There has been ample speculation that the Apple TV will get a long overdue refresh during the September 9 Apple press event. And yesterday news surfaced that shipping time for the device has leaped to 1-2 weeks, which could be an indication that Apple is holding onto its stock until after the event. That got me wondering: Apart from boosting its paltry 160GB hard drive to something much meatier, and improving its media-management software, how exactly could Apple make the TV into an utterly fabulous gizmo?
Hulu Integration Right Out of the Box
Hulu is ascendant at the moment--even beating Time Warner Cable in recent viewing stats. It's time for Apple to sign a deal with Hulu to get it working directly through the Apple TV. This would transform the Apple TV from a slightly redundant media-sharing device into a seriously worthwhile set-top box. If both companies played nice together, it could allow Hulu to challenge the existing big players in TV content, and Apple to offer a competing model to the closed system that the big, mean cable companies currently operate--especially if it added in some kind of subscription bargain to the iTunes movie and TV show store.
There's no need for Apple to stop with Hulu either--a wide selection of Web-video content companies would build the Apple TV's desirability even more.
Apple TV App Store
This is a little left-field, but just think about what would happen if Apple released a software development kit for the TV, much as it's done for the iPhone, and launched an Apple TV App Store. This could transform the TV into a much, much more powerful machine. And why not? It's basically a network-connectable dedicated computer running a flavor of OS X. Add some extra functionality to Apple's signature infra-red remote, and the Remote Control app that already works on the iPhone, and you could enable much more sophisticated user interaction than Apple TV's UI currently supports.
What apps would go on there? Basic email interactivity, Flickr integration, local weather info, traffic reports, Internet radio: Basically many of the novel apps that make the iPhone such a potent smartphone, and which would've been hard to imagine at its launch. Casual gaming could certainly become a big deal--and ties in neatly with long-standing rumors about Apple's games market aspirations.
As well as having social net apps in the TV App Store, Apple should bake social networking technology right into the TV interface. It's a growing trend, as evidenced by IBM's recent patent on a smart remote control that lets users take part in live social network chats about the shows they're watching, and live Twitter feeds on the reruns of Fox shows Glee and Fringe.
There are pretty strong rumors that the upcoming iTunes 9, designed to support Apple's digital album concept "cocktail," will also sport some kind of social networking integration. It's potentially designed to drive up user buy-in to the iTunes store by sparking social-net discussion about the music. But it could also be a good model for how Apple TV could do the same thing.
USB Drive Support
Apple's official stance on the Apple TV's USB port is that it's not for user access, and only Apple engineers can use it for system monitoring and fixes. That's stuck in the craw of many Apple TV fans, which is why there are several hacks that let you connect-up an external hard-drive to the TV which significantly boosts its storage capacity. These hacks let you circumvent the slightly tiresome task of syncing over movie files from iTunes to the Apple TV for watching later.
It's time for Apple to officially embrace this, and make the USB drive support a built-in part of the Apple TV's capabilities. It's not beyond the pale, given that Apple's enabled USB drive support on its Airport Extreme base station, and it would certainly boost the TV's capabilities and usefulness.
Four quick'n'dirty ways Apple could turn its lost-sheep product into a world-beater--not the first time these suggestions have been made, but you never know when Apple might be listening. Did we miss something you'd like to see in Apple TV? Fire away in the comments.
[USB Port Photo via Engadget]