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Is the Apple TV a dud?

Of all the products Apple has been rolling out in the past few years, the Apple TV is easily one of the most debated. While I haven't seen any specific figures from Apple on how well or poorly the device is selling, Apple's first foray into the living room seems to be getting off to at least a decent start. Jobs made another uncharacteristic move in revealing upcoming plans to support YouTube next month. But could the Apple TV be a dud? CNN Money's Brent Schlender sure thinks so. In fact, Mr. Schlender goes so far as to take a jab at the Apple TV's development: "Apple TV is so Zune-like, you'd think Jobs was so busy with the iPhone that he outsourced the Apple TV project to the folks up in Redmond." He then follows with a list of the largest complaints against the device, which includes:

  • No DVD drive
  • The perceived requirement of an HDTV (though we know that to be not-quite-true) even though you can't buy full HD content from the iTunes Store
  • The fact that you can't shop the iTS right from the Apple TV despite its internet connection
  • The annoying conundrum with only being able to use images from one computer's photo library, even though most people's pictures are probably the one batch of HD-ready media that isn't rights-managed in any way and completely sharable over a network and amongst friends or even strangers

Schlender is quick to point out, however, that the one other device everyone expected to be able to shop online via its wireless connection - Microsoft's Zune - can't do that either.

While one can only wonder as to whether the target customers of the Apple TV need what is likely yet another DVD player in their living room, I can safely say that, as an owner of an Apple TV, I have a mostly positive - though admittedly mixed - opinion on the Apple TV's future. The whole HDTV-but-no-real-HD-content thing is definitely a bad mark against its design, but I still think that, on the whole, the Apple TV is an excellent device for its intended audience: a good chunk of the 118 million users who have already positioned their media world around iTunes, or are at least on their way to doing so.

Schlender brings up some great points about the Apple TV's design flaws, but listing the missing features - such as a DVD player or a built-in digital video recorder - misses the entire point of where the Apple TV is positioned. The iTunes Store has a healthy crop of customers who clearly don't want a PVR or a DVD player - they want (or already have) all their a-la-carte media in iTunes, and the Apple TV is a direct extension of that iTunes library. It isn't meant to replace the DVD player most customers already own, know and (possibly) love - it's meant to be one of the cheapest and most streamlined tools for bringing one's digital library into the living room, and that's it.

With that specific focus in mind, I can't agree that the Apple TV is a dud, at least not yet. It's too early in the game, and Apple clearly has a unique focus on bringing even more of the digital realm - including YouTube content you don't even have in your library - into the living room. I think a bit more time and some sales figures are needed to call a shot either way for the Apple TV.

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