What I want from the new Apple TV [Updated]

Today Bloomberg suggested that Apple is prepping $0.99 TV show rentals. That’s half off the current cost of a single episode, which is great, but I’d still rather abandon the a-la-carte model for a subscription service.

Right now, the Apple TV has two main flaws. First, it’s a front end for the iTunes Store. If you want to watch an episode of a TV show, you must buy it. If I missed an episode of The Office and I want to catch up, I’ll be “punished” to the tune of  2 dollars just to see what I’ve missed. In that case, I’ll go over to Hulu and watch it for free. Note that I’m glad to buy shows I love. It’s just this scenario that’s a hassle.

The other issue is the tremendous amount of storage that’s required once you start buying TV shows and movies. I’ve got shows and movies spread across several disks. If I’m traveling, I’ve got to seach my Mac and external archive disks to find the shows I want to take with me 1. Also, it seems like iTunes wants to sync with my Apple TV almost every time I launch it. All of these issues could be eliminated with a subscription-based streaming service.

I’ve been waiting for Apple to announce an Apple TV subscription service a year. My idea was that I could stream any TV show or movie in Apple’s library to any approved device, like the iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Mac or Apple TV for $X per month. That way I’m not charged for each individual episode, and the cloud storage would free up huge amounts of hard drive space. I’d be thrilled if my entire video purchase history was made availabe for streaming on day one.

One of the major hurdles, of course, will be from the cable providers as Apple assumes the role of distributor. Another will be the networks themselves. How do they generate ad revenue if I’m watching a show on my iPhone? Engadget has hinted at a potential solution.

Engadget reported that the new Apple TV (or “iTV”) will run iOS and, we assume, apps. By creating their own apps, unique to the Apple TV, the distributors and content providers will retain full control over what’s made available. ABC has a nice player out for the iPad right now. Hulu Plus is also rather nice, despite some flaws ($10 per month plus ads?). Also, Apple will continue to get paid and I get the cloud-based streaming that I’ve been after. Perhaps the cable companies and networks could get a cut of the subscription fee, or perhaps they could push ads. Perhaps a higher fee would eliminate ads. The point is there are enough options to make everyone happy 2.

Finally, let’s consider the new hardware. Removing the hard drive would make it considerably smaller. Replacing the IR remote with an iPhone or iPad app would eliminate the need for a direct line of sight to control the thing, so it could live anywhere 3. Lastly, killing the hard drive would reduce the size and the amount of heat the thing puts out. The current model gets hot.

With iOS, the time is right for Apple’s hobby to become a full-on product. I’ve got my fingers crossed and credit card ready.

Update: Ross Rubin agrees at Engadget: “…if Apple really wanted to avoid subscriptions per se, it could offer pre-paid access as it has for 3G on the iPad, with a lower fee offering a limited number of TV episode rentals per month and a higher number offering unlimited rentals during the month.” Good idea.

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  1. A first-world problem, I admit.
  2. Scott McNulty makes a point about how developers get paid and why ad revenue alone won’t cut it for cable companies. He’s right, and unfortunately I don’t have an answer.
  3. You’d probably need to keep the remote for those who don’t own another iOS device, but the option to hide it completely would be there.

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