For all the complaints about Apple and its closed systems (their rigid control of the App Store, their refusal to allow Flash on iOS devices, etc.), if there’s anything we’ve learned from today’s introduction of the next generation AppleTV, it’s that the Hollywood studios should thank their lucky stars that they have a friend in Steve.
At $99 the new AppleTV is almost compelling, and if I ever get around to subscribing to NetFlix, I might even consider getting one. But what’s most striking are its self-imposed limitations, specifically it’s lack of a browser or third party apps. Oh you can stream from the iTunes Store and NetFlix and YouTube — in other words, trusted gatekeepers — but the bulk of the Internet is off limits.
In other words, it’s a device for streaming legal content, not the tens of thousands of pirated movies, TV shows and live streams that make up the bulk of the streaming video available online today. Yeah sure, I guess you could still download a pirated movie to your home computer and then stream that to your TV via AppleTV, but that just turns the AppleTV into a $99 cable. Besides, most consumers feel bad about stealing content, so given a convenient way to purchase it legally at a reasonable price they’ll opt for that. (Not that $5 for a new release compared to $1 from a RedBox is what I call a reasonable price.)
No doubt music industry executives resent Apple’s dominance, but the movie industry should be so lucky. In some parts of the world legal DVD sales have slowed to a trickle while illegal downloads and streaming have come to dominate the home viewing experience. Packing the same custom A4 processor as the speedy iPad and iPhone 4, the new AppleTV boasts more than enough horsepower to run a “home theater PC” that could easily bring the world of video piracy into millions more living rooms.
But Apple intentionally didn’t go there. And for that, Hollywood should be thankful.