Every time Apple reports earnings‚ every analyst on the Cupertino beat weighs in with their idea for how Steve should spend his now $30 billion pile of cash. Most suggest acquisitions of some kind. The ideas range from the unimaginative to the straight-up retarded (unless someone could explain how you print money with Twitter). Because I have a blog and a way to upload content‚ I too have an opinion. Let me frame it for you based on a dream I have for myself and a number of moves Apple has made that would allow this to happen.
Put simply‚ my dream is ubiquitous media. If I own content‚ I want to access to that content wherever‚ whenever. That BSG episode I downloaded on my Mac at home (one of the ass-kicking ones like Resurrection Ship‚ not one of those whimpering reflections-on-our-shared-humanity episodes) can be streamed to my iPhone or to any other Apple device I own. I can half-ass this functionality now through a combination of “authorized devices” and syncing‚ but even with that solution‚ I need multiple copies of my media or some major third-party intervention. Not only do I think Apple can do it better, I think they’re most of the way there.
The Pieces in Place
The iTunes Music Store is a media juggernaut. In terms of available content‚ ease of use and device integration‚ no other service comes close. Whether I want the latest HD movie release‚ a season subscription to a current network show or just about any song released in the last 100 years‚ odds are that it will be in the iTMS.
Every time my MobileMe subscription comes up for renewal‚ I almost convince myself to bail. Even for an apologist like yours truly‚ I always feel like I’m leaving some serious value on the table for that $99. What has tipped the scales? Most recently, it’s been Back to My Mac. Having the ability to manipulate a VNC client as easily as the one Apple bundles with Leopard lets me access files – even work with files – remotely. It’s also killer if you have to troubleshoot other Mac user’s systems.
Airport Extreme/Time Machine
The most recent builds of these devices includes remote disk capabilities via USB and BTTM. Add a hub and your remote storage capacity is limited only to the number of USB storage devices you own. The infrastructure to connect to remote Macs exists‚ as does the ability to connect to an always-on remote device to host media.
I own two. Today‚ it’s a somewhat-limited device that’s basically a link to iTMS content and that media which is purchased from Apple or is converted to .m4v, .mp4, or .mov. Thanks to hacks like Boxee‚ and ATV Flash‚ new features and a parallel universe of content becomes available. Access to internet TV content from portals like Joost (and to a lesser degree Hulu)‚ SMB network streaming of video in any format and support for USB peripherals and storage are just the tips of the iceburg. Third parties have had to show us (probably because of agreements Apple has with content providers) that this device could be much more than a hobby.
The Missing Links
The Bandwidth Problem
Streaming video requires bandwidth. Streaming HD video requires a lot of bandwidth. The dream of streaming video anywhere – especially to mobile devices – will not be realized for 99% of the population with today’s combination of bandwidth limitations and media file sizes. There is hope‚ and thankfully it doesn’t lie with those people who own the pipes. Red‚ the company that developed an ultra high-resolution camera used by the likes of Peter Jackson and Steven Soderbergh ‚ are also working on a codec that they claim will transfer their 4K standard (which is about 2x the resolution of 1080p) at 10 Mbps. This is well within the capabilities of an n – or even g – wireless network. If this codec materializes‚ even if proprietary‚ it will be “proof of concept” for the folks in Cupertino (who know a thing or two about codecs themselves). This may be the solution to the bandwidth problem.
TiVo2 (Bonus wishlist item)
My dream first came to me when I saw a report on one of Apple’s famous patent filings. The filing for DVR-like capabilities struck me as both comprehensive and polished. Looking through the figures‚ you can see that a tremendous amount of thought went into how such a device would work. In my dream‚ I had a TiVo2 UI front end and access to any media – purchased or recorded – on demand‚ anywhere. My 3.0 iPhone would notify me (via Apple Push Notification) when my favorite show had finished recording and…Excuse me for a moment. *Ahem* I think you get the point.
So what’s my recommendation for Apple’s hoard of wealth? Pursue the technologies and/or companies that will fill the gap in your living room strategy – by any means necessary.
Of course‚ the obstacles to realizing media ubiquity are formidable. If the ability to stream iTMS content to any device didn’t trigger serious backlash from the people making the media, any kind of DVR device certainly would. Apple would likely have to re-strike – or at least modify – all of the content deals they had to forge with the studios and networks in the first place. Aside from the fact that major effort (read legal expense and senior personnel time) would be required to re-cast these relationships‚ I’m sure these deals are worth a couple shekels to AAPL in their current form.
I don’t know about Apple’s future intentions for media‚ but the potential to further leverage iTMS through ubiquitous availability of content is huge. It adds significant value to a somewhat underwhelming MobileMe offering‚ transforms the AppleTV from hobby to must-have set-top device and makes the iPhone (even more) indispensable as a portable media device. If you combined that functionality with some kind of DVR recording capability‚ Apple would go from “contrived presence” to “living room fixture”- and likely crush a few markets on the way.