Wed 12 Oct
Today, Apple announced the addition of new video capabilities to its one-two entertainment punch of iPod hardware and iTunes software, satisfying a long festering demand for portable video and providing an inevitable method for buying video content. They’re significant first steps in monetizing broadband content and I think they’re cool, but they leave me basically nonplussed.
What’s got me in a lather, though, is the new iMac G5, which is tantalizingly, frustratingly close to a great media center… but still miles short of what I had in mind. Where is the TV tuner functionality, first of all? If there’s something glaringly missing from this offering that in so many respects desperately wants to be a television, it’s the ability to actually be able to use it as a television.
I probably already know the answer to why this is so: in negotiating the rights to offer downloadable video sales, Apple had to concede on television functionality, I’m willing to bet. Adding a tuner to a Mac invites the obvious addition of PVR functionality, too, which, to the providers of video content, is like opening the prettiest door to video piracy ever. Which is a shame, because a TV tuner and a PVR would have made for a very difficult to resist product.
Even then, it still wouldn’t be perfect, because I think media centers in general are missing a key, yet-to-be invented component: some method of making it physically easier to use them for their intended dual purposes of being productive (desktop computer mode) and being lazy (TV-watching mode). Is there really any place in a home that you can place a media center where it’s just as comfortable to use as a computer as it is to use as a television? Right now, the answer is no, and it will remain so, I think, unless someone invents an incredibly sturdy and articulate armature that allows a screen to move off of a desk and in front of a couch — or until someone invents a variant on the AirPort Express that will stream beautiful, full-resolution video from a Mac on my desk to a TV in my living room. Someone’s working on that, right?
One more note about the new iMac G5: its remote control is one of the smartest designs I’ve ever seen. To begin with, remote controls have been a source of continual interface anxiety for decades; virtually no interaction designer who has ever lived hasn’t dreamt of building an exceedingly simple and elegant remote control. From what I’ve seen so far, Apple has pulled it off.
The thing about brilliant design solutions is that they start out by rephrasing the question at hand. Rather than asking themselves, “How do we fix what’s wrong with this piece of hardware?“ Apple asked themselves, “What is this piece of hardware doing that can be done in software instead?“ The result is a vastly reduced number of buttons, with functionality moving over into the interface of the promisingly beautiful Front Row software. I hope it lives up to the advance billing when I get to see it in person.