My Apple TV Wishlist

by Charles Miller on January 2, 2008

I killed my iPhone the week before Christmas. I was particularly drunk and managed to mishandle it in a fashion I wouldn't expect any electronic device to survive. As such, my life is now divided starkly into a time when the iPhone was the coolest thing I owned, a wondrous device that had changed my life; and the new age during which I've been continually telling myself, "It was just a phone".

One senses a similar cognitive dissonance from Apple regarding the Apple TV. When it was first demonstrated at a Steve Jobs-hosted special event, the then-codenamed iTV was the "missing piece" in the Mac/iPod puzzle. By the next year's D: conference, after what turned out to be quite a limited device had failed to set the market on fire, Jobs was calling it a "hobby".

Rumours on the internets say that Apple will announce iTunes movie rentals at this month's Macworld. If so, it's likely that the Apple TV will at least get a minor update so you can get those movies from your computer to your TV. Not that it makes any difference to me. iTunes movie rentals would simply join their television and movie sales (and Amazon's mp3 store) on the list of things that would be cool if I ever moved to America.

I still own an Apple TV. What's more, I still stand by the largely positive review I gave it nine months ago. It wasn't the game-changer that some were expecting to be (and as such found its way onto quite a few end-of-year "biggest disappointment" lists), but it's still a competent v1.0 product.

The crime would be to write off the hobby entirely, and leave it at 1.0.

Things I Don't Care About

  • Additional video codecs. I'm quite happy to convert my videos to mp4.
  • Larger internal storage. If anything, expanding the hard drive would make my existing 40GB model less useful, as it would leave Apple less incentive to make improvements that bypassed the local hard drive. (see below)
  • HD-DVD/Blu-Ray support. Actually, I might buy a new Apple TV if it was reasonably priced and supported one or both high-def media... but the chances of it being "reasonably priced" would be pretty slim, and it still wouldn't make my existing Apple TV work better.
  • Opening the platform. I've already got three or four general-purpose computers, I don't need another one.
  • Games, web browsing, home shopping, or other things that would divert focus from the main purpose of the platform. Keep it simple, stupid.

Basic Stuff

  • Add an explicit stand-by menu option, and an automatic stand-by-on-idle mode. Alternatively, have Al Gore slap the shit out of the rest of the Apple board for not including this feature to start with.
  • Fix the YouTube client so it doesn't die on long videos like the Authors@Google talks.
  • Fix video streaming so there isn't the annoying n-second hang a few seconds into watching a video hosted elsewhere on the LAN.
  • The Apple remote doesn't give you the same kind of fine-grained, intuitive control as the iPod scroll-wheel. As such, finding anything in a long scrollable list is painful. Add an alphabet-bar like the one in the iPhone address book, so you can skip easily through lists.
  • Add some kind of smart auto-completion to the YouTube search box. Typing with a remote control sucks.
  • Improve the handling of sequences of videos, such as music DVDs that have been ripped as separate tracks.
  • Don't stop the music just because I've navigated away from the "Music" section of the menu. Having everything go silent when you're just browsing the library (or someone else's library) is really annoying. Keep playing the current song until I press stop, or I select something else to play.
  • Allow me to buy stuff from the iTunes store and subscribe to podcasts in the iTunes directory through the Apple TV interface.
  • Allow streaming of photos from iPhoto (currently, only synched photos are available on the Apple TV)
  • Add AirTunes (Airport Express) support so the AppleTV can act as remote speakers for other iTunes on the network when it's not playing anything itself
  • Add some equivalent to the iTunes Party Shuffle. When you're manually shuffling through songs, or for that matter when you're at a party, "play this next" is more useful than "play this now".
  • Act as an iPod USB dock, so visitors can play their music through the Apple TV.

Bigger Stuff

  • Seamlessly aggregate all available libraries. Don't force me to go to the sources list just because the next song is in Donna's iTunes not mine. Don't make me care where the content is. If it's on the network, put it in the directory.
  • Treat the local hard drive more like a cache. Have the Apple TV list all the content on its main iTunes library in its directory, regardless of what is synched to its internal hard drive. Some intelligent mix of recently added / most played / highest rated content can be automatically cached, and the Apple TV can wake the host machine over the network to grab anything else on demand.
  • HD content. What's the point of making a device that requires at least 720p, when all you can do with it is photo slide-shows?
  • Make iTunes video content available outside the USA. Hey, I can dream right?

(A note to our litigious society: all these suggestions are submitted into the public domain. I assert no ownership of these ideas whatsoever, and am quite happy for any company to implement any of them without so much as acknowledging my existence.)\

Previously: Random iPhoto Gripe

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