AppleTV + iPhone + Apple Remote (app) = Steve Job’s latest technologically-disruptive Trojan Horse?

15 07 2008

Just penned a letter to Leo Laporte & Paul Thurrott (who’re just as likely to ignore this novel as not :), so thought i might as well resurrect this blog:

Hey Leo, Paul,

Leo, I reckon I’ve got your next MacBreak Weekly episode feature topic.  I reckon Sneaky Steve’s slipped in the biggest ‘technologically disruptive’ Trojan Horse of all right under our noses while we were all ooh-ing and ahh-ing over something new and shiny.

You better grab a coffee, but I think it’ll be worth it :)

I just got home from my friend PJ’s place, who was one of the dedicated lucky ones to snag an iPhone 3G here in Melbourne last Friday.  He’s got an all-Mac setup (although iTunes on Windows PCs will all work the same): iMac in the study, MacMini connected to a 32″LCD TV & 5.1 sound system with the gorgeous Apple Bluetooth keyboard; AppleTV connected to same (or could be in a 2nd room); a Mac laptop (doesn’t matter which type); and now the iPhone (3G or otherwise) with software v2.  And for good measure lets also throw in an ‘AirTunes’-capable speaker system in the bedroom (or simply any sound system with any old or new Airport base-station with AirTunes audio output connected to it).

You’ve undoubtedly seen for yourself or at least heard by now about some of the capabilities of Apple’s new free iPhone app ‘Remote’ (top free download?!?), how it can control an AppleTV (or even multiple AppleTVs!), very sweet!  You might also have heard that you can control any other iTunes ‘source’ with it – run iTunes on any Mac or PC and be able to connect to it remotely from the iPhone using the Remote app.  And you might also have heard how you can use the iPhone’s Remote app to control iTunes on that computer to send its audio output to any AirTunes audio output device, including the AppleTV (ie. the media is coming from the Mac/Windows desktop or laptop, but being played on the AppleTV or any other AirTunes audio system.  That’s all working right now, just seen it all with my own eyes, and clearly fantastic!

Stay with me here…

PJ’s also got eyeTV running on his MacMini working as a DVR for free-to-air TV, using Australia’s excellent IceTV EPG.  Pure simplicity!  But there’s also an eyeTV/IceTV iPhone app that lets  you not only program your eyeTV DVR remotely, but also stream your eyeTV-recorded media over Wifi to your iPhone!  Because with the eyeTV software, you can export a recording to any iPhone, iPod (any type) or AppleTV resolution/format, so you get a perfect fit for the specific device’s LCD resolution.

So, we’ve got free-to-air DVRd content, an AppleTV full of ripped, &/or rented &/or bought content, content on any other Mac or PC, playable on any audio or video device in the home, all remote controllable from a single iPhone – or multiple iPhones!  *With the near promise of real-time transcoding capability using the GPU instead of the CPU, perhaps even a MacMini could do this in real-time, skip the post-process.  Almost any other modern Mac certainly could.  This is all in our (Mac) homes RIGHT NOW.  Lets collectively call this state of the art in domestic mass consumer a/v “Version 1”.  If this isn’t already a techy’s wet dream with even more just around the corner, I don’t know what is!

But lets not stop there.  Think of the potential:

Steve made a very specific point at MacWorld about how AppleTV v1 (and everyone else) got it wrong.  AppleTV Take2 was all about untethering the AppleTV from the compulsory need for iTunes on a Mac/PC.  But of course this is just AppleTV software Version2.  The only way is up.  Hold that thought for a moment…

Just one next version of eyeTV (or a competitor) could totally usurp Slingbox and its rather expensive ilk, if they choose to rise to the challenge.  On a suitably powerful Mac doing the transcoding / up/down-scaling in real time*, could send that recorded, or live, TV out over the ‘net to your iPhone 3G, all remote-controlled via the eyeTV/IceTV (or competitor) app on your iPhone3G (or any iPhone or iPodTouch using WiFi).

And there’s no technical reason why Apple couldn’t similarly allow iTunes content to be streamed via the home LAN (WiFi or wired) onto the ‘net (perhaps even SSL encrypted?), over 3G into your iPhone, anywhere, if they wanted.

I’m not very familiar with the options available to you in the US, but I’m guessing there’s existing technologies/products for getting cable-TV content under similar control/availability.  Where ever you are with 3G or WiFi, there’s all your TV and media, without having to hold it on your iPhone.  No expensive Slingbox/etc box needed, it’s all potentially doable now with the devices we already have, with the very next generation of this collection of software!  Sure, 3G bandwidth coverage and/or cost is currently an issue in some places, but that, as always, is a rapidly improving issue.

Or how about this:

Apple have just sneaked into our homes – without any of us realizing it until it’s under our noses – a complete infrastructure for remote control of ANY device in the home that has a LAN connection (WiFi or wired).  This is the first reason why I’ve CC’d you, Paul :).  The whole gamut of Home Automation, and home security, if suitably equipped with LAN access, and adhering to a hypothetically open Apple Remote protocol standard, could all be controlled from your iPhone or iPod Touch, completely usurping an entire – and expensive –  segment of the Home Automation market: integrated control.  And, pending the license availability of the Apple Remote protocol (unless it is already?), all possible right now to anyone so inclined to design it in.

Whilst these HA devices could, if they wished, still retain the various techniques/protocols/proprietary-standards currently used to integrate them, they could also support the Apple Remote protocol, and open up their HA & security market not only from the sales growth potential brought about by the unprecedented ability to mix-n-match previously incompatible products, but also a broader target market more able to afford the product.

Have I just been smoking too much, or Is this not a HUGE opportunity, and threat, for so many players in the home media and home automation and home security arena?  All from just two cute little devices, and one deceptively adaptable OS?

Put the next AppleTV Take 3 (or oh-so-easily hacked AppleTV), or any Mac, back into the equation, with new apps, and you’ve got your media – anywhere you want, home automation, and security (including CCTV low-frame-rate video recording?) integrated, on your living room big-screen TV, remote controlled from your iPhone, potentially all with existing hardware (barring of course the cost of HA & security devices around the house, which runs a huge range of capabilities and prices).

Will Apple finally realise the much speculated potential of this little wonder-box?  Is the AppleTV Apps Store just around the corner, finally?  No more illegitimate hacks needed to bridge its gaps?  All the building blocks are now there.

First came the Apple Computer, then the Macintosh, then the iPod, then the iPhone, each almost universally regarded as revolutionary or at least extremely progressive leadership.  Has Steve Jobs just laid the foundation for his next coup – as well as those of many others thus far barred entry into these traditionally expensive up-market dedicated-hardware market segments (nirvanaish home media, home automation& home security) – right under our noses?  Has he just demonstrated yet again the repeatedly delivered promise of general purpose computers replacing multiple dedicated devices (and often closed/proprietary ones) at a fraction of the cost, size and user-complexity?

I don’t know if anyone else has published similar predictions for iPhone Remote technology and its potential capabilities, but just for the record (cuz he’d kill me if I didn’t ;), my friend PJ foresaw embryonic versions of many of these ideas (current reality and imminent possibility) well over a year ago when we first laid eyes on our AppleTVs.  So I wonder how much of this Steve Jobs foresaw before that, when the AppleTV was just a twinkle in his eye?  Or do these things almost inadvertently have a knack of growing into something far greater than their constituent contributors, with Jobs merely a pro surfer of the front wave of personal technology, rather than the hand of God pushing the wave along?!?  We do call it the Jesus Phone!

OK, RDF Mode: OFF, you can stop puking now :), but I labour the point, Paul, because I read your WinSuperSite blog a couple of weeks ago that was essentially a call to action/arms for Microsoft to wake up and pull their finger out, and I fully agree with it.  But, as (a) a long-time & rather techy Windows non-fan-boy, who (b) for the last 5 years has progressively been trying to elude the offensive mundanity of commercial broadcast TV in preference to “what i want, when i want it”: DVDs (purchased, and rented via Bigpond’s a-la-Netflix), podcasts, bittorrent, Joost, (etc. etc. etc.) and now finally in Australia iTunes TV & movie downloads, I’ve (c) just spent a difficult 12 months switching from Windows to Mac, based only in part on a whiff of the promise of “a better way of life” and the demonstrable surperiority-in-a-simpler-way in many ways (though not all) of the Mac / iPod / iPhone /AppleTV platforms.

Now I’m twelve months on from that leap of, erm… faith?, and now that we’ve reached this post-iPhone3G / AppleTV-Take2 point, I feel even more confident that I made the right decision ALSO because neither 12 months ago nor now are we seeing anyone or anything from Microsoft, let alone anywhere else, that suggests it has a hope of catching up to what we all (can) have right now.

But who would have thought all of this would come so far so soon?  It was only less than 4 years ago, with Australia’s beligerantly stupid 3 free-to-air commercial TV station oligarchy (who, seeing their writing on the wall, tried to sue IceTV, and failed) ensuring that the only way I could watch Battlestar Galactica was to  anxiously wait for someone on the other side of the planet to post it on ThePirateBay & download it via (comparatively slow) bittorrent, dragging my recliner arm chair into the study to watch it on my 17″ LCD monitor!

Now I can just press play on my AppleTV when it’s automatically downloaded.  They get their money, and I’m tickled digital.  Is this finally not win-win, a truce with the big-media industry?  Can we now just get on with it?

What of the next 4 years?!?  Maybe, finally, DRM will be gone completely, seen for the needless sham of scared old-media executives who for years resisted the inevitable, clinging to their unsustainable business models and brandishing thier lawyers club?  Yeah you’re right, probably not.

But we’re still living in awesomely interesting times!

Cheers, Anthony.