Thoughts on Apple TV

by Ian Rosenwach on 12.23.2010

I’ve had my Apple TV for about a month and thought I’d post a few thoughts.

  • Netflix – after seeing streaming Netflix on the Wii, I wanted to be able to do the same.  This was a big reason for going with the Apple TV.   It’s been great, but a problem is content breadth.  I’ve gotten into 30 Rock, watched some obscure music and art documentaries, and streamed some Woody Allen.  But I’m concerned that I’m close to the point of exhausting my options, at least the low hanging fruit.  Once this happens, Apple TV becomes less compelling.   For some interesting context on Netflix’s prospects for the future read this skeptical piece on Netflix future and then CEO Reed Hastings’ rebuttal.   Hastings admits that content costs are rising, and you can bet that content products will squeeze every nickel they can out of Netflix.  Hastings talks about price as being a key Netflix differentiator.   While that may be true, I’d be cautious about positioning Netflix as a low cost service that doesn’t have the best content out there.
  • YouTube – Apple TV makes YouTube more valuable.  Before I had Apple TV I was not a heavy YouTube user.  Now I’ll add videos to my Favorites on YouTube and use that as my YouTube playlist at home.  The interface could be way better, but you have access to a huge video library.  The challenge is the lack of curation and personalization.  It should be way easier to find videos that interest me.  I’ve had some hiccups in terms of Internet speed, but nothing serious.  You could see my YouTube Favorites here.
  • Music – I can easily play my iTunes library from my Apple TV, and buy music from iTunes.  That’s fine and great, but my music service of choice of late is Rdio.   There’s no way to play Rdio from my Apple TV.  There is no web browser.  Apple still maintains a lot of control over the Apple TV ecosystem.
  • Design – It’s a great looking device, very small and sleek.  No qualms at all here.
  • Remote – I now have four remotes to control my stereo, TV, cable, and Apple TV.  That’s too many.
  • Price – At $99, it’s affordable.  I hear that Roku is cheaper and offers more content choices though.  But I think it’s smart of Apple to price this reasonably to increase their market share in a huge growth area.

The truth is that not all content is created equal.  Apple TV covers its bases in the following way –

  1. Long tail content – YouTube (free)
  2. Medium tail content – Netflix (subscription)
  3. Premium content – iTunes (rent, pay as you go)

At the end of the day I prefer to digitally stream content – audio or video.  If Netflix were able to move up the tail to premium content, Apple TV would be a great experience.  In it’s current state, it’s a good experience – I give it a 6 out of 10.   The Apple TV gives Apple a strong presence in the household, placing them in a good strategic position to decide how people consumer digital content in the future.

P.S. One thing that could truly shake things up would be shopping on the Apple TV.  We have iTunes where you could buy songs, videos, and media, but imagine an iMall that had products from Walmart, Saks 5th Ave, and a huge range of e-commerce retailers.  Now that would be something…or it could just take an Amazon app on the Apple TV :)

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