Should Apple TV switch to the iPhone OS? The Apple TV was introduced in late 2006 but debuted alongside the iPhone at the Macworld 2007 keynote. Since then, the iPhone has become a huge, mainstream success and the Apple TV... well it reamins just a "hobby".
Technically, Apple TV is included under Apple's iTunes + iPod offerings, and it's been referred to as a big iPod for your TV. While low end iPods continue to run their embedded OS, the iPod touch and upcoming iPad run versions of the iPhone OS, Apple TV, by stark contrast, originally used a special version of Mac OS X Tiger. Though it has been updated to 2.x and 3.x over the years (and gotten a price cut to boot!), it remains in a sort of no-mans land, with more functionality than an iPod nano but far less than a proper Mac OS X machine like the Mac Mini.
The set-top box market is nebulous at best, but Apple chose to engage it -- much as it has the equally nebulous tablet market with the iPad, so we wonder if they wouldn't do better engaging it on the same terms -- with the iPhone OS and its 150,000 apps.
There would be problems to be sure. Right away the Apple TV's 1280x720 screen resolution is much greater than the iPhone's 480x320, and wider if shorter than the iPad's 1024x768. Ideally, the Apple TV should go to 1920x1080 to match other, modern display resolutions as well.
Apple is using optional pixel-doubling to let iPhone apps run "full-screen" on the iPad, and these were reportedly blurry and jaggy in early demos. Pixel-quadruplers would likely be even less kind. True resolution independence could be an answer to this, but we'll have to wait and here if Apple addresses that with iPhone 4.0 (perhaps in March).
The bigger problem would be control. The iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad all handle interactions via capacitive multitouch input -- you use your finger on the screen. I don't think there's a single 52" multitouch capacitive HDTV on the market. Apple has patents for Wii-mote style motion controllers that could fake fingers (if not touch) but they also have the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad -- all of which could (and already do via the Apple Remote app) serve as pretty good controllers. Hey, if your house has multiple devices, it could even handle multiple controllers...
So where does that leave us? Right now the Apple TV is an okay bridge to iTunes Store media -- music, movies, and TV content -- but leverages not at all the massive App Store ecosystem. Right now the Apple TV can do the equivalent of the iPod and YouTube apps on the iPhone, but can't show you your Calendar or Contacts, doesn't have Safari or Email, doesn't even have widgets like Stocks or Weather. And it doesn't have 150,000 other apps -- including games! -- that running the iPhone OS could bring it. Really, it's little more than a souped-up iPod classic tethered to your TV.
Sure there would be problems implementing the iPhone OS on the Apple TV, but there would be benefits as well.
So what do you think, should Apple TV be switched to the iPhone OS?