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For six years, the Internet Nexus served as my technology blog, but I've since started blogging at the SuperSite Blog instead. If you're looking for the blog, please head there. --Paul

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Is Apple TV an iFlop?

Forbes takes a look at a product Apple seems to have all but ignored since it was first released last year:

iTV is a flat-out iFlop. Renamed Apple TV upon launch, the ballyhooed box has sold perhaps 250,000 units--far behind the 1 million sold for the iPhone, which was priced twice as high and has been on the market less than half as long. Apple ... provides detailed sales data for the iPod and other digital wonders but won't reveal any numbers for Apple TV; apparently the truth is too humiliating.

Jobs' own ambivalence about the iFlop, however, is evident. At a tech conference in May Jobs took the stage and casually dismissed Apple TV as merely "a hobby." In briefing Wall Street on quarterly earnings on July 25, Apple execs ignored the video product.

Jobs confined Apple TV to handling only the content you could get through Apple's own iTunes. This parochial and proprietary approach, in an increasingly open, Internet-infused world, had relegated the company's Macintosh line to a narrow slice of sales. Yet it also had let the iPod dominate online music, which may be why Jobs believed he could pull off the same thing in video. Wrong.

So here's the thing. In the days leading up to the Apple TV's release, I bemoaned the fact that it lacked DVR capabilities and thus could never be real competition for Microsoft's excellent Media Center software (available since 2002) and Media Center Extender hardware (available since 2004). That's still true today, and as I noted in my review of the Apple TV, the device is really just "an iPod designed for your living room instead of your pocket. It is simply yet another way to consume content purchased from Apple's nearly-ubiquitous iTunes Store." I award the thing 3 out of 5 stars and declared that it is "big on hype but short on functionality."


But is it a flop?


Maybe. I do like the idea of the Apple TV, though again, it's hugely diminished without DVR functionality. If you've completely bought into the Apple digital media ecosystem, it works pretty well. But even then there are limitations: You still can't buy any HD content on iTunes, relegating the box's 720p display capabilities moot. And if you rip your own DVDs to MPEG-4 or H.264 you have some choices to make, as the Apple TV can play back 640 x whatever movies aimed at the iPod, but the reverse isn't true of the slightly higher-resolution movies the Apple TV supports, but the iPod does not. The whole thing is kind of a mess. Technologically, the Apple TV is a mixed bag.


If these sales figures are to be believed, the Apple TV is a sales flop as well. If this were Microsoft, we'd all knowingly nod our heads at the notion that the company would simply issue a few upgrades and eventually get it right. But this is Apple, which tends to bolt from defeats, especially the high profile ones, as quickly as possible.And that's a shame, because the Apple TV could have turned into a cool product. For me, the most damning evidence that this will never happen is Jobs himself and his comments about it being "a hobby". It's just too bad.

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