I bought the Apple TV the moment it came out about 9 months or so ago. Initially surprised by the tethering requirement to a computer running iTunes, I used it quite a bit as a giant picture frame (showing off on a 50″ plasma), playing music during parties and watching kids shows with my daughter. Now, with Take 2, Apple has stepped it up and provides HD quality movies (and 5.1 Dolby Digital audio) and, less talked about, removed the need for a separate Airport Express to stream any iTunes audio through your Entertainment center.
But very interesting to see is how a technology called Bonjour (formerly Rendezvous – 13-year-old Apple technology, first available in AppleTalk) automatically finds and connects iTunes capable devices on the network and staving off the need for central media management. And it does so quite well and transparently. Movies, music purchased on the Apple TV show up on the iTunes on your laptop and vice versa. When Comcast showed off a central media server for the home at CES 2007 that could stream content to any of your cable connected devices, I thought it was going to give Apple a run for its money on the movie rental business. But more than one year past and still product from Comcast in sight. Don’t even start about the current Comcast DVR mess, possibly the worst UI experience I’ve ever encountered (the Tivo deal may ease the pain a little, but the early news is not encouraging). With Apple TV, no more runs to Blockbuster, or mailing DVDs to and from Netflix, just sit at home and watch whatever you want.
What I admire most about Apple is its ability to not just create new products but that it adjust its business and operating model so those products can succeed. That is a gift bigger companies like Oracle (my former employer) and Microsoft can learn from. Media and content are the new Consumer Packaged Goods of this century and if technology vendors don’t invest in the ecosystem around it their technology solutions will continue to yield mediocre user experiences and sub-par adoption.
In converging media markets, the new leaders are going to be the ones that build disruptive business models first and great technology products to support that, second.
Can’t wait for Apple to strike a deal with Comcast and similar to the iPhone strategy, replace the Comcast DVR with an Apple TV capable of receiving regular broadcasts as well as tap into the power of iTunes. All Apple needs to do is use its cash war-chest to “threaten” ComCast to go at it alone, just like it “convinced” AT&T it would be better for AT&T not to let Apple become a Mobile Virtual Network Operator.