I normally don't review products or specifically recommend them but the difference between the success of the iPod and Apple TV teaches some important lessons to anyone with ambitions in the digitized media markets of the 21st century.
Apple TV's competitor is not the video rental store on the corner, it's not even online companies like Netflix. It's The Piratebay and sites like it. And it will be hard to re-learn new customers to buy media for watching though devices like Apple TV when they've been using somewhat comparable devices for freely watching media for a few years.
I own both a Mac laptop and an iPod and use them both to listen to music, podcasts, recorded lectures, audiobooks and watch movies on planes & trains. Even though my 60GigaByte iPod is two-thirds full I've never bought anything through iTunes. Why would I? Firstly I'd have to pay for it while there's more than plenty music freely available (downloading is legal in the Netherlands and some other EU countries as long as you're not making a profit from it by reselling or renting). Then there's the fact that Apple ties the music it sells to me to their device. And while I like my iPod a lot I want to retain the option to switch to something else in the future (maybe my new Nokia phone that holds 8GigaByte of data). My downloaded MP3's do not restrict me in any way. Oh, and did I mention they were free? It's a pretty easy choice.
The iPod is successful because it does not restrict me from playing a relatively open (and widely available) format such as MP3, downloaded or ripped from CD's I owned. Apple TV on the other hand comes with all kind of restrictions built in. While I could buy (or rent) movies from Apple and watch them on my TV through the Apple TV device this is a big limitation compared to being able to choose the source of media myself, choose to payment level and method myself and then do with the file as I please (transfer it to a non-Apple device for instance). While the Apple TV has a nice Interface to control it from the couch so do various other devices at a lower cost. These also do not restrict me in my sources of media like Apple TV. So why would I buy a 300 euro Apple device that ties me down to the Apple media store when I can get a better device for under 200 that does not?
Apple seems to be making the same mistake as Sony did some years back. You remember Sony don't you? They used to make these things called Walkmans in the late seventies - I bought several of them. Then when customers started demanding MP3 players Sony did not deliver because it's management feared that would hurt their CD business. Apple did not have a CD business and felt no such limitations. They blew Sony's 25-year legacy of building the hottest mobile music devices out of the water in in few short years.
So now there's Apple trying to tie us to their storefront through a device while other device makers don't. Its pretty obvious what is going to happen. As long as Apple (or any other manufacturer) tries these kind of tie-ins I'll stay away. And so will the dozens of people who rely on me to make tech-purchasing decisions for them. Instead I'll move to a device that gives me the freedoms I demand from a media center and I'm taking a buss load of potential customers with me. So will most of my tech-savy friends. If Apple does not want to be the next Sony the need to shape up and let me choose freely the source and file-format of my digital media. Only then will I consider taking my mac-ownership to the next level.
(this brainwave was created with Aldert - thanks man!)