedia Mac” (page 60), the new iMac is hardly the be-all and end-all of home entertainment. And as I found out in reviewing the new iMac for last month’s issue, its Front Row media interface is a great idea but is in need of some serious refinement.

Although Apple’s multimedia strategy is still in its infancy, it’s possible to speculate about where it’s headed. (Let me say right now that writing a column predicting Apple’s next move is almost always a losing proposition. But here goes.)

Start with a recap: Apple introduces video-playing iPod. Apple introduces video section of the iTunes store. Apple introduces a Mac with a remote. Front Row will improve. So what’s left? A Mac-compatible device that attaches to your TV and serves up media while you’re sitting on the couch.

Either this device will be a Mac or it’ll rely on a Mac somewhere in your home to provide it with iTunes music and videos, iMovies, photos, and who knows what else. Presumably, it will have an improved version of Front Row.

And let’s hope that this new device either talks natively to cable and satellite boxes and records TV shows or supports add-on TV technology fully integrated into that friendly Front Row interface.

A tough road ahead

Apple’s success with the iPod has been amazing. But the iPod was introduced into a market full of lousy products. Even now, the iPod’s competitors are remarkably uninspired.

That’s not the case in the video market. Microsoft’s early Media Center PCs were laughably bad. (Why yes, I do want to use a mouse and keyboard from my recliner; thanks for asking!) But they’ve improved a whole lot in the past three years. The latest Media Center PCs have slick remote-driven interfaces, built-in TV tuners, and support for remote “extenders” that let every TV in your house have access to all the media stored on the PC. Apple’s got a lot of catching up to do.

Yet I’m confident that Apple can be a major player in the home-entertainment world. The iPod has proved that Apple understands what real people want from their consumer electronics devices. Any new Apple media devices will undoubtedly work seamlessly with the iPod, making them appealing to millions of iPod addicts. And the Mac has the computing power and built-in media savvy to be the device at the center of it all. I sure wouldn’t bet against Apple. Would you?

Best of the best

Elsewhere in this month’s Macworld, you’ll find our 21st annual Editors’ Choice Awards. This year, we honor 32 of the best Mac products released in the past 12 months.

I’ve been a part of the Eddys for 12 years now, and the unflagging quality of the products released in the Mac market never ceases to amaze me. Apple came through with some truly cool hardware, as well as Automator, the fantastic workflow-automation technology built into Tiger. Smaller companies continue to bring out mind-boggling products such as Plasq’s Comic Life and Delicious Monster’s Delicious Library—stuff we never knew we needed but now can’t live without. You’ll find a complete list of the winners, and testimonials from our editors on why we picked them, beginning on page 73.

What do you think of Apple’s multimedia strategy? Do you agree with our Eddy picks? Let me know in our forums, or send me an e-mail.

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