Rumors abound regarding the future of Apple TV — Apple’s tepid foray into the set top box market. The big issue users face with Apple TV is that it’s either expensive or cumbersome to get content into the thing. Beyond movie trailers, YouTube, and podcasts available via iTunes, it’s either pay per download or rip your own from DVD.
Compare Apple TV’s value proposition to something like Slingbox’s. While the Slingbox allows the user to leverage and repurpose content he or she has already paid for, Apple TV doesn’t. (Coming soon, Slingbox Mobile for your Blackberry.) Someone already paying a $100+ for cable and $17 for Netflix won’t be compelled to drop $300 for a box that will run up the media bill further.
Apple needs to enable customers to get content into Apple TVs easily and inexpensively. Some options include:
- Adding a Blu-ray player. Saul Hansell predicted this in the NY Times Bits blog. It’s not likely. The box is already expensive enough, and Apple doesn’t stand to make money off of increased Blu-ray penetration.
- Adding rental options. Going toe to toe with Netflix is an option, but what about teaming up with Netflix? Netflix just announced an agreement with LG to allow direct-to-TV downloads from Netflix to specially equipped LG TVs. A deal with Apple would pack more punch.
- Adding DVR capabilities. I understand why Apple won’t do this. As TiVo has learned, DVRs are the domain of the cable and satellite companies. DVR software for the Mac is already available with EyeTV.
- Allowing independent producers to sell videos on iTunes. Currently everything I can get for my Apple TV on iTunes I can get cheaper elsewhere. If Apple allowed independents access to its store, content not available anywhere else would appear overnight on iTunes — you know, that long tail thing.
Obviously I like the last option. Apple’s following has grown as it’s empowered people to communicate in new ways — twenty years ago it was desktop publishing, more recently it’s been video editing. Now it has the opportunity to empower us to be distributors. If Apple TV and iTunes remain nothing more than outlets for the studios and Google, they will continue to be niche products in the IPTV market.