Apple TV’s 32nd Anniversary Announcement

You Know What You WantQuietly this weekend, Apple, Inc., released a minor update to its so-far disappointing Apple TV software. The update, delivered around 3 o’clock Saturday morning, was quietly announced in a press release on ReutersYE (Youth Education). The computer maker and self-described New Media Darling has struggled to make the Apple TV, once known as the iTV prior to its launch, relevant in an age of Tivo, BitTorrent, Netflix, and XBox Live saturation of the passive entertainment, family-room market.

The previous update, “Take Two”, was meant to herald a new era for Apple’s only foray into the set-top box fray. No previous attempt by any technology company has managed the ubiquity of DVD players, VHS, or even the relatively small console gaming platforms.

This update, however, has responded to the market’s response to their first and second attempts at relevance. Among the user friendly improvements are the following items:

1. The ability to download podcasts from your Apple TV and have them saved to the Mac or PC to which it is synced.

2. Dynamic “genres” list for movies. Any genre you add your personally backed-up movies to will be listed in Apple TV’s movies/genres menu.

3. Better shading of menu items to produce a more “live action” appearance while waiting for the click of the IR remote control signal to register.

4. A reflection has been added to certain interface elements.

5. An “Add to Queue” option has been added to the previous “Play” and “Download” option in the “Podcasts” section.

6. Further enhancing the previous feature, a sort of “Playlist” feature has been incorporated so that you don’t have to return to a menu every time a one or two minute clip ends so that you can choose another one.

7. “Smart” playlists, enabling the pre-scheduling of up to 6 hours or non-stop, successive podcasts, music videos, movies, and television shows, have been added to the iTunes software. These playlists, which can be synced to and played on your Apple TV in an attempt to mimic the standard environment in which consumers of entertainment appreciate their widescreen, surround sound, darkened room home-theater setup from their couch, seem to be an attempt by Apple to “catch up” with the immature, yet persistent, crowd of home theater early arrivals who have offered these features for years.

8. Support has been added for a new remote that looks remarkably similar to the first gen iPod Nano. A small screen for quick menu selection, a circular “click wheel” (a technology pioneered by apple but seemingly abandoned with its recent “touch” products), and the diminutive form factor with a 6 button interface that has served hand held tech from Apple for so long.

9. A revamp of the “search” keyboard for online services. Instead of a square, highly unusable letter grid, Apple has adopted a common typing interface across all of its Apple TV interfaces. Coupled with the new scroll-wheel remote, entering text into search fields has remarkably improved usability, once a hallmark of Apple products, which cannot be matched by any other.

10. Removal of the distinction between the computer to which an Apple TV is synced and the content shared on the network. All content is available by selecting its source, similar to the way it was made available in the previous version of the Apple TV software.

These are the ten most interesting updates. The revision also includes a number of bug fixes from improving the response of the unit to clicks of the remote to close to real-time syncing between the Apple TV and its coupled iTunes installation. In a previous version these features were sorely missing or incalculably buggy.

In the first part of the new millennium, Apple Inc revolutionized the personal, portable entertainment industry. Today Apple Inc is a leader in portable entertainment technology with market leading positions in wireless communications, the iPhone, pocketable media libraries, iPod (Touch)™, and the yet unannounced iWiiPod portable theater system and gaming device.

iPhone Lust

I made a very clear and sensible decision to stay clear of the iPhone hype. I don’t need a phone that does all that. Actually, I have a phone that browses the web, gets my email, wi-fi, bluetooth, mp3, and a gorgeous screen. I use the phone feature only.

Unfortunately, I have friends who are not as budget conscious as I am and were able to stand in line yesterday to get their mitts on an iPhone. We were all out having drinks to celebrate the semi-retirement of a brilliant and lucky buddy in his mid thirties who arrived half an hour late with his brand new iPhone. It was un-activated, so all we could do was marvel at the form factor, which was enough.

It’s smaller than you think it’s going to be. It’s a bit shorter than my T-Mobile SDA and narrower than an iPod. Fits nicely into my pocket with no uncomfortable bulk. Unactivated, it allows you to look at the main screen and slide the slider for an “Emergency Call”. The numeric keypad pops up so you can dial 911, I guess.

Later, Solomon showed up with his brand new, activated iPhone. That was pretty much the end of my social interaction. The world went silent and my vision went tunnel. It works exactly like they say it will. Typing is something you have to get used to, but you will. You’ll want to start out by holding your finger down on the keyboard until you have the letter you want. This allows you to slide a little to the left to get O instead of P, or a little up to get N instead of the space bar. Or, just type as fast as you can and trust that iPhone will correct you correctly when you hit the space bar. It’s pretty slick.

Internet is decently fast, and for the applications I can see myself using, perfectly fast enough. YouTube videos take a while to buffer, but once they start playing they’re solid.

We played around with the contacts list a bit, which was actually fun. Tap the edit button and then the contact picture icon, point at your friend, and grab a picture of them for their profile. Then when you contact them or they contact you, the background is filled with the designated picture, full screen.

The magnifying glass positioning tool is amazing. In fact, the way everything you’re tapping on pops up in a graphic above your finger so that you know what the phone thinks you’re touching is a fantastic innovation. Somebody at Apple must hate styluses as much as I do. This finger as stylus thing is brilliant, and brilliantly executed.

So, yes. Now I want one. Even though I don’t need it. It’s pretty much the greatest phone experience I’ve ever had. Even if it was fleeting.

Apple TV Feature Request: Video Playlists

I’ve enjoyed my Apple TV a lot since buying it in that first week it was out. Even upgraded my TV. We don’t have cable, so we get all of our TV from iTunes — but, it’s the off season and I was a little bored with my selection of podcasts and other non-purchased content. Playing with settings in an attempt to veg-out and entertain myself, I happened upon the Update Software feature. Sadly, my Apple TV is up to date.

So I went back to browsing my podcasts, checking them all for some older, unplayed stuff. “Wouldn’t it be great,” I thought, “if I could just create a playlist and play stuff at random?” Yes! It would almost be like watching TV, but it would be my own channel. I wouldn’t have to put up with commercials (as much) and I could lump things together by category, play in order or random, and select the compilation I feel like watching, almost like flipping channels!

Science and tech podcasts over here, comedy and serial TV over here. A veritable self-built cable network streaming through my house!

But the Apple TV won’t play videos in playlists. It doesn’t even see them. It will do music this way, so why not video? So Dear Santa, please give me video playlists (smart video playlists too!) with the YouTube update.

Love,
Tony

New Embedded YouTube Interface Very Leopard Inspired

I just downloaded the Safari 3 beta today and eventually made it around to viewing a YouTube video in a friend’s LiveJournal post. To my surprise, at the end, the video’s familiar Play Again and other navigation features had been transformed, as if inspired by the new Leopard Desktop that was shown off today.

You Tube Leopardized

Dock like icons adorned the bottom of the embedded window along with a nice reflective surface and even the bubbly mouse over effect! I thought perhaps it was a secret new player for Safari 3 only using the new h.264 encoded files, but confirmed that it does also look the same in IE and Firefox. But, oddly enough, only in videos embedded in a website.

This looks like a sign of bigger things to come from the partnership between Apple and Google. Besides that, Apple isn’t telling you about how much faster Safari 3 is than Safari 2. Especially its Flash support. I’d say it’s easily twice as fast! And don’t even get me started on the INCREDIBLE new page and source search features.

So go download the Safari Beta and check it out for yourself:

Apple + AT&T iPhone Ads

If this phone can do this, like this, this easy, I’ll sell my first born son to get one. And if you want to go to the actual, HQ version of this commercial just visit the Apple website.

Ha! Just kidding little guy, you’re worth WAY more than $600. Way more I would bet.

But I would be surprised if the iPhone lives up to this hype! I mean, jesus. Stop the movie you’re watching on a tiny little device only because you have nowhere else to watch it at the moment and you can call some seafood restaurant in San Fransisco to get it delivered?

You’ve either spent rent getting the phone, upgrading the memory, and downloading movies, and now you can’t have anything but delivery calamari, since your new address is “the alley behind the GAP on the Haight”, or the ad’s not telling the whole story.

The whole story would be: watching a movie on your iPod iPhone on BART and you see a clip in this movie — that’s so great you can’t wait till you get home and watch it on your non-hand-held entertainment devices — where the protagonist is thwarting thugs and earning 6 figures on this super cheap electric scooter that gets to ride in the HOV lane called the “Green Scoot Zoom”.

You pause your movie with a swipe of your index finger (or whatever) and discover that this amazing new carbon neutral carreer advancement device of transveyance can be delivered to your work before the end of the day.

Because why else would you be watching Pirates of the Caribbean on a handheld device and suddenly think, “Hey, delivery…”?

How to get HD content for your Apple TV

Last week I eagerly tore into my new Apple TV and started using it. It is the now main component of my entertainment center, especially since I can’t have both a DVD player and the Apple TV connected at the same time. I rip DVDs using my Dual 2ghz G5 and then stream them over the wireless G.

Other than that, I’ve been getting all of my entertainment from either the iTunes store or from podcasts. NBC Nightly News and CBS provide a light overview of the day’s events, I watch 1 or 2 episodes of the TED and CoolHunting (fascinating!) podcasts, and sprinkle in a few cartoons and animations, plus shorts from PBS, Discovery, National Geographic, and a handful of amateur science podcasts.

As for paid programming, The Daily Show and Colbert are daily requirements, and then Heroes, Lost, and BSG when they’re available. I still haven’t purchased a single movie from the iTunes store and likely won’t until they either make the pricing more reasonable or come up with a rental scheme since I usually only watch most movies once, I can’t justify paying $10 for a low quality, stripped down version of a similarly priced DVD!

I have the HD capable, widescreen TV, the Apple TV, the HDMI cable to get them talking to each other, the surround sound. So what’s missing? There’s no freaking HD content! Even the Apple movie trailers are in a grotesquely compressed, low res format.

Yeah, shocking. So I have done the legwork and pulled together a list of resources for getting a little 720p action from your new honey. If you’re able to find something I haven’t listed here, let me know and I’ll update this post.

BBC in HD
http://www.bbcmotiongallery.com/Customer/index.aspx
They’ve got some great, free content over there in QT format.

Technology Evangelist
http://www.technologyevangelist.com/feeds.html
Fun tech geekery in glorious 720p. It’s a podcast!

MariposaHD
http://www.mariposahd.tv/
The world’s first HD internet TV show. Chicks in bikinis. Site may not be wholly SFW.

ItalyGuides.it
http://www.italyguides.it/us/roma/download_audioguide/podcast/hd_apple_tv.htm
These guys are marketing directly to you, you AppleTV owner you.

TrailerCast HD 720p
http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewPodcast?id=213245269
HD movie trailers! This is a direct link to the podcast in the iTunes store.

Tecnocato
http://www.tecnocato.com/
They’re now producing an HD podcast.

That’s enough to get you going. There are a couple more on similar subjects that I haven’t listed here because I couldn’t find a link to their website, but just do a search in the iTunes store for 720p and you’ll find them.

EDIT

Reader Contributions:

Nasa in HD
http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/videogallery/hd_index.html

Seattle Clearwire

I’m never moving from this spot. This spot being directly in front of my monitor, which is directly in front of my new Clearwire modem. We’ve been living here for almost a month and a half with no internet. So today I signed up with Clearwire wireless broadband for $19.99 a month.

They advertise it as 1.5 mbit down and 256 kbit up, so I tested it against Speakeasy’s bandwidth measuring tool and, hey, it is exactly as advertised. Somehow it feels a bit snappier than stuff I’ve used in the past which was way faster.

The setup was the easiest I’ve ever done. Step 1) Take it out of the box and plug it into your computer. Step 2) Turn it on. No passwords, no admin panel, no configuration whatsoever.

If it were faster I’d give it a full five star rating, but at 1.5mb you can’t download a movie from iTunes and start watching it immediately, which is a drag.

Kris got accepted to grad school at Seattle U in their MBA program, so we celebrated by having dinner at the Tamarind Tree. If you like Vietnamese, you have to try this place. It’s an exquisite meal in a fancy restaurant ambience, at totally affordable prices. My veggie crepes (god damned delicious) was $8.

Interview with John Hodgman

John Hodgman, the PC in the new Mac commercials, was interviewed this week by Engadget. He’s a really funny guy and somehow, even though he’s not the product being advertised, has become the star of those ads. Makes me wonder if there are any people out there thinking, “If I like the PC better in the Mac commercials, will I like a PC better in real life?” or is he just the likable, bumbling fool who you’d have a beer with but never trust with your data?

Here’s an excerpt:

Seth Stevenson over at Slate thinks that the ads have backfired because your, “humor and likability are evident,” and that he’d “much sooner associate with Hodgman than with Long [the guy who plays the ‘Mac’].” Are you becoming an icon for diehard PC users?

The villain of any story is often the most compelling character. Justin, who is brilliantly funny, of course must play the hero, and the Luke Skywalkers of the world always catch a certain amount of flack. It’s unfair, but inevitable, and I don’t think it has caused people to buy more PCs anymore than it caused people to root for the empire over the Jedi. The Jedi still are the best. And they don’t get viruses.

How did you maneuver me into a Star Wars discussion? Damn internet.

That is all.

The whole interview is here, and the Slate article is over here.

He’s also got a recurring role on The Daily Show, which is always hilarious.