At Apple's September 12 event, Steve Jobs announced the iTV, a little device that allows access to your iTunes Library on your big screen TV. The iTV won't be available until early 2007, and while the demo was very impressive it still leaves a lot of questions about what the final version will do. In particular whether or not the iTV has a built-in hard drive is not yet known for sure. However, this may not be so important because the iTV definitely has a USB port. So the real question is: "What can I plug into that USB port?" While the USB port is probably for connecting an iPod, perhaps it can also be used to connect an external hard drive to the network. Read on to learn why the iTV may just be the NAS (network attached storage) solution no one expected.
Why Does the iTV even need a hard drive?
Nothing in the September 12th demo required a hard drive. So why does the iTV need a hard drive? The answer is simple: it makes shopping on the iTunes Store easier. Apple would miss out on a huge sales opportunity if customers couldn't shop on the iTunes Store with the iTV (preferably with a date as Alex and Kevin recently discussed on episode 63 of Diggnation). Without a hard drive built-in or attached to the iTV, iTunes purchases would have to be saved to a computer on the network. But that requires that a computer is turned on and ready to receive the file, which seems rather annoying and very un-Apple. Most importantly, it requires that you own a computer. With a storage device connected to the iTV people wouldn't even need a computer to shop on iTunes, which could be huge for Apple.
Built-in, iPod, or External
While the benefits of a hard drive are there, that doesn’t answer any questions about the details. For starters, it’s possible that the iTV has a built-in hard drive, as Disney's CEO Bob Iger indicated. If this is the case, one would expect that media stored on the iTV’s would be accessible to other computers on the network, essentially rendering the iTV into a NAS (even if it’s only for media).
It’s also seems logical that the iTV’s USB port, which Jobs pointed out in the demo, is for an iPod. Connecting an iPod to the iTV would make the iPod’s media library accessible from the iTV. This is a no brainer, and if the iTV doesn't have iPod connectivity, someone needs to have their head examined. In fact, Apple would be wise to bundle an iPod dock with the iTV, but let’s not get greedy. It’s also seems possible that an iPod connected to the iTV could save iTunes purchases, especially since iTunes 7 (announced the same day as the iTV) allows iTunes purchases to be transferred from the iPod to a computer.
If the iTV’s can connect to an iPod, why not an external hard drive? And if the iTV can connect to an external hard drive, perhaps it can also share the drive on the network. This would be incredibly useful because your media files wouldn’t eat away hard drive on your primary computer and be accessible to any computer on the network. Plus if your computer hard drive fails all your iTunes purchases would be safely stored on the NAS. Also, storage capacity wouldn’t be limited to the internal constraints of the iTV.
Combining media streaming and NAS into one device might seem out there, but consider Apple's most comparable product, the platypus that is the Airport Express. The Airport Express is mostly marketed for playing iTunes in other rooms via AirTunes, however it also has a USB port for, of all things, wirelessly sharing a printer. That’s about as odd a mash-up as they come.
However, while AirTunes and printer sharing have nothing to do with each other, NAS and media playback actually makes sense together. Home NAS products haven't really caught on, although the benefits are obvious for those with multiple computers or big media libraries. NAS is one of those technologies that many homes could take advantage of if they knew what it was or were willing to set it up. And it's possible that with the iTV, Apple could do for NAS what Vonage did for VOIP.
We've all been burned by Apple; I've been bummed the MacMini doesn't have a TV tuner since day one. There’s a small chance that the iTV won’t allow users to shop on iTunes. But, it seems more likely that the iTV will be treated as simply a media streamer that requires a Mac, PC or iPod connected to do anything, including shop on iTunes. That would really be a shame, because NAS seems well within reach and reason. So if that's not what the iTV After all, the Airport Express did more than anyone would have expected, so hopefully the iTV will too.