When the new version of Apple TV launches later this week, and more specifically when Apple (AAPL) adds AirPlay functionality with the iOS4 update coming in November, expect an influx of cool new apps that link your iPhone and iPad to your TV.
There already are some apps that are poised to make all your Apple devices work together in some very cool home entertainment ways. First and foremost is Apple’s free Remote app, which was just updated. As you might guess, Remote turns your iPhone into a remote control – you can use it on your home Wi-Fi network to control other Wi-Fi devices, like iTunes playing on a laptop in another room. The new update lets your iPhone control Apple TV, and as long as both devices are on the same Wi-Fi network, you don’t need to be anywhere near the TV to control it.
A scaled-down hobby seeks higher ambitions
A little background on Apple TV: it’s a scaled-down version of Apple’s set top box that will retail for about $100. The new Apple TV box connects to your Wi-Fi network, and through it, links your TV to your iTunes account. Because it doesn’t have a hard drive, you can’t download things to Apple TV (specifically, files from iTunes like movies and TV shows), but you can stream them. That allows Apple TV to rent shows and movies from iTunes and play them for you almost immediately. It also works with Netflix Instant video streaming, which is an incredible service and might make Apple TV worth it regardless of any of the other things it can do.
When the new iOS update drops, Apple will release new software called AirPlay, which allows additional linking between Apple devices on a Wi-Fi network. Basically, it’ll let your computer be Apple TV’s hard drive, since you’ll be able to stream any media from your computer to your TV. The same is true for other devices, like iPads and iPhones – they’ll all talk to each other via AirPlay, and the all stream content to Apple TV.
Like the Remote app, it’s going to be interesting to see what cool new apps third-party developers start rolling out when they get the opportunity to start messing with AirPlay. There are lots of programs now that allow the syncing of files between devices – expect to see more of the same on Apple TV, like instant access to presentation files (think PowerPoint) and maybe even the ability to read documents and, almost certainly, browse the web. Apple TV has web browser capability built in, but it’s limited to certain sites like Flicker and YouTube.
Some remaining challenges
Unfortunately, Apple TV’s lack of a hard drive, while useful for keeping the price down, means there won’t be apps for it specifically. It also means you won’t be using your TV as another computer monitor – you can watch videos on it, for example, but it doesn’t have the power to let you edit those videos, as PC Mag mentioned in its Apple TV review.
Apple TV could get really great if entertainment companies see the potential and start opening up apps that link the service to their content. For example: Netflix recently released a free app meant to let its Instant service users stream movies to their iPhones and iPods. And PlayOn released an app to go with its subscription service to do the same thing – except the PlayOn service does exactly what AirPlay does for free.
If companies such as Hulu jump on this bandwagon, we could see the middlemen like PlayOn cut loose, and users paying entertainment companies directly for subscription-based apps to stream to their TVs. We could also see free “last night’s episode” apps, which is basically what Hulu provides on your computer, and which could make watching TV much easier for Apple fans.
And another cool possibility: control link apps for services such as DVR on your computer. DirecTV already lets iPhone owners queue up shows to be recorded from wherever they are using its app, which connects to their satellite box back at home. You can actually search for shows on your phone and tell your TV to record them. Apple TV and AirPlay can open that function up to a lot more customers with a range of providers – and not just cable companies, either. Think of standing in line at the bank, using your iPhone to tell your computer to record that night’s episode of “Glee,” then using your iPhone to start the show and control your TV when you get back home, all from the same app. There are definitely a lot of possibilities.
Check out PC Mag’s unboxing video to see a little more of what Apple TV is like.