Apple iTunes

Apple iTunes

Apple iTunes
When Apple uncharacteristically showed an early preview of its tentatively named iTV set top box, analysts of all stripes jumped to share their take on what the box is, what it will be able to do, and how it might change the landscape of TV.
The Case of the Missing DVR looked at why Apple isn’t positioning the iTV as another Tivo. Here's a second look at the more entertaining bits of rampant iTV speculation, this time looking at USB and what lurks inside.
All About USB
A second wave of analysts were a lot closer in describing the iTV as a wireless TV extender. Of course, that was fairly obvious given the lack of anything on it beyond AV outputs and networking.
But there was one more thing... USB. In How Apple's iTV Media Strategy Works, I suggested that USB was likely included for the same reasons as Airport Express, or for an external hard drive; readers wrote in to suggest it was more likely for a very specific hard drive: the iPod.
We have since found out from Disney's Bob Iger that the iTV will apparently incorporate a small hard drive. That means an external drive, and in particular a portable one with a clickwheel, would seem to be a natural extension of whatever the internal one does.
What About Bob?
Reasonable explanations didn't stop Robert X Cringely from throwing in some more delightful absurdity: he decided the USB was there for an iSight camera.
Of course, it would no doubt be more cost effective for Apple to embed a cheap MacBook style camera into the iTV rather than expect users to shell out half again the price of the iTV for an iSight, but who’s counting dollars?
There is also that other problem: Apple’s external iSight is actually a Firewire camera... but why sweat the details? If you can say you're Robert X Cringley, and several people can, why not go completely nuts with your prognostications and speculate that the iTV will actually be an EyeToy-TV? Imagine the iPodesque ads!
Grandmas in Cringelyland
No, the supposed point of this Cringelyland Firew...USB camera dangling from the iTV wouldn’t be to get fat kids to burn off a few WalMart sized sodas by jumping around in front of the TV, but rather to allow grandma to watch movies with her grandkids.
I bet grandma would hate that. I also suspect that the video quality involved with trying to stream watchable video (that's right, a shared broadcast of a movie, not a teleconference) between families wouldn't capture the attention of grandma or the kids.
If downloading a feature length, decent quality movie can now be done over typical 1.5 Mbit/s broadband Internet (if you don't mind the wait), why not beam it around to all your friends as well, using the choked off 0.256 Mbit/s upload typical on most DSL or cable systems?
Oh wait! That might actually pose a problem. Most broadband has no upload capacity, and strict limits on serving data.
Perhaps grandma will settle for virtually watching the movie with the grandkids, not just in another house, but six hours later. Virtual togetherness is so touching; it can transcend time and space, and apparently even physics and economics.
While I do think Apple has a killer app in the wings in the area of VoIP, and Apple's software executive Bertrand Serlet confirmed that the company was looking at adding telephony services to Mac OS X Server, I don't think Apple sees any point in multi-casting movies to grandma, considering the scant likehood of anyone actually being interested in such a bizarre scenario, the lack of any underlying business plan, and the current technical roadblocks.
Conroe Powered?
Lets leave Cringelyland and visit the slightly less absurd, but equally bizarre world of Ars Technica. Readers will remember Ars Technica as one of the ringleaders of the Darwin Microkernel Myth as well as the Mac OS X Needs A Linux Kernel Myth.
More recently, Ars’ John Stokes suggested that Apple's iTV set top box would likely use Intel's coming Conroe-L processor. That's the chip Intel has planned for low end PCs, under the Celeron and Pentium E1000 brands.
This is an odd idea, given that the desktop processor will cost far too much ($130-180) for a $299 device. Even more problematically, it won't be available until the second quarter of next year. If time and money don't count for anything, there's also no room for such a big hot part inside the tiny iTV.
Again, if time, space, physics, and economics aren’t significant enough barriers, we can also throw in logic: the biggest problem with this speculation is that the iTV doesn't need a general purpose desktop processor.
An underpowered version of a desktop processor might be just the thing if Apple wanted to position a cheap PC running a desktop operating system as a media center, but it simply makes more sense to scale the iPod up rather than dumb a PC down further.
All the iTV needs is a video decoder and an embedded processor (or two), very similar to what is now in the iPod. In fact, the iPod and iTV share many similarities, which I’ll describe in an upcoming article.
But enough about iTV mystery, what will the iTV actually do? More than you might think!
This Series
What do you think? I really like to hear from readers. Leave a comment or email me with your ideas.
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Apple’s iTV: Clues in USB
Thursday, September 28, 2006
Apple iTunes

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