Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Creating Apps for Apple TV

This past weekend a good friend, who is a fellow Apple junkie, told me about how to get Netflix and Hulu on my Apple TV using an application called I was on the fence about installing this application because of the complex installation process that involves a patchstick, and the additional time and expertise required to use and maintain a hacked device. During my research about Boxee I found a wiki called AwkwardTV that is a resource for a community of developers who develop applications to run on the Apple TV.

Here is a brief excerpt from this website:
"Out of the box, it [Apple TV] is enabled to stream digital content from any computer running iTunes. As there is little information provided about what is going on "under the hood" of the Apple TV, this is a place to collect and share information... This website is dedicated to finding additional uses for the Apple TV by (legitimately) enabling its Potential Capabilities, and is a place for the community to share ideas, discoveries and solutions."

One of the most interesting things I discovered on this site was a list of potential capabilities of the AppleTV. This list includes a lot of pretty cool functionality. However, most of this functionality is not yet leveraged by any existing applications. Considering that the Apple TV is a computer, Apple could choose to release an SDK and make an even wider range of capabilities available to developers (the awkwardTV community specifically calls for this to happen). Here are some highlights from the full list of potential capabilities of the Apple TV:
  • Stream and sync additional video and audio formats
  • Increase internal storage and connect external storage
  • Connect a TV tuner for recording and use as a DVR
  • Connect DVD and HD-DVD drive for playback of music and video
  • Play games using arcade and console emulators
  • Convert the Apple TV into a player for Netflix, Hulu, and other video sites
  • Work as an In Car Entertainment(ICE)/Carputer/CarPC unit
  • Run Linux, Webserver Apache, and USB print server
All of this leads me to starting thinking about whether an application store will soon be launched on the Apple TV. The more I think about it more, the more probable it seems. Apple is already selling audio and video content directly via the Apple TV so the infrastructure already exists. Also, the current success of the iPhone app is likely to strengthen the business case for offering users the opportunity to customize the functionality on their own devices. All that said, no SDK has been released for the AppleTV so it will take a while for an App store to be born and Apple is likely concerned about cannibalizing their iTunes revenue stream.

I'm getting off track here. The real point of this post is to consider the interaction design opportunities offered by transforming the Apple TV into a platform. So here is a short list of product and service ideas generated using a 5 minute brainstorm:
  • Enable users to receive updates from their calendar, and notifications from messaging applications via the Apple TV.
  • Create video games and other applications that integrates the iPhone as a control device.
  • Develop applications with social capabilities for people to enjoy content while holding conversations with friends that are viewing the same content remotely via web or another Apple TV.
  • Develop applications to enable users to control relevant digital appliances throughout the house using an on-screen interface (turn on coffee maker, the stereo or get the water going for your bath).
  • Enable wider adoption of video conferencing by creating easier to use software in a more appropriate context. Functionality improvements can include simple on-screen menus that are easy to use and support of using the iPhone to control application. A large screen TV in a living room with a couch can be an ideal context for this device in a family home as the whole family can participate in the conference simultaneously.
  • Support touch-based interfaces using touch screen adapters such as the interactive foil from Visual Planet that I featured in a post a few months back [check it out in action here].
An interesting aspect about this evolution of the Apple TV, is that it is part of a broader trend: the migration of data services to TVs using various types of devices - video game consoles, computers and "task-specific" devices such as the iPhone. This is an area where an interaction paradigm has not been established as firmly as on the desktop, which means that it is an area that is ripe for innovation.


Milind said...

I wonder if Apple will bring in an App Store for the AppleTV when they go 3.0. I hope they do. Using the iPhone/Touch as a gaming controller, the AppleTV could be the next big thing in home entertainment.

Sirius said...

i guess you didnt really look too far into third party appliances available when you made the list of things that no one leverages. a big chunk of that list on the top can be accomplished by my appliance nitoTV. On top of that, i wouldnt hold your breathe on an AppleTV SDK, i dont think there is plans for one. IN addition most of the third party appliances available (Which i dont think you did any research on) would NEVER be allowed by the stringent rules that Apple would probably put in place if they ever did release an SDK. Look at the iPhone as example, its like a 40 page document laying out everything you aren't allowed to do, the AppleTV would be no different.

Julio Terra said...

Sirius, I did read about your software on the awkwardTV wiki. It sounds like a pretty cool application. I have only recently started looking into these types of appliances and boxee seems to be the easiest to install (though definitely limited in capability). I am interested in learning more about what other cool stuff is out there. Are there any specific appliances that you recommend I look into?

Mark said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Phoebe said...

Looks really interesting - here's hoping AppleTV will facilitate innovation.