Fast Company

Boxee Responds to Apple TV: "We're Taking a Different Path"

Boxee Beta from boxee on Vimeo.

Apple's newly redesigned, strikingly simple and unnervingly cheap Apple TV is going to be trouble for a lot of other companies in the media center space. Some, like Roku, may have trouble competing at all anymore, and some analysts have put the upcoming Boxee Box in the same category. Boxee, unsurprisingly, disagrees.

Boxee is an open-source media center, currently available as a free software download on a score of other products (including Mac, Windows, Linux, Xbox, and, coincidentally, the last-gen Apple TV). It's a connected media streamer, albeit with more of an emphasis on local content than the Apple TV, but it's also emblematic of an older conception of this kind of product. It's highly sophisticated and fairly simple to use, but the "more plus more equals more" attitude is something gleaned from predecessors like Windows Media Center and XBMC.

Apple's entertainment roadmap is designed to be sleek, small, and simple. It accesses iTunes, and it streams Netflix. On the other hand, here's what Boxee can do.

Boxee streams just about any kind of video you can imagine, from Netflix and Hulu to the individual sites of content providers like Comedy Central and ABC--basically, anywhere there's legal video on the web, Boxee will find it, and present it in one nice interface. That's all in addition to four hundred other "apps," including Vimeo, MLB, and Pandora. Even better, Boxee can stream video in a startling array of formats (including pirate favorites like Xvid and MKV) from computers on the network. (In comparison, Apple TV is highly limited in the formats it can play back.)

Long in development, Boxee's first hardware, the Boxee Box, is due out in November for $199--twice as expensive as the Apple TV. But it's certainly more capable, with wide software and format support in addition to more powerful hardware (it can run 1080p video, compared to Apple TV's 720p max) and expandability (the Boxee Box has two USB ports and one SD card slot for viewing photos--the Apple TV has, well, nothing). So it makes sense that Boxee feels comfortable saying the two products can coexist.

In a blog post today, Boxee employee Avner Ronen writes:

We all watched the Apple announcement. We walked away feeling strongly confident about the space it left for Boxee to compete. We have a different view of what users want in their living rooms. We are taking different paths to get there. The Boxee Box is going to be $100 more expensive than the Apple TV, but will give you the freedom to watch what you want. We think it’s worth it.

And I agree, for the most part. For real media junkies, the ones who know and care about things like MKV playback and automatic BitTorrent support and hundreds upon hundreds of available plugins, the Boxee Box is the better choice. I think the Boxee Box, provided it works as promised, will sell pretty well to that sector of the market. Of course, the $99 Apple TV will almost certainly sell far more, to everyone and their grandparents, but I agree that the two products do address different segments of the market.

That's the key takeaway point from all this. Just like the smartphone market was a year ago, the connected TV market is barely getting started, and there's plenty of room for all kinds of competitors. Just because Apple TV will likely be successful doesn't mean the Boxee Box won't also do well, in its own way.

Dan Nosowitz, the author of this post, can be followed on Twitter, corresponded with via email, and stalked in Brooklyn (no link for that one--you'll have to do the legwork yourself).

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3 Comments

  • David Mullings

    Dan, you are spot on. The market has segments and Apple is targeting a completely different segment from the one that Boxee is focusing on.

    Just like how we have multiple computer hardware makers, we can have multiple hardware vendors in the connected tv market and the market will be big enough for more than just two companies to play in the space.

    The more choice consumers have the better off we are.

  • Krisy Trnavsky

    What I don't like about Boxee is all the porn apps that are available. I have young kids and I like that Apple is more family friendly. Plus, Apple tv is easy to use. My kids can navigate it easily and there are parental controls.

  • ClickBrain

    The key problem for Boxee is their interface is lacking and they have no market capability.

    Just because you build a screen covering interface with big buttons doesn't make it intuitive or easy to use. So far they've missed the boat on the absolutely key metric that every analyst misses when they criticize an Apple product because it doesn't have feature or service A, B, or C - its the interface stupid. Users don't care if you have more features if you cant find it. Apple sucks you in with ease and then adds more as they see you needing it. Apple, 37Signals, and a few other folks are the only ones that seem to understand the mentality of humans. I don't want more. I want just enough to make life better, easier, and more elegant. Thats why Apple wins again and again and again.

    They will win this market and they will dominate the new TV experience. Poor Roku... I wish Apple would buy them for their customer base and because they got it when it came to simple functionality and a smart model.