The Apple TV has had an interesting history. Starting out, it accompanied the iPhone as Apple’s “next big thing,” even if its spotlight was dim in comparison with the iPhone’s.
Consider this. On the Apple.com Store, the “above the fold” shot looks something like this:
Notice anything missing? The Macs and iPods and Touch devices are all there in the circle. But no Apple TV. In fact, to find any mention of the Apple TV anywhere on the Store homepage, you have to look under the “For iPod” section:
Deeper in the store, the Apple TV gets a mention, but under Mac Accessories. So is the Apple TV for iPods or for Macs?
What gives? If Filemaker Pro and Apple’s printer bundle can get a graphical mention on the Store homepage, why not Apple TV?
I put together a current Apple product lineup grid, showing the available desktops, notebooks, touch devices, iPods, and what I call “Misc.” – which just means anything that isn’t any of the above categories:
The “Misc.” section is a mish-mash. Displays, peripherals, networking and backup products – and the Apple TV. One could argue that it belong with the iPod, but I consider iPods portable music devices. And the Apple TV isn’t quite a Mac, either, even though it runs a version of Front Row and connects with an iTunes library.
No, it’s just kind of out there on it’s own. It has no rock-solid home in the current Apple lineup.
On the other hand, imagine if we added some other category. We’ll call it “Entertainment,” and then add all the other items under “Misc.” as a kind of peripherals-only section:
For “Entertainment,” we have to imagine the Apple TV as its own category – perhaps a harbinger to things to come. Of what? There have been rumors of some sort of Apple television. Maybe they’ve been waiting for competition. Maybe they’re striking a deal with Netflix and Boxee right now. Maybe there’s a flatscreen TV out there with an Apple logo on the back, waiting to be released.
It’s just speculation, and I don’t consider it a worthwhile rumor for the time being. Apple, now, seems focused on its Touch devices – specifically the iPad. The Apple TV is surely stuck in some development limbo. One could even argue that the fourth-leg of the Apple stool is now the iPad instead of the Apple TV.
We’re also seeing the Apple product lineup gain some complexity, with the Apple TV fitting in nowhere that makes sense. Remember when Steve Jobs returned, and he cut everything Apple was doing at the time (killing the Newton, say) down to the very minimum? He filled in the final slot in the G3 lineup at the iBook launch in 1999:
Back then, you had two consumer Macs and two pro Macs. In the G4 era, things became a little less simplified with the PowerMac G4 Cube (unless you want to lump it with the regular PowerMacs) and the iPod. But even then, you could fit products in definite categories: consumer Macs, pro Macs, smaller iPods, and full-sized iPods.
Where does the Apple TV fit in all this? Nowhere neatly that I can figure out. And Apple quarantining the Apple TV from the Store homepage seems to send a message. “If you really want an Apple TV, you’re going to have to dig.”