What’s Next for Apple TV?

Now that I’m used to surfing through YouTube videos on the television with my remote, I have to wonder: what’s next on the horizon for Apple TV?

I’ve been a fan (and owner) of Apple TV since its introduction earlier this year. Just as the iPod completely changed how I consume media while commuting, at work, and on travel, Apple TV has transformed video viewing habits in my home. Apple TV makes iTunes a more viable option for buying movies and episodic television shows, but it also brings Internet video to my TV and remote. I hate sitting in front of my PC to watch video content, which only leaves air travel and car waiting time for catching up on Ask A Ninja, MacBreak, and other Internet short-form content. But with Apple TV, my Internet video subscriptions are in my Den, up-to-date, waiting for my enjoyment. Apple TV and iTunes sync automatically through my home network; it all happens seamlessly and invisibly. And with iTunes’ ability to note and share my last play position for video content, I can pick up where I left off if I want to finish watching a TV show in another room or catch the end of the movie on my morning flight.

Is Apple TV everything I want it to be? No. Will it be? Maybe. With this device, Apple has created a platform that it can expand with both hardware and software. Happily, the signs point to just that plan. A few months ago, Apple released a new Apple TV model that bumps its introductory local storage capacity of 40GB up to 160GB. Now we’re talking about some decent room for video content. Shortly thereafter, Apple introduced YouTube on Apple TV. It’s a good start, but hopefully it’s just that: a start.

What’s next? Here are some options I hope that Apple is considering:

iTunesHD. Apple TV has the ability to deliver high definition video and multi-channel sound to your television, but where is the content? While the Xbox Marketplace is offering movies for paid download in 720p, movies on iTunes are still limited to sub-DVD quality. I’m hoping we’ll see high definition movies and TV shows for purchase through iTunes before the end of the year.

iClick&Buy. Just how much can I do with that tiny little remote? Not enough. Yet. I’d argue that I should be able to browse and purchase content on the iTunes Store right from my sofa. Apple could take iTunes Top Movies and similar features on the Apple TV to a new level with just one little option: Buy this Movie.

Appleflix. Netflix and TiVo never managed to get it together, but why not go for the same effect with Apple TV? The Apple TV is the ultimate device for PPV content – be it movie rentals or special programming. Its iTunes Top Movies and Theatrical Trailers features demonstrate that direct-to-device streamed content is already possible, and much of the back-end storefront architecture is in place today to support iTunes.

iDVR. With added capacity and a software update, the Apple TV could be the perfect platform for a completely new type of flexible DVR solution. Stackable, add-on components that share the Apple TV’s footprint could deliver channel-specific single and multi-tuner cable, satellite, or IPTV content right to the device for real-time or shifted viewing. How do you get your TV: DirecTV? CableCard? Digital cable/QAM? With swappable TV modules, it wouldn’t matter. This kind of solution could make Apple TV the first fully-integrated provider-independent DVR. If nothing else, I’d love to see the UI they’d create for a TV programming guide.

So that’s what I hope to see out of Apple over the next year or so for Apple TV. Clearly, Apple has been heavily focused on the iPhone and the Mac hardware and software updates recently. My hope is that they’ll come up for some air when Leopard goes to market and focus their creativity on the largely unrealized potential of this new entertainment platform.

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