It's the content, stupid

Late last year, Yahoo’s Gadget Hound, Ben Patterson, declared the Apple TV one of the 10 Worst Tech Products of 2007, right up there with Palm Foleo and Microsoft’s beleaguered operating system,Vista.

While I’ve missed driver time with the Foleo, I’ve had my share of hours behind the wheel of both Vista and the Apple TV and I’ll give you exactly one guess as to which significantly enriches my life on a regular basis. (No Ben, the other guess.)

Patterson’s main complaint is this:

From the beginning, however, Apple TV was hamstrung by the meager movie selection (and now dwindling selection of TV shows) on iTunes, plus the fact that you can’t browse or buy videos directly over the box.

And it’s a valid complaint if you view the Apple TV strictly as a video interface between the Internet and your television, which, of course, it isn’t. But it’s likely to become one in the near future, which is why it would be unwise to relegate the Apple TV to the scrap-heap.

In its current form, the Apple TV is a darned fine box if you provide much of its content—rip DVDs, store the results in iTunes, and stream that content to the Apple TV from the computer in the next room. I have my Apple TV set up this way and it’s been a boon. My wife and I can catch up on missed TV seasons without going through the nightly “Which disc was the 17th show on? Dammit, the DVD player’s forgotten where we left off again” allemande. And I can’t begin to tell you how happy I am that I haven’t had to purchase duplicate copies of A Bug’s Life and Sound of Music because my daughter has covered a DVD with peanut butter. While the picture may not be pure HD, it’s completely watchable on my 42-inch plasma display.

So, Apple TV, good for geeks who understand how to get content to the box. Not so good if, like Patterson, you want to feed the device from the iTunes Store. But that will change and, apparently, change soon.

Word has leaked that Fox will provide content for rental via the iTunes Store. More recent stories indicate Fox won’t be alone.

Great, so in short order, iTunes will offer rentals. How do you suppose that content will get to your TV? Sure, with the help of a $50 cable you could jack your iPod or iPhone into your television. Or, if you have a computer attached to your home entertainment system you could use it to play those rentals directly from the computer’s iTunes library.

And if pigs had wings….

When the Apple TV was first announced by Steve Jobs he referred to it as a kind of “hobby” device. Cute, but Apple doesn’t do hobbies.

The days of the Apple TV as hobby are about to end as the other shoe drops—the one that brings rich content directly from the studios to you. While Apple could easily unveil some kind of upgraded Apple TV that offers more storage, faster connectivity, and 5.1 surround sound, the notion of it as a serious device, one that threatens the likes of NetFlix and Blockbuster, could take hold.

Serious enough, dare I say it, that it may find its name listed as one of the greatest tech products of 2008.

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