Could the Apple TV be Replaced by the iPhone, iPod, or iTablet?

Screen shot 2009-09-14 at 11.02.30 AM

With Apple consolidating its Apple TV offerings this morning down to a single 160GB SKU at a lower $229 price point, we're once again split between Apple axing their "hobby" or giving it a much-needed refresh.

If Apple does axe the Apple TV, however, something would need to take its place in the living room. Could that something be the iPhone 3GS and iPod touch G3 and the still-mythic iTablet? Dock them properly to an HD TV, and could you have a solution with one heck of a built in controller?

We know the iPhone (and likely new iPod touch) can support 720p and 1080p out. We even hoped Apple would flip the switch on that feature last week in order to better position themselves competitively against the about-to-ship Zune HD. They could still flip it at some point, however, along with introducing new HDMI-based video output cables.

This would go a long way towards showing iPhone and iPod touch content on the big screen, but right now one of the Apple TV's strengths is streaming rather than just storing and showing. You can attach an Apple TV to your HD TV and, without any local content, stream all the iTunes media you have on your Mac or Windows PC, and the potentially 2TB drives that can now attach to those (or more with RAID, Drobo, etc.)

Neither iPhone nor iPod have ethernet, and both are stuck on the older, slower 802.11g Wi-Fi standard (though the iPod touch G3 might be updatable to 802.11n).

That's where an iTablet, presumably with much beefier internals and faster Wi-Fi (though we still doubt ethernet) comes in. Apple could position it as a dock-at-home, take it with you on-the-go solution.

Of course, whether you'd want to lock your iTablet to a TV rather than using it to surf and chat while watching TV is debatable, and could be a deal-breaker for many. Though better that than just trying to up-sell everyone to a Mac Mini...

Looking at it this way, it seems that even in an iPhone, iPod touch, and perhaps iTablet world, there's still a place for an Apple TV in the lineup. If only for now.

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Could the Apple TV be Replaced by the iPhone, iPod, or iTablet?


i love our apple tv and use it with our 2tb drive on my mac i use my iphone as a remote pretty frequently i dont see it being replaced i would like to see it upgraded though. the content would take up to much room on iphones or whatever imo because there are still some that i like to have stored locally on the apple tv like mickey mouse for my son :)

I suspect that Apple realizes this product line is going nowhere, and the hobby market is not all that compelling when everybody has a dvr and big screen to watch.
VLC can stream to just about anything (except an iphone) from any windows box.
OpenSuse and Myth-ubuntu offer one click installs of MythTV which will also stream.
(None of these are point-and-click solutions your grandmother can get working but they are getting better).
Mostly, I just think Apple has bigger fish to fry.

"Could the Apple TV be Replaced by the iPhone, iPod, or iTablet?"
If you are asking yourself this question you need to buy an Apple TV and try it out.
I think a TV could replace the Apple TV by simply putting what the Apple TV has inside of a TV set, thereby consolidating the two pieces of hardware into one.
I do not believe a portable device can replace the Apple TV for the simple fact that when I come home, the Apple TV is there ready to go. Nothing to plug in, just turn on the TV press the input selector and go. An iPhone needs to be able to make or receive phone calls and a tablet/laptop needs to be available to leave the room which would detract from a movie watching experience which is the point of plugging any of the three (apple tv, iPhone, tablet/laptop) into a HDTV set.

Why even have local storage on the Apple TV. I don't need 160GB when I have my computer! Also, why no 1080P out?? Makes no sense. We got one at the TV station I worked at and were cometely mystified that this option didn't exist.

They don't need to replace the AppleTV. They need to work on the pricing model of it. Apple gets around $12/Month from me, renting movies. They have replaced my local blockbuster for renting movies. No portable device would be able to substitute this for me. The reason I use it is because it is simple. If it were based on my mobile device, ti wouldnt be as simple.
That said, I still keep a NetFlix account for the DVDs that aren't on iTunes. I have found myself watching streaming movies more and more, and if my TV, Set top box or DVD player had Netflix streaming built in, I would use it more. Netflix is the #1 threat to the AppleTV. The only thing holding Netflix back is their library of available movies. If the AppleTV offered an unlimited streaming option of all of their library, even if it was more expensive, even if it was a multitude more expensive than Netflix, I would subscribe to it and cancel Netflix and possibly my cable company. I would easily pay $50-60/month for this service, as I would be able to cancel my cable and Netflix account.
Moving from the AppleTV to a portable device with an interface would not only lose out on my $12 a month, they would be getting further away from my $700 a year.

I love my apptv. There is definately a place for it. I couldn't see myself hooking up my iPhone to the tv. I do not have a land line, so what do I do when I get a call.
To me netflix sucks. The only reason why apptv sales may not be good, is because apple does not focus on it like they do thier macs and iPods/iPhone. Start throwing some marketing dollars at it watch sales soar. To me it is as innovative as any of thier other products.

I agree that a stand alone device is a must. Every time I attempt to use my wife's iphone for watching or youtube videos I am constantly interrupted by phone calls and text messages. Great content is key otherwise why bother. Free hulu seems to be improving its offerings by leaps and bounds daily! It is tough to buy in to this constantly evolving technology. Most people simply don't understand apple tv and its functions. It really is a relatively non marketed product by apple. I am able to easily use my macbook to watch 480P one my lcd by purchasing a cheap mini dv to hdmi cable and hook it up to the back of my tv and control it with my wife's iphone using trackpad as my remote control. The problem with this is that it ties up these devices. I would be happy to give up cable tv if it were more simple and seamless. Anyone have any great solutions. Please share!

What about replacing the Apple TV with a new home entertainment product possibly a game console with the Apple TV capabilities built in. If Apple follows the same strategy as the App Store and iTunes, it could easily be bigger than any game system out there

IMO any set top box that doesn't do DVR is a waste of my time. But that would cut into the amount of paid downloads apple would get if they allowed you to record shows to it. I'd consider an apple tv if they added either a great new gaming console to go with it or DVR functionality. Adding both would be a HUGE game changer. In fact, it sounds like the apple-style edge they would need to have in order to introduce another gaming console into the market. It'd be goodbye to windows media center for me, and good riddance too.

I own the Apple TV - though I didn't "get it" until I actually used one. Bring one home and you'll have that "Aha!" moment. beautiful interface and access to all of my digital content with some creative tweaking ;)
iTunes offers content destined for the TV, therefore apple MUST commit to a device that brings it there simply ...hence Apple TV is going nowhere. It is a pawn though - its holding the square but can be given up if something better comes by, which ain't the tablet for sure - if anything a tablet / apple tv combo would be a living room dream solution.
I suspect Apple TV didn't get any love because its future will be tied to the iTablet announcement in February. I suspect we will see modest features improvements for Apple TV and solid connectivity between the two devices.
Anyone want to look at album artwork or read lyrics while playing an album on Apple TV? Tablet. Anyone want to chat about a movie they're watching on Apple TV? Tablet. Anyone want to go through chapter search, view movie artwork or read reviews of the movies for sale on your Apple TV? ...tablet. Tablet is the ultimate couch companion for the Apple TV box.