Why It Just Might Fail

Why it just might fail

The potential of a well executed Apple media box based on what we're hearing is clearly huge, but it has one major obstacle in its way: Apple.

Apple doesn't like to give customers more than it deems fit. A mini-HDMI port could be built into iPads, iPhones and iPod touches, with Apple selling a simple remote control or urging us to buy a Magic Pad and we wouldn't need an iTV at all. Of course that's never going to happen when it can sell us a virtually identical, screenless product to do the same job instead.
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Furthermore Apple doesn't believe in extras. It releases products with the bare minimum needed to tempt you to make a purchase: iPhones no longer come with docks, iPod touches and iPads still don't have cameras (yet), iPod shuffles somehow lack even a rudimentary screen and Macs omit HDMI, USB 3.0 and Blu-ray. Consequently iTV is said to do the unthinkable and not support 1080p. This is something Andy mentioned in his news story stating "two minutes searching the TrustedReviews archives reveals numerous devices, such as the Asus O!Play Air HDP-R3, Eminent EM7075-DTS hdMedia, A.C. Ryan Playon!HD Mini, and the ViewSonic VMP74, all of which handle 1080p video for £100 or less."

Apple will gamble - as it always does - that the polish of its products will mean users put up with a major omission. Why isn't it there in the first place? Because that way Apple can use the existing iPhone 4 / iPad chipset with no need to invest in anything more expensive. Yes jailbreaks for these devices have shown they can playback 1080p video, but not always flawlessly.

The other major problem for Apple is codecs. In four generations the iPhone still hasn't moved beyond basic H.264 .MOV files meaning no AVI, no DivX and no MKV let alone the myriad of other formats. Meanwhile audio is restricted to AAC, WAV and MP3 and images to Jpeg. By contrast the entire media player sector only really took off once devices' codec support became dizzyingly comprehensive. For example, look at what the WD TV HD can do:

  • Music - MP3, WMA, OGG, WAV/PCM/LPCM, AAC, FLAC, Dolby Digital, AIF/AIFF, MKA
  • Photo - JPEG, GIF, TIF/TIFF, BMP, PNG
  • Video -MPEG1/2/4, WMV9, AVI (MPEG4, Xvid, AVC), H.264, MKV, MOV (MPEG4, H.264)
  • Playlist - PLS, M3U, WPL
  • Subtitle -SRT (UTF-8)
...and that was in 2008. Apple hasn't done this because it lets you wander too far from the iTunes store and again it hopes the overall polish of the user experience will mean you won't mind the compromise. It's an Apple philosophy I've come to dub the 'golden playpen': when you're inside it you won't want to leave, but if you ever try to you'll find there's no door.


Lastly if you think Apple's approach sounds familiar that's because Google's already doing it. Google TV was announced back in May and it preaches the building of a media centre around Android. This platform is intuitive as well and sales are surging, but Google's greater openness means the option is there for developers to build in whatever codec support they like, for manufacturers to use hardware to support whatever HD resolutions they like and it can be sold either as set-top boxes or built directly into TVs by their manufacturers.

Ultimately it is clear Steve Jobs is hugely frustrated Apple TV hasn't worked up to now. Had he been nonplussed he'd have dropped the struggling product long ago. What is fascinating is, if the rumours are correct, Jobs now has the formula to succeed, but may still need to break open Apple's golden playpen for success to be guaranteed.

So the question becomes: How much do you want it Stevie boy...?

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