Largely lost in the shuffle of Wednesday's grand Apple media event, showcasing the latest version of the iPad tablet, was another handy gadget rolled out by new CEO Tim Cook: another version of Apple TV.
The palm-size device, available March 16, now allows users to access content directly from iTunes or from Netflix and other partners, and has a genius feature that makes recommendations based on your selections.
Perhaps the computer and personal tech company's least popular product in the past, Apple TV sales have spiked lately, with sales in the last quarter of 2011 reaching a record 1.4 million, Cook said in an analyst conference call, though he said that in the scheme of things the device was basically "a hobby."
The set-top box, which Apple calls an "entertainment powerhouse," allows users to join and access Netflix directly from iTunes, as well as access other media there, and connects via an HDMI connection using your Wi-Fi network. The new device upgrades the system to 1080p with a modified user interface.
You can now use an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch as a remote control after downloading a free app from the App Store.
At just $99, the device is intended to be "a hub for the Apple ecosystem," says Michael Inouye, a digital home analyst for ABI Research. "Apple TV is less about being the central hub for all device connectivity/content sharing than it is about bringing Apple content -- iTunes and Apple devices -- to the main screen," he said. "Apple AirPlay (for streaming content from Apple devices to the Apple TV or other supported device) for instance is largely incompatible with DLNA [the Digital Living Network Alliance connection standard]; although there are software solutions that support both DLNA and AirPlay. "
Inouye said there has been speculation that Apple might finally be producing an actual smart TV, rather than just a set-top box, something the company seems to be slowly inching toward. "The TV business is a difficult market to operate" because of the high pricing pressure, he said, noting Sony Electronics' recent difficulties as an example. And because people like to show off their Apple devices to others, an expensive device that stays put and is only seen by guests might not have the same "image factor" as an iPhone, iPad or MacBook Air.
Helps Fill the Void
The last big change for Apple TV was last August, when a software upgrade allowed users to access all their purchases from iTunes via iCloud, and make new purchases, instead of connecting from a computer via Air Time or Home Sharing. That fell short a bit because of Apple's limited video content partner offerings, but the Netflix connection now helps fill that void.
While set-top boxes or STBs, can serve as an upgrade for non-connected televisions, "Apple has done little to differentiate this product from the other smart STBs out there," Inouye said. "The market for smart STBs in general has potential, but at the same time with the large number of connected CE devices a dedicated box could lose its value."