Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Apple TV 2013 & Beyond

In my last post I talked about how Apple sometimes get things wrong but that when they get things right, they get them very, very right indeed But, there's an elephant in the room here... If Apple only create huge successes and moderate failures, what then is Apple TV? It's certainly not one of Apple's glorious successes yet but neither does it feel like a cock up.

The official line from Apple CEO Tim Cook seems to be "We do it because we think it can lead us somewhere" so it seems safe to assume that the device will be further developed in the near future but how?

Current Predictions:

Thus far, most predictions I've seen or heard about concern either the integration of a screen or Apple TV getting its own app-store. Whilst either could be true I'm not totally convinced, If I were Apple I'd view the hardware of screen as being a necessary peripheral - let someone else do the hard work of making the damn thing, shipping it, dealing with faults and the fact that the features you shipped it with became obsolete within months of it going on sale.

On the other hand, whilst the idea of Apple TV getting its own app-store is intriguing, would that not be somewhat in conflict with what the device already does with AirPlay? (Which theoretically enables people to use games/app on thier iPhones via thier Apple TV) and I'd guess that there's also been some discussion at Apple HQ about how to ensure a quality & stable experience - people tolerate apps on thier phone crashing now and again but they'll be much less prepared to tolerate those kinds of issues in a TV context where they tend to expect things to work much more reliably.

So, what will it be?

Okay, so if it's not TV hardware or an App Store the question is, what are they going to do that's going to change the device from being an intriguing hobby to being the next must-have digital accessory? Well, I have a few ideas which I'd like to share with you:

1) Remote controls are shit:

Apple are really into interfaces and improving user experience. It therefore seems logical that they might try and integrate some of the technology or approaches that they've used in thier other devices to improve the current (shit) solution of the IR remote control. Given the living-room context It's unlikely that this'll mean touchscreen but it could mean voice control or perhaps even gesture control as is currently being developed in the current range of Samsung TVs.

2) Integrating cameras:

Gesture control could be done with accelerometers in a device of some kind but a more flexible solution might be to use stereoscopic cameras (as per Samsung's approach and the Kinenct).

3) Integrate FaceTime:

Okay, so now we have an Apple TV that uses gesture control via stereoscopic cameras. Once you've got that it seems like a no-brainer that you'd integrate FaceTime too no? Video conferencing isn't a particularly satisfying experience on an iPhone, it's a little better on an iPad but on a TV it makes a lot more sense which is why it's done that way in the board room. The increased distance from the screen means that you don't tend to notice that people's eyeline isn't perfectly fixed on you and therefore the experience feels significantly more natural.

4) 3D FaceTime!

Right... Now we have an Apple TV with gesture control driven by stereoscopic cameras and FaceTime. Lets assume that this is also attatched to one of the newer generations of television many of which support 3D. It seems like a no-brainer therefore that the next thing apple might try to do is utilise the stereoscopic cameras once again and introduce FaceTime in 3D?

Now, 3D is a technology that has challenges. Firstly, people don't really like having to wear glasses (although screens that don't need glasses are beginning to appear) but frankly, I think the main issue is that - for a film - it's a bit of a pointless technology. I don't think people need the increased realism of 3D to enjoy a film, watching films is largely an escapist activity and is all about suspension of disbelief. Like the Uncanny Valley theory from robotics, there's a point at which increased realism becomes distracting and actually degrades the experience.

With video conferencing however this could be different. In today's modern distributed society many, if not all of us, have friends and loved-ones that are distant from us and therefore we rely on communications technologies to enable us to maintain those relationships. In this context the greater realism afforded by 3D could improve the video conferencing experience significantly and therefore could well become the killer app in this area.

So... There you go, that's what I think they'll do and the reasons why but, if they don't, someone else surely should!



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