Tuesday, June 12, 2012

What happened to the much rumored Apple TV update? Tech and media writers make their best guesses

Apple had a full agenda yesterday at the opening of their Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) as the company previewed new laptops, the next generation Mac OS, as well as iOS 6. Most Apple launch events are right around an hour and a half, but yesterday's keynote lasted nearly two hours.

Despite this all the goodies previewed, one item seemed missing: the rumored update to the Apple TV's operating system. Rumors swirled before the opening of WWDC that Apple would open up the Apple TV to third party apps. Such a move, while anticipated for quite some time, would be potentially revolutionary. It has to happen, doesn't it? Certainly someone will do this, why not Apple?

But it didn't happen, and tech and media writers are scratching their heads trying to understand why it didn't.

GigaOM's Janko Roettgers speculates that the reason is that the Apple TV doesn't have enough penetration in the market yet. For Roettgers, "a smaller device footprint equals less money and opportunities for developers."

But this is a chicken and the egg argument. The Apple iPhone, it could be argued, didn't break through UNTIL it opened to third party apps, why not do the same to the Apple TV? And if Apple really is waiting until the Apple TV reaches a critical mass before opening it up to third party apps, what would make this happen? Wouldn't it be, in fact, more app choices?

Jay Yarow of Business Insider is, I think, a bit closer to the truth when he says that Apple will want to give such a move its own event. Opening up the Apple TV to third party apps, Yarow believes, would be worthy of a separate event. I agree.

One could certainly argue that mixing in a brand new development platform with an event that also was about the unveiling of a new Mac OS and a new iOS would simply be too much.

Along these lines it is important to remember that the latest version of the Apple TV, the hardware, was just recently released. The third generation Apple TV came out along side the new iPad in March. One might postulate that opening up the Apple TV to third party apps would require new hardware.

The issue is storage.

The first generation Apple TV was more of a DVR device, initially with 40 GB of storage, later with 160 GB of storage. Consumers didn't see the point, why not just use an old Mac mini (many did).

The second generation Apple TV was a different animal: smaller, cheaper, with no storage. It's main purpose was, and still is, to stream content to the TV – either from their owners iOS devices, or from a select group of apps that Apple creates or allows.

At $99, the device is a bargain. Owners who also own an iPhone or iPad understand the merits of the device – and many want more of the same through third party apps built specifically for the Apple TV rather than through AirPlay.

Why can't a developer simply build an app for the iPad and encourage streaming? I know many newspaper and magazine publishers who think this way - they are they ones that think replica editions are the way to go.

But mixing platforms is never a good idea. The iPad is used by many as a reading device, by others as a browsing device.

If the issue is the Apple TV itself, and its need for added storage, then we won't see the introduction of third party apps until at least the Christmas season, if not later.

The other issue is the much rumored Apple HDTV. If Apple really is going to launch a new television set – and I remain skeptical about such a move – there would be no reason to update the Apple TV until that time. The reasoning would be that Apple would be presenting high end buyers an all-in-one solution with a new HDTV, and other buyers with a modified Apple TV – both products would be capable of delivering the new features Apple believes would revolutionize the platform.

The introduction of an Apple HDTV would require its own event, its own SDK, and its own Apple App Store.

The new features many speculate will be included in an Apple built HDTV would also be required of the current Apple TV: an onboard microphone for Siri, a front facing camera for FaceTime, etc.

There is also one more school of thought: Apple doesn't want to open up the Apple TV because of the possible consequences of such a move. The thinking here is that network and producer partners understand what is at stake in a world where anyone can build a "channel", where any developer can become a television broadcaster.

But that is precisely what most think the future holds: the television platform, many believe. is even more ripe for revolution than the music or film industry was.

No, a new Apple TV is coming, even if it doesn't come from Apple.