October 04, 2010, 11:08 AM — It's rare that Apple announces a product without slathering the object of that announcement with superlatives—Great! Fantastic! Awesome! Amazing! Yet the original Apple TV—after it became clear that it had failed the iPod is to portable media as _________ is to on-demand TV comparison—earned little more from Apple than an indulgent shrug and the "Hobby" label.
And we know some of the reasons why. Unlike a lot of Apple's products, whose usefulness is immediately apparent, the Apple TV takes some explaining.
"See, it's a go-between device that bridges your computer's iTunes library and your TV, and, oh yeah, the iTunes Store, where you can buy some stuff, rent some other stuff, and get even other stuff for free. Sure, you can use media you didn't get from iTunes, but you may have to convert it and put it in your iTunes library and... well, yeah, of course it has to be in iTunes because.... Look, just try it and you'll see."
Getting media you didn't own was difficult. When the Apple TV first shipped, the iTunes Store was well stocked with music—much of the time you could find exactly the tunes you were looking for because the music companies were fully committed. Not so the movie and TV studios. They had (and continue to have) ideas other than becoming just another division of Apple Inc. The hoped-for flood of movies and TV shows turned out to be a trickle as the studios released too little, too late (and for too much).
Then there were the customer expectations. What people wanted from Apple was a device that did it all—DVR, Blu-ray player, 1080p, Internet media server, cat groomer. What they got was a far more limited product that tech-savvy people could understand and enjoy, but wasn't ideal for Mom and Pop.
And for those people who did purchase the Apple TV, there were the performance issues. The thing ran hot, it could become unresponsive, it lost contact with the computer it was supposed to be synced with, and when it did sync, the process was slow and could negatively affect your computer's performance.
Given these issues one might consider the label "Hobby" generous.
But now we have the second coming of the Apple TV ( Macworld rated 4 out of 5 mice ). How likely is it to move the device from piffling avocation to committed profession? To find out, let's examine what has and hasn't changed.
Performance. When I first acquired my Apple TV the family couldn't get enough of it—largely because I had the wherewithal to populate my iTunes library with the media they love. However, after routine lockups, syncing problems, inaccurate errors, and a reluctance to respond to the remote, the family couldn't speak the words "Apple TV" without first preceding them with "Stupid."