Home > apple > What the AppleTV should have been

What the AppleTV should have been

September 1, 2010

tl;dr: The new AppleTV is a huge disappointment. Welcome to AppleTV 2007.

SmugMug is full of Apple fanboys. (And our customer list suggests Apple is full of SmugMug fanboys) We watch live blogs or streams of every product announcement as a company, debating and discussing as it unfolds. Everyone was especially hyped up about this one because of the iTV rumors. When Steve put up this slide (courtesy of gdgt’s excellent live blog), there was actual cheering at SmugMug HQ:

What people want from AppleTV

Steve’s absolutely right. We really want all of those things. Apple described the problem perfectly. Woo! Credit cards were literally out and people were ready to buy. But after the product was demo’d, the cheers had turned to jeers. There was an elephant in the room that squashed almost all of these lofty goals:

There were no Apps.


Why does the lack of Apps matter? Because we’re left with only ABC & Fox for TV shows. Where’s everyone else? I thought we wanted ‘professional content’ but we get two networks? Customers are dying for some disruption to the cable business, and instead we get a tiny fraction of cable’s content?

Then we’re left with Flickr for photos. Flickr, really? When Facebook has 5-6X the photo sharing usage of all other photo sharing sites combined? And heaven forbid you want to watch your HD videos or photos from SmugMug – we’re only the 4th largest photo sharing site in the world, clearly not big enough if Facebook isn’t.


If only there were a way to seriously monetize the platform *and* open it up to all services at the same time. Oh, wait, that’s how Apple completely disrupted the mobile business. It’s called the App Store. Imagine that the AppleTV ran iOS and had it’s own App Store. Let’s see what would happen:

  • Every network could distribute their own content in whichever way they wished. HBO could limit it to their subscribers, and ABC could stream to everyone. Some would charge, some would show ads, and everyone would get all the content they wanted. Hulu, Netflix, and everyone else living in perfect harmony. Let the best content & pricepoint win.
  • We’d get sports. Every geek blogger misses this, and it’s one of the biggest strangleholds that cable and satellite providers have over their customers. You can already watch live, streaming golf on your iPhone in amazing quality. Now imagine NFL Sunday Ticket on your AppleTV.
  • You could watch your Facebook slideshows and SmugMug videos alongside your Flickr stream. Imagine that!
  • The AppleTV might become the best selling video game console, just like iPhone and iPod have done for mobile gaming. Plants vs Zombies and Angry Birds on my TV with a click? Yes please.
  • Apple makes crazy amounts of money. Way more than they do now with their 4 year old hobby.

Apple has a go-to-market strategy. Something like 250,000 strategies, actually. They’re called Apps.


The new AppleTV runs on the same chip that’s in the iPhone, iPad, and iPod. This should be a no-brainer. What’s the hold up? What’s that you say? The UI? Come on. It’s easy. And it could be the best UI to control a TV ever.

Just require the use of an iPod, iPhone, or iPad to control it. Put the whole UI on the iOS device in your hand, with full multi-touch. Pinching, rotating, zooming, panning – the whole nine yards. No more remotes, no more infrared, no more mess or fuss. I’m not talking about looking at the TV while your fingers are using an iPod. I’m talking about a fully realized UI on the iPod itself – you’re looking and interacting with it on the iPod.

There are 120M devices capable of this awesome UI out there already. So the $99 price point is still doable. Don’t have an iPod/iPad/iPhone? The bundle is just $299 for both.

That’s what the AppleTV should have been. That would have had lines around the block at launch. This new one?

It’s like an AppleTV from 2007.

  1. Nigel
    September 1, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    From memory when the iPhone first came out it didn’t have apps either.

    Seems to me, this is the first step & a required one to get the content pricing/volume right for TV Shows on AppleTV/iOS/OSX, the movie model I think is pretty good as it sits now.

    It’s running an A4 & my bet is iOS underneath this time, so my take is iOS 4.2 & AppleTV get’s apps.

    ( I have an original AppleTV & love pieces ).

  2. Anand S
    September 1, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    But then you can’t sell TV rentals and Movie rentals through iTunes.

    AppleTV is iTunes on TV, nothing more, nothing less.

    • Steve
      September 1, 2010 at 3:14 pm

      “But you can’t sell TV rentals and Movie rentals through iTunes”

      In-app purchases. Apple has already solved the problem of how to get their cut outside of the iTunes store.

  3. September 1, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    I agree completely. After thinking about today’s launch, AppleTV 2 is really the same as before, just with streaming instead of download rentals. Oh, and they took away the hard drive which is a fantastic thing to have! I’m going on a cruise in a week and am going to load my V1 up with TV shows to watch when I’m just lounging in my cabin. New one can’t do that. New one can’t hold hours of entertainment for your car-TV’s that your kids use.

    The new is actually a step back from the first one. Yeah, the hype is way bigger than the product is in this case.

    • Name (required)
      September 2, 2010 at 10:25 am

      It’s more like a wireless HDMI adapter, so you’ll have to bring your laptop along to stream to it.

  4. September 1, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    Roku > Apple TV 2007

  5. Anonymous
    September 1, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    As a long time Smugmug user and Android phone owner, this post has sadly confirmed what I had already suspected. Where is the Smugmug love for Android products? No Smugmug Android app. The HTML 5 enabled Smugmug slide shows only work on iOS HTML5? C’mon!

    • September 1, 2010 at 4:14 pm

      We have lots of Android love in the works. Honestly, it would have shipped by now except that the Android device situation is a total mess. Every device has different bugs, quirks, UI problems, hardware interfaces, and etc. As soon as we fix something on Droid X, something else doesn’t work on Galaxy S. As soon as it does, the EVO decides to behave differently. It really, really sucks.

      We’re working on it, though. Promise.

      • Anonymous
        September 1, 2010 at 4:42 pm

        Thanks for the reply 🙂

        I’ve had a G1, and now a Nexus One for quite some time and had assumed the only differences were screen sizes. And versions of OS, I guess. I was surprised that a tech savvy company like SmugMug didn’t have at least a few Android devices.

        Thanks for the love!

    • September 2, 2010 at 4:46 am

      Should the HTML5 slideshow work on Blackberry OS6 devices? I have a Torch, using webkit, and the SmugMug slideshow only gives me a message about not having Flash.

      I actually didn’t even realize there was an HTML5 slideshow option. That’s great news in itself if it’s true!

  6. September 1, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    It’s refreshing to see a self-confessed Apple fanboy being critical of Apple. Most of the Apple fanboys that I interact with mindlessly defend every one of Apple’s stupid decisions – it’s nice to see that you’re not one of them. 🙂

  7. Markus
    September 1, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    Since Smugmug is on the Roku, why can’t you guys approach Apple to also be included on AppleTV? Roku doesn’t have apps either, but I am sure they’re a lot easier to talk to than Apple.

    But the new AppleTV is a first step in the right direction. If they sell enough units (I just bought one), they might start taking their “hobby” more seriously.

    In the meantime all you Smugmug users and Apple fanboys out there, leave plenty of feedback on their website: http://www.apple.com/feedback/appletv.html

    • Chris Hoffman
      September 2, 2010 at 7:56 am

      Roku does have apps since they have an open SDK that allows anyone to develop a channel on their platform. The Roku channel was developed by an independent developer and not SmugMug. That is why apps are so important, it gives everyone an opportunity.

  8. Joe
    September 1, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    I’m not doubting your claim that you are the 4th largest photo sharing site, but I didn’t think you were bigger than Flickr, Picasa, Facebook, Photobucket, Snapfish or Shutterfly. What does the top 10 look like and what are the criteria? I can see that you might not count Snapfish and Shutterfly in the group because they are really all about selling product.

    • September 2, 2010 at 2:22 pm

      Hmm, forgot about Picasa since it gets lumped in with Google on “top sites” traffic reports. Guess that makes us 5th. We’re bigger than Snapfish and Shutterfly as far as I can tell, traffic-wise. They probably have lots more “customers” given their “free” nature, but not in terms of # of people visiting the site, as far as I can tell.

      My only real points were: We’re clearly big enough to be included, should Apple feel inclusive.

      Nitpicking about who’s bigger isn’t useful (or, one could argue, possible), but clearly we have enough content and traffic to be meaningful and part of the discussion.

  9. September 1, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    It’s almost like Apple TV has a draconian future, where one man, one company, and one carrier controls its future.

    Oh wait, my bad. That’s the iPhone and iPad. Not Apple TV.

    Carry on!


  10. September 1, 2010 at 9:43 pm

    Sidenote to your post: It runs iOS. It’s just skinned. It also has Bluetooth. There are a bunch of hidden little gems about this tiny black box. I think the inclusion of a hidden iOS makes me wonder… iOS 5 might change everything. A Mac with iOS? Apps truly everywhere? Apple isn’t stupid.

    If they sell a poop load of these things, we’ll see apps soon enough.

  11. voidref
    September 1, 2010 at 11:31 pm

    There is always one hope for what you want: AirPlay.

    If they open that API up, you can stream it from your iProd app to their Apple TV.


  12. jmartcougar
    September 2, 2010 at 6:15 am

    funny how after watching the unveiling of apple tv I went out and bought a Roku

  13. September 2, 2010 at 6:22 am

    Over at Are You Watching This?! we were excited about the refresh, only to feel as let down as you. Sports Content + Apps + Intelligent STB = Win. We’ll just have to wait for Google TV.

  14. Jim
    September 2, 2010 at 6:30 am

    One more thing….. AirPlay. Although announced as a means to play media from an iPhone or iPad on the ATV, all it would take is screen mirroring of an app at high resolution to achieve exactly what you suggest is missing. There’s no significant storage on the ATV so there won’t be an AppStore for ATV in that sense, but imagine using iPhones/iPads as the controllers for a 52″ screen. Build an app for Smugmug that can use AirPlay….

  15. Tom
    September 2, 2010 at 6:49 am

    Lack of apps? So, connect your iPad to your HDTV via component cables. Seems to me there are apps that can emulate most if not all of the Apple TV functions.

    • Scott
      September 2, 2010 at 9:14 pm

      Except that there is only limited access to the video out from the iPad. It has to be supported in each specific application. Also, it is only VGA out. No true HD. Yes, the Apple TV running full iOS and having Apps would have been a game changer. Maybe an update in the future?

    • Mike
      September 3, 2010 at 4:56 am

      iPad’s don’t output all video. Only apps that specifically code for it. Which is surprisingly rare.

  16. September 2, 2010 at 7:12 am

    I think that voice and gesture recognition is a better UI than a remote touchscreen.


    BTW, what app do you use to watch golf on your iPhone?

  17. September 2, 2010 at 7:26 am

    Sorry Don, but you are watching it wrong. 🙂

    On another note – from here: http://www.appletvhacks.net/
    “The biggest potential change to the forthcoming Apple TV refresh is the move to an ARM architecture processor running the same iOS software that powers the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. (…) The new Apple TV will have access to the App Store.”

    So – shouldn’t users of iTV be able to get the SmugMug apps and stream their content from their SmugMug accounts? Or am I missing something?

  18. Narg
    September 2, 2010 at 8:07 am

    NO APPS! You can’t have apps and no syncing at the same time. They won’t work together in Apple’s methods.

    Why does every device have to DO everything?

    Anyway, I’ll stick to my Xbox360 for media. It has apps anyway, and works so much better. Plus it WILL soon have sports. I guess it blows the Apple TV away. Except for price of course. But if I needed cheap, I’d go with the $69 Roku that does the same stuff as Apple TV. Even easier too.

  19. KC
    September 2, 2010 at 8:14 am

    Your take on it reminds me of an article written by John Gruber on Aple’s iterative design process from when the iPad first came out. Specifically, he mentioned how the 1st-Gen products Apple launches often do very little, compared to the revisions a few years down the line – *but what they do, they do well.*


    This is in stark contrast to companies that shoot for the moon, and ultimately their interface or functionality is half-baked.

    Personally, I look at the new Apple TV as a reboot, rather than an upgrade. While apps would have been nice, I’ll settle for them building a stable platform which should allow them to introduce additional features like apps in subsequent generations with much less hassle.

  20. September 2, 2010 at 9:03 am

    I really like the idea of using a handheld iOS device to control the Apple TV. My coworker and I were just discussing this before the announcement. They have this magic trackpad now that is really only used by a few people, and they could use that as an input device for the Apple TV. I do like your idea of the iOS device with full control built in though. It would be a lot like how scrabble for the iPad uses iPhones for the tiles.
    I also cheered when the same slide came up. But in the end, the only piece of the announcement that I thought was interesting at all, was the new AirPlay streaming capabilities.
    You are right on about the Apps being needed, push that home and maybe Apple will listen up next time.

  21. Ric
    September 2, 2010 at 9:16 am

    Apple greed is not going to be the new content delivery model, perhaps in their dreams. The value proposition on the Netflix model isnt something crApple can EVER compete with. I am going to enjoy watching Steve get his ass handed to him again as he tries to wade back into the video entertainment world.

  22. Dave
    September 2, 2010 at 11:30 am

    I’d contend that Apple *HAS* enabled Apps for Apple TV with this release in a manner of speaking — it’s just a paradigm shift in how you and I think about it. The paradigm shift is AirPlay. We’ll have to see how it plays out, but if the API for AirPlay is more than just “show stuff on the big screen”, hypothetically, you could code all of the AirPlay logic into your iPhone/iPad app and just click a button to enable display/control of stuff on the big screen through Apple TV. With this release, I believe Apple’s approach is to have Apple TV simply be a conduit device to enable their mobile devices to access the goodness of an HDTV display. Yeah, the Apple TV has some built in abilities (renting movies and TV shows and watching Netflix and Youtube vidoes), but those are somewhat of a necessity. You can’t tell a regular non-techie consumer to go buy a device for $99 that wirelesses tethers iPhones and iPads to a TV screen, so you’ve gotta have some built-in functionality. It’s really a big trojan horse into the living room — it’s not just about TV shows and movies. Imagine you and I both sit down with our iPhone or iPads in the living room, open our cool fighter game and both connect to the Apple TV in the room via AirPlay — now you also have a pretty killer gaming console in addition to TV shows, movies and slideshows. Obviously, that’s just one example. It all comes down to what Apple allows App developers to do with AirPlay — if they provide a rich API, the possibilities could be endless. Let’s see what we get to do with it… 😉

  23. September 2, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    Great article. In fact, at Samsung we launched the first TV App store earlier this year. Its built into all our Blu-ray players, Blu-ray home theater systems, and 80% of our TVs 40” and over. We are also offering a half-million dollars in cash and prizes to the developer of the best app! See: http://www.freethetvchallenge.com/posts

  24. bob
    September 2, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    this thing is pretty pathetic. I cant imagine bringing this home to my wife. Look honey! We can cut off the cable now and watch literally nothing.

    This is like someone at apple said, hey lets implement 10% of the functionality of xbox live. Well hey man, I have an xbox and the HD is great. Im paying more than 99 cents but I get way more content.

    And netflix? Seriously Apple, netflix reputation in the on demand streaming business is incredibly disappointing. No depth of available content, horrible video quality, pathetic streaming speeds.

    Netflix users dont matter. They are people who actually think mail order movies is somehow “technology”.

    Be prepared for MS to hand you your a** if this is all you really have to offer.

    • September 2, 2010 at 11:31 pm

      I’m curious what other “on demand streaming” businesses you’re comparing netflix to? I have used Netflix’s on my ps3, pc and iPhone. I’ve used Amazon’s service, apple’s service, the subscribers only services from directv and charter, and i’ve used Sony’s PS3 store. (yes, some of those aren’t streaming so much as “download and watch in parallel once you have enough”, but that’s a minor technicality most users won’t care about.)

      Of all of them, Netflix is hardly the worst in any category. It has a better catalog than several others, it’s streaming starts up a lot faster than several of them, and displayed on a decent tv it’s quality seems ‘middle of the road’ as long as you don’t try to unfairly compare it to the services that offer full on 1080p downloads. The HD content I’ve streamed has been 720p and it’s been perfectly acceptable quality after the first 30-45seconds. (I think they start their streams too fast, I almost always get a hicup 30 to 45 seconds in, no matter what the content or the player or the time of day. But it’s solid as a rock after that.) Yes the player controls can be a little clunky on some devices (PS3 or Wii might be in a race for worst.. I’m told the xbox netflix is the best.) But to be honest, its a better control experience than several of it’s competitors.

      bob :
      Netflix users dont matter. They are people who actually think mail order movies is somehow “technology”.

      And that dismissal, aside from being a tad insulting, pretty clearly shows you haven’t actually had much exposure to their product offerings. We’ve had 5 blurays in the mail from them this year. We’ve watched hundreds of hours of content streamed in on demand “for free” as part of our service. Quite possibly into the thousands by now this year to be honest, and that’s just for a family of 3 with one tv. (one of whom is a 3 year old, so he doesn’t watch much.) Yeah, clearly I don’t understand “technology”. In our household, and many others that I know, netflix isn’t a dvd rental in the mail company that also happens to do some streaming, they’re a streaming dvd on the net company that also happens to do some discs in the mail. You know, “flix on the net”. Yeah, clearly they had a vision when they named the company.

      (I’m not affiliated with Netflix in any way other than being a happy subscriber you happened to rub the wrong way.)

  25. bob
    September 2, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    The white one will be available next summer.

  26. September 2, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    Seems to me that what you’re asking for is Google TV.

  27. Keenan
    September 2, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    Isn’t restricting how users use devices to ways that Apple can make money off their modus operandi? Rest assured that Fox and ABC paid handsomely for the privilege of being included.

    Glad to hear it from a self-professed Apple fanboy, but this is the way all their recent products are. Users have no choice.

  28. September 2, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    Seems like they delivered pretty much what you want. What is missing is the SDK that lets apps running on remote iOS devices communicate with the Apple TV. As you say, the remote device will be where all the UI wizardry goes on, the Apple TV will simply stream/play the selected content. The Apple TV is just a WiFi streaming station that plugs into your TV via HDMI and, running iOS, will hopefully someday provide that SDK for remote apps. Not a huge need for full blown iOS apps to run on the Apple TV itself, right?

    I think we’ll see that SDK. And then I’ll get the SmugMug iPad app and flick and fling and swipe photos at my TV.

  29. Hamranhansenhansen
    September 2, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    I think all of your points are basically valid, but I think you are talking about a future revision of this device. Your complaints ring very much like the complaints about the first iPhone’s lack of a native SDK. You can see what is possible, and Apple sees it, too. But it’s not going to happen overnight.

    > Imagine that the AppleTV ran iOS

    We don’t have to imagine it. AppleTV *does* run iOS. The new AppleTV is an iPad mod. But it has a “10 foot” TV user interface. It’s not going to run apps that aren’t modified for that.

    > and had it’s own App Store.

    Apps didn’t come to iPhone until a year later, once there were enough iPhones out in the world to make 3rd party development practical. There are zero (0) iOS AppleTV’s in the world right now and they don’t even go on sale until October.

    Right now, the developer focus in iOS is creating just one app that runs on iOS v4.2 on iPhone/iPod/iPad this November. Why muddy that up by offering developers a way to make a TV interface? There’s no upside to an AppleTV SDK right now.

    I think Apple will let developers demand an AppleTV SDK. Maybe that is what you are doing right now. But if they sell 5 million AppleTV devices over the next year that will make those demands eminently reasonable. An AppleTV section in App Store might be a great iOS v5 feature for WWDC 2011, so that in September 2011, at the same fall iPod event, Steve Jobs can introduce an AppleTV running iOS v5 with an App Store menu item where you add HBO and so on to your AppleTV.

    > Just require the use of an iPod, iPhone, or iPad to control it.

    > That would have had lines around the block at launch.

    I am so not convinced of that at all.

    Even if Apple really wants to do this, it makes sense to start with AirPlay and go from there. Before yesterday, you could spend $59 on an iPod AV cable to put your iPod on the TV. With AirPlay, an AppleTV becomes a $99 wireless iPod AV cable. After that they can do AppPlay or whatever. There is plenty there now to sell Apple TV to iPad/iPod/iPhone users.

    Again, I think you are essentially predicting the future, but AppleTV is going to have to prove itself a little more first.

  30. Mike
    September 29, 2010 at 9:28 am

    Why wait for apple to provide this? Just install xbmclive on a spare PC and then run this: http://psp.bna.com/html/dtd/product.component.key.attr.html

    There’s an iphone app too, which is the one I use.

  1. September 1, 2010 at 5:43 pm
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