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Dave Winer totally misses the point with Apple TV

I been reading with interest Scripting News and Dave Winer’s adventures with his new Apple TV. By day number two Dave’s already decided that he doesn’t like the Apple TV and:

If you’re technically proficient enough to read this blog, AppleTV is not for you.

Ha Ha, well hey Dave maybe you’re so determined to see what the Apple TV can’t do, that you’re totally overlooking the beauty of what it does do? When used for the purpose it was designed for it just works and works quite well thank you.

First the Apple TV by intent is not a computer. Oh I know it’s been hacked and turned into one, but by design it’s a media device that serves as a extension of the iTunes media network. Think of it as a DVD Player or a DVR…not a computer.

Here’s how I’m using it (diagram below) in my home with great effect. I have delegated an older computer as my iTunes Sever. This server is my main iTunes media computer with all my music, video’s, podcasts and videocasts. My other computer(s) connect to this machine and stream music or video’s from there. This is also the machine that I sync and download media to my iPod from and my main iTunes Server for my Apple TV.

The beauty of this setup come in play for me with subscribed podcast or videocast. They automatically download to my server and are synced with my Apple TV. So at any time I can go to my living room turn on my HDTV and Apple TV and watch the latest chapters…without having to touch a computer, keyboard or mouse. Nice I tell you.

Dave also went on to make the statement that:

I’m not sure who it is for, but you don’t need it.

Well Dave, I could turn a 5-6 year old loose with the Apple TV and they could watch cartoons or movies galore without assistance. I doubt that that same 6 year old could do so well with a keyboard, mouse, shared drives, and cryptic file names. So maybe this was made for normal people…not geeks like us. (Dave…I believe the latest version of Handbrake has an option for Apple TV.)

So that’s the target Apple was shooting for! I’m sure Apple will release new features as the iTunes network expands to keep it all working together. This can be done with a simple software update that will make those new features available to all Apple TV’s.

Oh, by the way…it also doesn’t make waffles or vacuum the floor…damn that Apple!


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14 Comments on Dave Winer totally misses the point with Apple TV

  1. Dave — and most techies — are not “normal” users, and they have no idea what normal users like. (“I can’t install Linux on my iPod, oh no!”)

    The average person just wants to listen to some music. Watch some shows. The Apple TV is great at that.

    Apple TV is important for other reasons — it is the first mainstream “over the top” box (to use Shelly Palmer’s term.)

    If you’ve read up on this stuff, you know that this is going to completely upset the cable industry.


  2. Hmmm… that diagram looks like a schematic for a digital hub.

  3. Rachel:
    Well said.

    I think we’ve been so bombarded by the techies of what the Apple TV isn’t and by the hackers changing what it is to something else that the true picture of how Apple TV fits into the iTunes “normal” use have been overshadowed.

    I believe we’ll see the feature set of the Apple TV grow as Apple grows it’s iTunes media capabilities.

    It could be considered a digital hub. iTunes works well pulling down media from ITS and serving it to various clients. Within the iTunes prefs. there are some for Apple TV such as only sync/serveing up new or unviewed media. Great for pod/videocast.

  4. The typical techie, and I say this as a techie, is, to interpret the word ‘configuration’ as equivalent to ‘rewarding fun’. The average user interprets the word ‘configuration’ as ‘confusing hassle’. So they end up reading everything differently.

    The techie will saw something which to him means, “Why should I buy a device that can do X with no rewarding fun, when I can have a device that can do X, Y, and Z with a little bit of rewarding fun each?”

    What the average user hears is, “Why should I buy a device that can do X with no confusing hassle, when I can have a device that can do X, Y, and Z with a little bit of confusing hassle each?”

    Thus the average user concludes that the techie is insane.

  5. Sorry, but I don’t “get” Apple TV, either. It’s NOT a DVR, it’s NOT a DVD player and it DOESN’T connect to my HD cable. And WHY would anyone want to be tied to iTunes for content?
    I love Apple, and have done so for nearly 30 years. But this is one “innovation” that leaves me cold and confused.

  6. DBL: Good explanation of viewpoints. Apple, especially with first product versions, tend to go towards simple and functional feature sets. For example the iPod…simply a well designed portable music/media player with a easy to use interface that is tied tightly to iTunes and has been slowly developed over the years…sells over 100 million. If X is the main point people are interested in, Y & Z are not that important from a business perspective.

    Robitaille: Interesting post, and yes I would be interested in a Media Server too. But I doubt it would be $299.

    DB: Apple TV doesn’t fit for everyone and that’s okay. But, for the “average” user Apple TV and iTunes provides the convenience. Of course for Apple is about dollars. For those who like to get their content elsewhere many of the latest versions of video conversion utilities already support Apple TV. Handbrake, Quicktime Professional, and VisualHub make conversion of video to H.264/Apple TV fairly painless. Also other sites are starting to offer content in H.264 format. Whereever you get you content, if it’s in a compatible format you can import it into iTunes and it will be available on your Apple TV. Only some of my content comes from iTunes.

  7. “Well Dave, I could turn a 5-6 year old loose with the Apple TV and they could watch cartoons or movies galore without assistance.”

    You could do the same with any cable or satellite box.

    And there lies the problem. For an average, non-geek user, the Apple TV, and all media extenders, aren’t just competing with each other, but against cable and satellite as well. Why should a high-value viewer with an HD Tivo (or regular Tivo, for that matter) buy an Apple TV? For HD television show purchases? The low max bitrate of the Apple TV means the picture quality of HD programming doesn’t even look as good as DVD (which Scoble, who’s a converted fan, discovered).
    (disclaimer: I own a D-Link DSM-320, a competing media extenter, about which, I say the same things)

    The unreliability of wireless networking for media streaming, combined with the balkanization of media codecs only ensures difficulty for the average user. Apple’s approach to the latter, i.e., locking the device to iTunes and its limited codec set, is ultimately flawed as users discover more media that is not supported. And the only solution to the former is either a wired network, which is impractical for most users, or a large buffer in the form of a hard drive or other such storage, which increases cost and device complexity.

    I think we’re still ten years away from seeing media extenders being as ubiquitous as cable/satellite boxes. And I think that Microsoft’s approach w/re their Home Server project (another disclaimer: I’m in the Home Server beta, and have another server in my house) is the better long-term solution, instead of a device that’s an extension of a single PC.

  8. Joe: Good points, and I agree with your comment about ten year and media extenders.

    There’s no one solution available today that does it all. Will Microsoft’s Home Server project be a better answer, perhaps, but Microsoft has a history of having great ideas and poor execution. We’ll have to wait and see.

    Your reply of “any cable or satellite box” to my statement about 6 year olds goes to my point. People are comfortable with the operation of cable or satellite boxes in their living room and the Apple TV provides that same level of non-technical user comfort. It may not be enough to convince someone to switch over to the whole iTunes route, but if you’re already using iTunes for some media content then it’s a good addition for a not so high price.

    My point with Dave was that he was so into what it doesn’t do that he didn’t examine Apple’s intent for the device in regard to extending the iTunes experience. Thanks for the comment!

  9. The key to affordable, easy-to-use media extenders is server-side implementation. A high-horsepower server that can do real-time transcoding for multiple clients can make any media extender a winner. And automatic codec installation is a must.

    Currently, there are inexpensive Linux-based NAS devices that can be used to serve media to extenders as many come with uPnP server software pre-installed, but they lack the horsepower to do any sort of real-time transcoding. And they still require user intervention to install codecs.

    I fully agree with you about Microsoft’s execution. One can witness how well Windows Media Player automatically downloads needed codecs for proof– I’ve never had it successfully perform an automatic download of a single needed codec, ever.

    Actually, as I type and think about this, maybe Microsoft’s approach is wrong. Perhaps the correct approach is to build the NAS (and uPnP server) into the home router. This solves a number of problems, including eliminating the wireless router to server issue for wireless users. Hmmm.

  10. Joe: For the horsepower needed for real-time transcoding your talking about some kind of monster home router. :-)

    You’d might as well add the functions of router and firewall to your full size and power media server, putting it in the place of the current home router. You could then have a separate switch/wireless access point on a high speed backbone to service in home media clients. Not a cheap or easy to set-up/maintain solution at this time for “Joe” home user.

    Back to your statement about ten more years.

  11. “Back to your statement about ten more years.”

    I forgot to add that caveat. ;) Although, I see a Linux proof-of-concept project in my future.

  12. As others have said regular consumers want something that is easy to use. I have a Bose 3-2-1 home theatre system. Yes, one day I’ll spec out a proper system with Krell, Mark Levinson and the like.

    You know what though? When a baby sitter comes to watch the kids, I don’t have to train her on three different remotes and what inputs to use so the kids can watch a video.

    Clean design and simplicity rule the day.

  13. Ryan: I agree with you on those two principles. Clean design and simplicity will always be strong deciding factors for any product. Thanks for the comments.

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  5. I don't want an Apple TV...I want an Apple Media Server « Robitaille’s Blog

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