On Apple Rumors, Again

Per their usual announcement cycle, it's expected that Apple will have an event in September.  Many of the usual suspects are expected to be announced.  Product feature updates, Faster somethings, More other things, maybe a new product or service, etc.  But one tidbit caught my attention: a new AppleTV.  While I don't care that much about the AppleTV as a product (I have thoughts strongly leaning to a Mac Mini to make digital movies more accessible to my family for the next year); I just don't watch much TV period.  However, the part of the rumor that caught my attention and imagination is that the new AppleTV (or iTV, if it is indeed renamed) would run Apps.

Let's assume that that is the case.  With the addition of the Magic Trackpad, you could interact with apps (read: games) in ways that aren't possible with the Apple Remote.  Now, I'll be the first to say that this isn't frought with challenges to solve.  If this is indeed a path that Apple intends to follow, well, they have a lot of really smart people who can figure out solutions.  But for now, I'll play Armchair Architect/Designer/Engineer.

One problem with this: Screen Resolution.  Neither the iPhones v1-3, iPhone 4, nor iPad have a screen resolution that matches a HDTV.  (Rumors as reported by Engadget say that it would only be 720p, not 1080i or 1080p.)  This causes a problem for developers.  Their apps either need to be scaled for the new display resolution (which is smaller than the iPad in both portrait and landscape), yet larger than the traditional iPhone app.  However in landscape mode iPhone apps could run letterboxed (native resolution for iPhone 4 apps or scaled up traditional iPhone apps.)  Since scaling is such a clumsy solution, I expect that developers will be offered a new iOS build target: iTV.  We would see the addition of iTV to the Universal Binaries, or a third version of some apps (iPhone/iPad/iTV).

Another problem: Interaction.  Currently iOS and AppleTV use very different interaction models: Touch and Gestures versus a Menu system.  I don't see that many iOS apps as currently designed would work very well using Menu interaction.  Especially games.  Let's call that a dead-end and move on to the Trackpad.   Let's step back a moment to look at interacting with your application.  With a traditional computer there is a cursor, and the mouse or trackpad interacts with that; here there is an indirect interaction between your hand and the action.  By 2010 most people have forgotten the teething problems learning to use a mouse, but there is a level of familiarity and comfort that must be developed to move your hand on the desk to move a cursor on the screen.  (I believe my introduction to a mouse was probably around 1986-7.)  With a touchscreen, you directly interact with the apps; you touch what you see.  Enter the Magic Trackpad.  The problem here as I see it is that currently the AppleTV doesn't have anything representing a cursor, so there is little to indicate what is selected.  Yes, you can simply highlight the first item, scroll around the trackpad to select different items and tap or click to select, but somehow that seems clumsy to me.  So, now what?  A cursor?  I think this is closer to being doable, but I'm still not comfortable with that.  Yes, that can solve many of the problems that exist, but then you're back to interacting with iOS apps like you would a desktop app, and that feels like a step backward.  Not to mention typing.  Ever use the on-screen-keyboard?  Move.  Click.  Move.  Click.  Move....  Bluetooth connected the Trackpad, so Bluetooth can connect a keyboard!  Problem solved!  Except that now you need to buy $138 in wireless accessories to make full use of this system.  That doesn't feel right, either.

Or, some kind of VNC remoting for your iOS device or laptop.  This could actually be pretty easy to implement once you get the security credentials set up.  It could solve the need to buy an additional device since owning an AppleTV it's a very reasonable assumption that you already have a Mac or iOS device.  The problem here to me seems to be desktop Macs; If that's all you have, it's not very convenient to control your TV from the iMac sitting upstairs in your office...

I certainly don't have the answers, nor do I (obviously) have any insider access.  If these are even real concerns, I have a lot of faith that Apple has people smarter than I implementing some Awesome.


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