Apple TV Is Ripe for Hacking: A Secret Plan to Bring Apps to Your TV

Apple TV teardown

Apple TV is out, and it's already been sliced and filleted. Turns out it's a hackers heaven, since it's almost an iPad. This may reveal Apple's long-term secret plan to get its app store onto your TV and beat the set-top-box brigade.

iFixit's tear-down job found that the tiny Apple box is extremely easy to rip open, and to put back together—then the team found a number of pleasant surprises inside. We knew the chip powering the new TV was an Apple A4, much as the one inside the iPad, the iPhone and the new iPod Touch, but Apple had for reasons best known to itself declined to mention the motherboard also sports an 8GB flash RAM chip. This is definitely somewhere the Apple TV will be storing its working space for the OS and streamed video feeds to keep the (reportedly very smooth) clips jerk-free. Another surprise is that there's an identical slot for another RAM chip right next to the 8GB one, and it's unused. Yet another wrinkle is that the circuitry has all the right mounting points—pin perfectly—for an Apple iPod connector, but it's not been utilized.

News from the hacking community also reveals that the TV can be synced with iTunes using its "service" microUSB slot and a standard USB cable, officially for the purposes of rebooting the OS if anything goes awry.

So what does this all teach us? First, it suggests that Apple was experimenting with the design of the new box right up until the last minute. It left the unused options on the circuit board because it was too late to remove them, possibly. But the extra RAM slot is a bit of a giveaway—it's a definite hint that Apple plans to upgrade the Apple TV sooner rather than later. The USB connectivity option is even more evidence for this, since every iDevice apart from the TV uses the iPod connector as standard, so wired syncing could easily be a planned option. The hacking community will go nuts for this, of course, even without thinking about the future upgrade: It makes the TV easy to jailbreak, and that will bring a host of options to Apple TV owners that the box-fresh unit doesn't have.

But can we go further than this? We think it's possible that Apple has a beady eye on the future of the Apple TV, and plans to turn it into far more than a simple media-playing box. A simple downloadable upgrade, much like upgrades for the iPhone, will peel back its current UI "app" from the underlying iOS, and turn the TV into a set-top version of the iPhone or iPad. Yup—apps on your TV, a power that'd knock nearly every other set-top box competitor into a cocked hat, and compete with Amazon's sneaky books-on-TV plan too.

And there's one more odd possibility: The TV's motherboard may be a prototype for the circuitry inside a 7-inch iPad Mini that we've been hearing about. After all, the two systems are hugely comparable.

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