How the Apple iTV will work

Most journalists now believe Apple will be releasing a TV this year. Speculating over Apple's plans is close to impossible, but if we look closely at what Apple have been releasing over the last few years I think we can predict what an Apple iTV would be like. There are a lot of problems. All of which would be solved by taking the problems out of the TV set and instead making it a much more connected device.

Go to market problem

When asked what he thought about set top boxes a few years ago Steve Jobs famously replied that there was no good go to market strategy.

The TV market is very different from Apple's usual markets in that consumers tend to buy new TVs close to 10 years apart. While Apple prefers to update their products every year.

"What is remarkable is how Apple can use iOS devices as wireless set top boxes for the Apple iTV."

The Apple iTV though, won't need to be updated every year. I believe Apple will release basically a huge monitor with some inputs and a decoding chip. The chip will easily be able to push 1080p or maybe even higher quality video in crisp quality. But in itself that is not remarkable. What is remarkable is how Apple can use iOS devices as wireless set top boxes for the Apple iTV.

User interface

Apple has always been famous for their interfaces. From the mouse to the click-wheel to the touch screen, Apple has always tried to create intuitive and immersive user interfaces. For the Apple iTV they have just released a UI that seems perfect for a TV set. Siri.

Using natural language to control your TV could be spectacular. Of course they'll probably throw in an Apple remote just to make everyone comfortable. But I will bet we will all be telling our TVs to turn on and off in the near future. And all iOS devices would also control the iTV, of course.

Content

Think of all your content from your Mac, your iOS device and your iTunes account seamlessly streamed through iCloud. The Apple iTV hardly even needs any local storage.

Some exclusive deals with production companies are sure to come. But if we look in the Apple media library they already have a really good offering. What they lack is real time programming. Most real time broadcasting is already available for iOS devices however. Which brings us to apps.

Apps

The Apple iTV doesn't need apps. Don't get me wrong, I want apps. But here's the magic sauce in my prediction. Apple won't make the iTV a stand alone device. The market doesn't update their TVs often enough for that. Instead the iTV will be an insanely great screen on which to project your content. From iOS devices. From iCloud. From Mac. Where you find AirPlay, you'll be able to push content to your iTV.

Real Racing2 Party Play

Want to play a game? Use your iPad or iPhone for controls and they'll sync the games graphics onto your iTV screen.

Want to see a movie? Start it on any device and just click AirPlay to show it on your iTV.

Want to listen to music? You get the point.

This might sound underwhelming. Apple's announcements often seem so at first glance. But then you realize what a profound change in the way you use technology it offers. Think about having a monitor at home that can play all your digital content. No matter what it is. Playing a game on your Mac? Watching a movie on your iPad? How about doing both side by side. Since the devices steam it to the iTV, it can handle anything you throw at it. Why not let your kids play games while you watch the news? Someone walks in with some photos to show? Put them up there with everything else.

"The best thing about it is that it doesn't need updates."

The best thing about it is that it doesn't need updates. Siri will get smarter through iCloud. More and more content will be available through iTunes. And every time you buy a new phone or tablet the iTV get's a major bump in features and power.

All wireless. All simple. A perfect Apple strategy. Or is it?

Apple launches international video service

At the launch of the Apple TV Steve Jobs claimed that video rentals would launch in 9 countries outside the US "soon". We've heard Apple state again and again that iTunes video is being released in the rest of the world and so far have yet to see it. But I doubt that this has anything to do with Apple, video rentals cross nations and even more so across regions seem to be the unholy grail of the movie industry. For some reason they just don't want to open the flood gates to international video services.

Let's hope this latest move by Apple can finally open a crack in that wall. Hulu EU? Yes please.

iTunes 10 review

iTunes 10 icon iTunes 10 is out, the first major release for years. After playing around with it for a week this is what I've noticed:

  • Still does not use the standard front end API for OS X making it laggy and ugly.
  • The slight UI overhaul makes it less of a mess. But it still is a mess to use.
  • It has Ping, a social network exclusively about Music. Not very engaging though.

Please Mr Jobs and Mr Ive, please do a remake of iTunes soon. It really is a terrible user experience and it does not stand up to the quality of other Apple products. I love the store(s) but the app is crap.

Update: the Icon has caused quite a stir and is being widely critized. Steve Jobs has commented on it sucking saying: "we don't think so".

New iTunes Redesign

iTunes is long overdue an overhaul. The old program has become so bogged down with features one can't help but wonder when Apple will update it. They might follow their mobile strategy and split into several parts or go for the completely cloud based streaming version a la Spotify.And they might announce it this Monday at WWDC. This is why I thought I'd redesign it while it is still a huge challenge.

My design is based on a rethinking of what iTunes manages, namely media. But lot's of different forms of media. In this design of iTunes every media item is considered to be a media bit no matter if it's a song, an album, an app or a book.

As you can see this design is radically different from the current version of iTunes. I've followed Apples recent reductionist standard in design and tried to eliminate everything unnecessary while retaining the purpose of the program.

There are three main areas of interest in this design:

  • The top navigation bar which holds filters, search and player controls. Allowing users to easily find what they're looking for.
  • The media view which allows users to browse through media, partly for fun and partly for aimless just looking. It also gives a great overview of what types of media and with modal boxes for more information can give users details if they want.
  • The bottom devices dock. This is where media is divided to the available devices as well as start and stop the currently playing list. I'll explain a bit more about devices below.

The start screen shows you the available devices as well as your favorite and most recently used media bits, this way the user instantly has an overview of where they left off last time.

I've considered devices to be anything that has media in it. From left to right:

  • The currently playing list displaying the artwork for the currently playing media with a simple play/paus control for the queue. Users access the queue by clicking this icon or just drag and drop media to it to add it to the queue.
  • The computer library. WIth home sharing different computers can share with all devices over a home network, I've just eliminated the extra fuss by reducing it as far as I've been able.
  • Peripherals, in this case my iPhone. Used in the same way as computers, playlists and the queue. Drag and drop or click to view contents.
  • Playlists, drag and drop media to and from and click to view.

A lot of people use playlists as a way to traverse their media libraries. I have actively made this harder as playlists are a lot more harder to search through as media libraries grow. Instead I've focused on search and filtering to allow easy browsing of the library. I have however thought this to be a perfect place for Apples famous horizontal scrollbars should the number of devices increase.

Filters are used to group media bits making it easier to find what you're looking for in a large library, seach is however crucial since most people tend to grow really large media libraries. Click a filter and all media is displayed as stacks or bits, click one suck stack or bit to see it's contents and either filter further or search the stack.

The currently playing queue acts as both a queue for media and as the main media player. It's a simple principle to learn and as all devices work in the same way the user needs never get confused or irritated at features appearing and disappearing depending on context.

Media bits can be freely moved between devices, making sharing and syncing simple and easy to understand.

Each media bit has detailed information available only if the user wants so know more.

The player controls have been moved aside leaving only the large play and pause button on the icon for the currently playing list/device. I'd love to get some more work done on this project in the future but I think Apple might beat me to it. And I'm excited by the thought of comparing my work with that of Jonathan Ive's team!

There are a few weak points in this design so far, namely the lack of the iTunes store and the lack of a way to arrange Apps on devices. While I've thought about solutions for these and believe that this design can accomodate them I haven't had the time to sketch it out yet.

Hope you like my work, and if you're reading this Mr Jobs; yes, I'd love to come work for you. ;)

See higher quality versions of this design at Flickr

Video service explosion

One of the reasons Hollywood is putting up such a fight against piracy is that Bittorrent has become the main delivery of video content in the world (excepting Youtube which Hollywood does not consider a threat, yet.). But recently things have started happening. iTunes launched it's video store a couple of years ago and while it is only available in the US so far it is delivering a lot of content. Hulu, Voddler and Netflicks are also showing the market another way to make a profit. The list goes on and on as new companies try to change the way the market works.

While I find this to be a great development I'm a bit sad that companies need to out compete the old system just to deliver content in a way that pirates have been doing for over ten years. But I guess change is, as ever, ver hard for Hollywood.

Until one of these services can offer a large amount of content for sensible amounts of money in Europe however, I think I'll stick to my newest find HDMT. A great international streaming service for new movies and TV shows, all in HD.

The iPod experiment 1

I'm a game designer and that means all other media are secondary interest at best. But music is ever present and a great help during the workday and daily commute. Now I've never been an iPod owner but I have owned a few mp3 players and a truck load of Sony Ericsson walkman phones, but none of them have ever been good enough to continue using. So with my new paycheck in hand I thought I'd hit two birds with one stone and buy an iPod touch, hopefully it will solve my music issues and allow me to play iPhone games as well!

Of I went to the local store and purchased the 8GB version (I'm cheap, let's say no more about it). Immediatly I was blown away by the packaging and ease of use. The interface is brilliant and the interaction with my PC at work was simples then most USB drives. Itunes is a terrible program to work with but the iTunes store worked well and I has my first music, video podcasts and games up and running in a few minutes.

The sound was excellent and the video fantastic, wifi surfing was awesome and applications were plentiful even though I find myself lacking offline support for things like rememberthemilk and google calendar... Why should I need to use apples software when there are better products available? From partners in other software genres nonetheless.

I was enjoying myself on the way home, interaction with my iPod was fun and simple and the video and music kept me going strong. The simple 3d racer I'd downloaded worked great and was actually kinda fun. Probably mostly from control novalty but hey, Wii right?

It's when I got I was annoyed. I could sync with iTunes at home because I already had synced at work... That means all my music that I've collected over the past 10 years is forfeit... Or I could delete everything on my iPod and start again... Why apple, would you build such stupid limitation into your device? I'm using the same damn iTunes account on both machines so security or licensing issues don't come into it at all. This is just plain dumb.

Well, I've no deleted my iPod and started over.

The experiment continues...