Apple’s iDongle Still Falls Short

AppleTV – Take 2 – The Apple Blog The Apple Blog has a quick run down on AppleTV — Take 2.

My mom bought me an AppleTV for Christmas and I returned it to Apple. Sorry mom. It’s fun seeing my mom turn into a Machead and all (she has two Mac computers now and an iPod), but AppleTV is still not for me.

Remember, it was Thomas Hawk who first called this thing the iDongle and told you it would fail back in September of 2006.

The AppleBlog has a quick run down on the new features of the less than successful AppleTV product:

* No computer required
* Rent movies directly from the AppleTV (HD movies for $3.99; $4.99 for new releases)
* DVD quality and HD quality + Dolby 5.1
* Buy music directly from AppleTV
* Browse podcasts (audio and video)
* Browse photos from Flickr and .Mac
* Sync with iTunes
* Preview movies and see what other users have rented
* Run photo screensavers pulled from .Mac web galleries

So what are the problems in my opinion?

Well, first, there is *still* no DVR. What the hell. People want a DVR. Microsoft’s competing product the XBOX 360 as an extender unit lets you stream your DVR recordings. You can’t use the iDongle to get premium HDTV DVR content. No, I’m not talking OTA recordings that you might be able to get with EyeTV and then stream to your iDongle. I’m talking about real life premium HDTV content.

There’s also still no DVD player. The XBox 360 (which can also stream video, music, photos, etc.) has a built in DVD player, plus it’s an awesome gaming console. Seems like a better deal to me.

Finally, the thing relies on iTunes for music and I think iTunes sucks for large digital media collections as I’ve written about before — too much gapless playback processing, searching for album art, etc. etc. and not enough actual playing of music.

Nice try Apple, but I still think the iDongle needs to go back to the drawing board. Include a HDTV DVR in it (yes, yes, I know, then you’ll sell me less movies, but whatever), put a DVD player in it, they are super cheap (yes, yes, again I know, if I get my content from Netflix then this means even less money spent on your movie service), and then we might have something. Oh, and give me a way to disable gapless playback processing and endless searches for album art.

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  1. TranceMist says:

    I can’t say that I agree with you on this one… DVR? To record what? There’s next to nothing on TV worth watching and the few things that are can be had for free without commercials with BitTorrent.

  2. Philip says:

    It’s pretty obvious to anyone watching, that there will never be an Apple DVR. That’s not the strategic direction they’re taking. They appear to be even deprecating optical media in favor of internet delivered media.

    A DVR would do me no good – I have nothing to record as everything we watch comes from the Internet one way or the other and is about 70% viewed on Apple TV to HD screen and about 30% on one or other of the four Macs in the house.


  3. photoTristan says:

    I think movie rentals on the Apple TV looks awesome!

    People want instant gratification and I can imagine how nice it will be to be able to choose a movie to rent and start watching it instantly, especially in HD (Apple’s version of High Definition is not true 1080p yet but I’m sure it still looks great!). No more waiting for a Netflix disc to be mailed or driving to a Blockbuster to pick up a movie to watch.

    Granted, it’s not perfect because it does not have a built in TV tuner with a DVR. Nor does it have a DVD player in it so you will need separate boxes for those functions. But many have those already so just adding the Apple TV to use as a movie rental service seems totally realistic to me.

  4. Shawn Oster says:

    I agree with Thomas, without a DVR the iDongle is worthless.

    The reason a DVR is important is because without it I never would have watched ‘Life’ (great show), nor would I have seen the wonderful movie ‘The Barefoot Contessa’ with Bogart and Gardner. TV watching to me and my wife is still very much an impulse thing and torrenting or buying episodes makes me think about my time and money. Is watching a new show worth the $2 and download time? Nah, not really. There are a slew of Discovery shows I never would have watched without a DVR and I know for a fact that my wife is too addicted to ‘Heroes’ to wait until the next day to buy it yet we’re rarely ready to watch TV at 8pm. I’ll gladly put up with skipping commercials to have instant, legal and cheap access to whatever I recorded.

    One thing I find funny is that trancemist and philip aren’t actually saying anything positive about AppleTV, instead just taking issue with DVR. There are better and cheaper video streamers on the market, the 360 being the best one IMHO, and if all they do is get their content illegally via BitTorrent and stream it to a box next to their TV then that’s a ringing endorsement for streamer, not anything AppleTV does uniquely.

  5. Shawn Oster says:

    @photoTristan: I’ll bet you a bottle of your favorite libation that “start watching it instantly” will be more like, “wait 30 to 60 minutes for it to buffer”.

    I could easily be wrong but I’ve yet to see a video streaming service be anywhere close to “instant” when under load, especially if you add HD and most people’s slow internet connections into the mix.

  6. Thiago says:

    I think they’re heading in the right direction. Younger people spend much more time on the internet that in front of the TV. I’m not event a teenager anymore, and I barely watch TV myself.

    I use my cable service to watch a couple of series. Period. Why bother getting a DVR if I can pay 1.99 and download the episode I want to watch…when I decided to watch, without commercials and without worrying about setting the thing up to record my show?

    I watch lots of movies, which I download ripped from BitTorrent for free, watch, and delete. I wouldn’t mind paying 3.99 for having an instant download, better image quality and proper subtitles when needed. But I haven’t rented a DVD for myself in years.

    Plus, if I can watch so much independent, creative youtube videos and podcasts, why would I ever care about most of the garbage produced nowadays for TV? Seriously, take out series and movies…what is left?

    I think they see what the future will be, and are pushing it instead of supporting old models.

    Assuming that the online rental have a decent selection of movies, I’ll cancel my cable subscription and buy an Apple TV the day the service becomes available in Canada.

  7. MemeSlider says:

    You know… before I agreed with you. The two things I felt were lacking in the Apple TV were HD and DVR. Well, today we get HD, but now I don’t think I care about a DVR. And now I believe that people only *think* that they want a DVR.

    I am an Executive Producer at a company that owns a few cable networks. I help create design packages, promos, interstitials, etc. for these networks. I say this because I know that my days in network promotions are numbered. We really don’t need broadcast networks anymore.

    As a consumer however, I feel like I am being overcharged for Comcast’s cable TV service. I really only appreciate the premium shows from HBO, Showtime, etc. The other channels are not worth much to me, but I am saddled with them just to get to the Premium tiers. And all I care about are the shows. The content. Not one iota about the network that delivers it.

    Doing the math I spend about $1200 a year just on cable TV. Written out, that seems like a lot of money! Why? So I can record a few shows on my DVR? I am happier waiting for the entire season of Dexter to be available on DVD and then watching the whole season in a weekend. I’m a little surprised at this, but I enjoy the show more.

    I am beginning to see the value in dumping cable TV and getting a box that will play video files. Files that I buy from iTunes, make myself or, in the not-too-distant future, purchase and download directly from the content producers themselves.

    So no more networks… just an internet connection and content. What use then, is a DVR?

    You will not see DVR functionality in the Apple TV. Ever. Because Steve knows what I know and will use his company’s resources to design for the future and accelerate the change.

    Meanwhile, I better get writing on my show ideas, I’m going to be out of a job soon!

  8. Todd says:

    I don’t believe people WANT a DVR. What they want is to watch what they want, when they want. The DVR is a temporary hack. It won’t be long until we get any show, any movie, any time anywhere. Then what use would the DVR be?

  9. Mike Panic says:

    I still think that one of the biggest short-comings is the fact that movies won’t be available until 30 days after they are released on DVD. Thats right about the time that Blockbuster and similar stores start to discount the “previously viewed” selection to 4 for $20.

  10. Hawk says:

    You mention that the Apple TV is not a DVR, and that the Xbox 360 allows you to work as a media center extender.

    While that is true, it doesn’t support your point that Microsoft’s product Does It and Apple’s Does Not. Neither product is a DVR.

  11. Thomas Hawk says:

    Guys, say what you will about the future… but… I called this thing the iDongle over a year ago and we’re living in the here and now today.

    As it stands today, my top two ways (and I’m an early adopter) of getting content to my television are through a DVR and through Netflix.

    AppleTV can not accomodate either of these methods at present.


    I do hear what you are saying though and actually what you are saying makes me think.

    I could actually envision a future in my life where I cancelled my broadcast service and just existed on a diet of Netflix and OTA HDTV. But it will still be convenient for me to have a DVD player on the unit connected to my HDTV extender unit and a DVR to capture my OTA content to stream to my TV box device.

    I still think the XBox 360 does a better job at this than AppleTV and it is also a kick ass gaming console.

    Also, iTunes is still the backbone of the AppleTV experience, and as long as iTunes does such a horrible job with my media library — Apple *please* let your users disable gapless playback and album art as an option — it’s difficult for me to get excited about building a strategy around AppleTV.

  12. Great Post Thomas! I don’t necessarily agree but that’s cool.

    I have referenced your post on a post on my blog here:

  13. Tinpanharry says:

    There are many good comments here and I know I am coming in late to the conversation. Here are my two cents worth.

    I do think the future is from the web, not the DVR, but right now a PVR is the simplest way to easily record and watch the shows I want.

    I have used bittorrent, apple tv, sage and Beyond TV, and own 2 Dish DVR units. My satellite tv provider makes it happen so much easier. Convenience is what I am paying for.

    That being said, I would LOVE replace my satellite providers monthly DVR fees for something else. But nothing is as easy.

  14. Greetings! Thank you for your thoughtful post!