Apple TV: What was Apple Thinking?

As the dust settles from the new Apple TV announcement, some observers are getting all wound up about the limitations of the new device. Are these concerns valid?

There is more going on here than speeds and feeds. There is more going on here than the extent of the content available on the Apple TV.

Apple TV

New Apple TV

It’s likely true that Apple is being throttled by the networks and studios regarding the control Apple has over content. As the esteemed Sascha Segan said today:


“In terms of TV content, it’s looking like Apple’s hands are tied. It’s obvious that movie studios and TV producers alike are holding the line on price and selection. Their businesses are a very complex mix of revenue streams—broadcast, advertisements, DVD sales, DVD rental, theaters, Netflix—and they’re very uncomfortable about upsetting those apple carts.”


Given that constraint, Apple knows that it can’t compete on the depth and breadth of content. In addition, Apple is historically reluctant to dazzle the living room user with geeky technical overload. That’s not what Apple is known for.

The Problem

As I have mentioned before, the home TV watcher, the so-called living room TV customer is a different animal than the hyper-informed Mac and PC geek. These are dentists, airline flight attendants, interior designers, high school teachers, accountants and so on who don’t spend all day learning about HDMI throughput in Gbps, progressive scan video and TCP/IP addresses. About all they can handle, as you know from Quick Start sheets with other consumer electronics products, is to connect, turn it on, and hope is all works.

This is why so many home users connect the HDMI output of their DVR right into the HDTV and listen via the tiny speakers on the side. The prospect of an A/V receiver, multiple HDMI inputs and Dolby 5.1 sound with multiple surround sound speakers is just too expensive and daunting. We do it, but many of these living room TV customers are very uptight about buying and managing lots of devices. It’s called “set top box fatigue.”

Given the constraints Apple is under and the well understood psychology of the Living Room TV customer, Apple has to take a different approach. One that the uber-geeks refuse to appreciate.

The Solution

Apple knows that the only way they can be successful is to create a simple infrastructure that’s a no-brainer to set up. Even the task of “marrying” an Apple TV to the host PC or Mac with the four digit code frightens and upsets many customers. The device has to be simple, a joy, and easily approached. For most home users, that’s an acceptable trade against some arbitrary rigid standard of available content.

After all, if people are willing to watch the crap that’s on current network television, with 18 minutes of commercials per hour, can you really argue that they’re all that picky about whether they can watch season 2 of ABC’s Legend of the Seeker or not?

The Apple TV has been gaining momentum. Sales are in the millions. While some products can boast superior content or tech specs, Apple is a large, well known company that treats its customers well. The buying experience in an Apple retail store is superior. The quality and reliability of the product is great. The instructions for use are plain and simple. Despite the naysayers, Apple will continue to sell the Apple TV in satisfactory quantities while people come to realize that this is a rather nice device.

As that appreciation kicks in, customers will send Apple lots of money, voting with their wallets. Apple tends to gain momentum with that kind of approach while some competing products with better specs never seem to gain a lot of traction.

As the Apple TV, old and new, pick up steam, the networks and studios will come to realize that this is the way to earn some additional revenue. They’ll squirm and bitch, but finally decide that Apple knows how to make oodles of money. And money drives every decision with the content creators.

We can’t take a shallow approach to evaluating the Apple TV family. The big picture and Apple’s historically successful consumer approach trump speeds and feeds and quibbles over content. Get the product right, then content will come along later. But that won’t keep the geeks from bitching.