Will Apple TV get FaceTime, too?
August 27th, 2010
Daniel Eran Dilger
Everybody is talking about the expected new release of Apple TV 4.0, running iOS apps, streaming shows, and perhaps sporting a new iTV name. But the most interesting new potential of the device isn’t even being mentioned: FaceTime.
Sure, an iPod touch without a screen would make a great replacement for the existing Apple TV, which is a little too expensive to catch on, given its limitations. In particular, Apple never supported any provision for third party apps on the appliance.
Were Apple to launch a new iOS device near the rumored $99 price point, it would make sense that users who love their iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad would be interested in buying a complementary device that brings their content and and a similar app environment to their living room.
FaceTime in the living room
The biggest prospect of the new device has gone completely unstated however: it would be trivial for Apple to add a basic camera (just like iPhone 4’s front facing VGA cam, and as is widely believed to be added to iPod touch 4 as well), giving the new device both FaceTime capabilities and interactive gaming on the cheap, similar to Sony’s EyeToy.
FaceTime is currently tied to iPhone 4 via the mobile network, at least when initially placing a call. Based on some experimenting with a friend who works with commercial video conferencing gear, it appears FaceTime only needs to send something like an SMS message to Apple’s servers to register a phone number as FaceTime compatible.
Once that happens, that user can be subsequently called using FaceTime over only a WiFi connection. Since FaceTime is so similar to iChat, it won’t take much for Apple to release an update for Mac users than enable them to call iPhone users over FaceTime, and spread the FaceTime love to iPod touch users as well.
It’s not much of a stretch to also add FaceTime to the next Apple TV, something that would enable a user to contact their children or grandparents for one of those wonderfully personal FaceTime experiences Apple captures in its advertising.
Seeing your friends and family on TV would be even easier for the self conscious who balk at the idea of being on a video camera. After all, you’d be across the room on your couch, not with an iChat camera right in your face recording warts and all.
Having an iSight camera on the new Apple TV would also open up the device for a new class of immersive games. While Sony and Microsoft have worked to deliver impressive HD graphics, their consoles were outsold by the simple Nintendo Wii because it was cheap and accessible to a wider audience.
Why not target the same type of audience with a new class of TV-centric games? You not only have an equivalent to Sony’s EyeToy, which enables a sort of augmented reality where you are in the shot, but you can also use the accelerometer-based game controllers you already have: your iPod touch or iPhone. They even have a screen themselves for some really interesting gaming applications.
I wrote about these prospects earlier in considering what Apple TV could be if Apple actually threw some effort at it. Making it an iOS device at a lower price helps a lot, because it strips away the somewhat confusing “sync or stream” interface for Apple TV, rids it of its limited hard drive capacity, and makes it work a lot more like Apple’s other far more successful products.
Rather than being based on its own scaled down version of the Mac OS, an iOS based Apple TV 4 would also beg Apple’s mobile developers to throw out thousands of new apps scaled up to look good on HDTV. Incidentally, the new device is expected to have nearly the same resolution as iPad: 720p (1280×720 vs the iPad’s 1024×768).
That would result in three major formats for iOS apps: iPhone/iPod touch (which includes iPhone 4’s double enhanced resolution screen, operating at the same scale but with sharper graphics); iPad (intended for more sophisticated, full screen apps); and Apple TV (aimed at the same scale and resolution as iTunes Extras and iTunes LP). That’s less complication in resolution variety than Android has just within its smartphone realm.
Apple vs Google expands its theaters of war
Developers demonstrated giddy interest in Apple’s iPad before it had even chalked up impressive sales. It’s resulting success, wildly ahead of anyone’s projections, cemented Apple’s App Store as a safe bet for developers to invest in, and paved the way for Apple’s next foray, which certainly appears to be aimed directly at the TV.
Conversely, Google has done a poor job at managing Android, spending 2010 giving its platform stupid features like animated wallpaper while ignoring key capabilities such as proxy support (something business users desperately need).
The Android store has also established itself as a place for hobbyist junk, with the majority of Android’s “apps” actually being individual ringtones or wallpapers. Google hasn’t even set up a commercial market for many of the regions it distributes apps in, forcing even users who want to pay for apps to simply pirate them. And even in the US where users can buy apps, Google makes it far too easy for users to simply steal them instead.
Google has haphazard plans for tablets that involve both Chrome OS and Android, but Android tablets can’t connect to Android Market to download apps, so there’s no way for hardware makers or third party developers to support Google’s tablet ambitions with custom app features. Google is now eyeing the TV, but its enrapturement with advertising (the key problem retarding any progress in Android Market) is set to kill support from the broadcasters and networks Google hopes to take advantage of to absorb their revenues.
Apple isn’t primarily an advertiser; it’s a hardware company. That’s why Netflix and ABC and everyone else was willing to bet on iPad; they know Apple isn’t motivated to take their content for free and stick its own ads on it; Apple wants to partner with them, not rob them.
Google, like Microsoft, eyes everyone else’s money and sets out to just take it. That’s not to say Apple isn’t entering the ad market; it most definitely is. But it will be selling advertising as a service that promotes apps on its platform, not simply half-assedly throwing out a platform that assumes everyone will throw in their money and enable it to skim off the top of the pool as if it were a casino.
As Google has been.