Apple TV, Apple's other media play, gets an update

As all of the Apple rumorsphere waits with bated breath for the seemingly inevitable arrival of the Apple tablet, another Apple media thingie got a quiet update. The brave, happy band of siblings who use the Apple TV can now update to version 3.0 of the neglected gadget's software, which revamps the interface a bit and allows users to watch iTunes LP and iTunes Extras content for stuff they've bought through the iTunes Store. (iTunes Extras, launched at the same time as iTunes LPs to considerably less fanfare, are essentially the iTunes version of DVD special features; they're packaged with iTunes Store video content in the same bundling format that combines iTunes LP material with music files.)

Even when the iTunes LP format was still in the rumor stage, people were connecting it with the rumored Apple Tablet; the tablet form factor, the thinking went, offered a good-size screen for the extra content that you could gaze at rapturously while listening to music. But of course, this is completely true of an Apple TV-connected television as well. In fact, the Apple TV would seem to the natural platform for this extra content -- certainly more natural than your computer -- and the fact that nobody really seems to have much mentioned its absence from the Apple TV can probably be chalked up to the fact that most people have forgotten that the Apple TV exists. Perhaps Apple forgot, too, as it's hard to otherwise understand why exactly they would wait nearly two months after the introduction of the new formats to make them available on the company's set-top box, especially considering that the content is formatted as plain vanilla Web and video files. If ever there were a sign that the Apple TV is unloved by its creators, this is it.

But this announcement did get me to thinking about what, exactly, the media center on the Apple Tablet will look like. Most people seem to think that the tablet will run an OS X variant close to the one currently powering the iPhone and iPod Touch; but the iPhone's media player seems pretty well tailored for that smaller screen size. The Apple TV, meanwhile, also runs a flavor of OS X, and it's main UI is the Front Row application also found on Macs. I've always found the interface pretty slick, and the software update seems to have done a better job of offering access to the user's content and pushing them to the store. Is it possible that the Apple Tablet might run a modified version of Front Row to do the media heavy lifting that will be a good part of its reason for being? Perhaps! And perhaps this will make the Apple TV feel a little less like an evolutionary cul de sac.

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