What about the Apple TV, Steve?

As Apple continues refreshing its product line, such as the Time Capsule, is the Apple TV getting lost in the shuffle?

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
3 min read

Can a product's value be measured by how much its developers improve it over time? If so, that metric would not have positive implications for the Apple TV.

Apple quietly updated its Time Capsule storage device Thursday. The high-end model will now retail for $499 and allow up to 2TB of storage. The low-end model with 1TB of storage will now retail for $299.

The Apple TV is in desperate need of an update. CNET Networks

It's a nice upgrade. And it follows a list of several updates Apple has made in recent months to many of its products, including the iPhone, MacBook, and MacBook Pro. Apple is even preparing for its new operating system, Snow Leopard, which is slated for release in September.

But the company has yet to release a major upgrade to its Apple TV. Granted, Apple has updated the device's software on multiple occasions, but where's the new, major hardware update?

For almost a year now, we've been hearing about impending refreshes to the Apple TV.

In September, reports suggested that an Apple TV update featuring anything from a "Mac Mini/Apple TV" hybrid to something related to HDTVs was imminent. Nothing of the sort was ever announced.

In February, reporters found a survey that Apple conducted asking Apple TV owners how they were watching video on the device. It also asked them what they would change about the set-top box. That survey vanished from Apple's Web site. And once again, no major updates were released.

Just one month later, in March, an Apple patent surfaced showing a controller similar to the Wiimote controlling what looked to be an Apple TV. The filing discussed a "remote wand for controlling the operations of a media system." Gamers were hopeful that it would lead to gaming on the Apple TV. Unfortunately, we haven't heard anything about it since.

As an Apple TV owner, it's disappointing to see that Apple hasn't focused on improving the device. Granted, CEO Steve Jobs said it was a hobby device, but I think it has some real potential to be more.

According to Apple COO Tim Cook during the company's first-quarter fiscal year 2009 earnings call, Apple TV sales tripled compared to the company's first fiscal quarter of 2008. He then hedged his statements a bit by saying Apple still didn't want to give those figures too much importance.

"Let me be clear," Cook said. "We still consider this a hobby. It is clear that the movie rental business has really helped Apple TV, and there are more and more customers that want to try it."

Perhaps Cook is selling the Apple TV short. Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster said after the earnings call that his company expects Apple to have sold 6.6 million Apple TV units by the end of 2009.

That's no small number. If there are 6.6 million Apple TV units in homes, that could mean significant revenue for Apple, in terms of sales of music, television shows, and movies. The Apple TV might be a valuable component in Apple's strategy, going forward.

That's precisely why it needs a major update, complete with gaming, Web browsing, and maybe even some DVR features. Wouldn't that be enough to get you to pick one up?

After the release of Snow Leopard in September, I'd like to see Apple shift its focus to the Apple TV. The iPhone is a success. Its notebooks are still popular. But it's the Apple TV that has yet to gain the mass-market appeal Apple enjoys in so many other sectors. I think it has a real chance to enjoy that kind of success with the Apple TV.

Ironically, Apple might agree.

"We're going to continue to invest in (the Apple TV) because we fundamentally believe there is something there for us in the future," Tim Cook said during Apple's first-quarter earnings call.

I hope so. But at this point, I'll have to see some investment before I can believe Apple that will ever consider the Apple TV more than a hobby product that doesn't need refreshing.

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