Apple TV Apps Are (Almost) Among Us

On March 31, 2011

@BenHarvell is a freelance writer and former editor of iCreate magazine. He writes for a wide range of international technology magazines and websites including Macworld, MacFormat and MacUser and  just wrote his first song with GarageBand for iPad. Ben once came within touching distance of Steve Jobs at an iPhone press event but resisted the urge to do so. He’s on Twitter and blogs at

When the Apple TV 2 was introduced with iOS at its base we were all looking for Apple to introduce a developer program for its living room box – It never did.

Then some bright spark pulled apart the streaming media hockey puck and discovered some on-board storage. Now it was abundantly clear that apps were destined for the Apple TV – That day never came.

Now Apple has made the iPad 2 available to the nocturnal and those who enjoy standing in lines and with it offers apps on your TV, just not in the way you might have expected.

The billions in the bank prove just how savvy Apple is when it comes to launching new products and the addition of HDMI-Out in the iPad 2 and AirPlay improvements in iOS 4.3 feel to me like market research.

The Apple TV was just a “hobby” for Jobs and co until the Apple TV 2 launched and the company announced it was ready to play hardball. The price point couldn’t be argued but the updated Apple TV still had its detractors; the lack of live television, no customisation, no apps, no storage, only compatible with iTunes content etc etc. It seems those looking for an Apple-made alternative to GoogleTV or a Roku box were let down, as were those looking for it to become a television-oriented iOS platform. Apple, however, never gives everyone the features they want in 1.0 releases, opting instead to dip its toe into the market (usually with astounding success) and then revamp the device later with the features people wanted first time round (notable examples include iPods with video, iPhones with video, iPads with cameras and, of course, the App Store itself!)

Apple isn’t likely to launch an App Store on the Apple TV but it has given developers just enough tools to build demand for a whole new way of thinking about the device without a dollar heading to Apple’s marketing team. You see, a combination of AirPlay and the iPad 2’s HDMI-out makes it irrelevant whether there are apps on the Apple TV itself or not. As Firemint has shown with its HDMI-Out-enabled Real Racing HD 2, the apps can remain on your iOS device where they belong with the TV acting merely as a display. The same applies to AirPlay, the web content you view doesn’t have to be loaded or stored on your Apple TV when it can quite easily stream straight to it.

That’s media streaming and HD-quality apps running straight to your HDTV via AirPlay and HDMI-out. Put your hands together, Apple and somehow find a way to merge these two features! You’ll have the daddy of all entertainment systems that works like a console, works like Roku, works like a DVR and works like an App Store. The Apple TV doesn’t even need an interface anymore, just make it a dumb brick controlled by iOS devices – let them do the work.

So what happens next? We make the apps that make this worthwhile. Make your app look good on a TV screen, sell it this way, scream that it’s updated for iPad 2, call it “compatible with Apple TV” (if you can get away with it). Come up with apps that provide innovative ways for consumers to use their iPad and TV together and not just for games. For now, early adopters will be happy just to work with a long HDMI cable until Apple introduces lag-free, wireless, HD streaming (and that’s a big ask!), it just needs to feel like there’s a sub-category on the App Store for Apple TV-worthy applications.

Only then will Steve Jobs smile wryly, slowly rub his hands together and say “they get it” before pushing a red button and launching the marketing campaign that touts this as Apple’s idea all along.