When I was up at Macworld two weeks ago I got to see in person many of the announcements that were made during Steve Jobs’ keynote (MacBook Air, iTune Movie Rentals, Time Capsule , etc.). While the MacBook Air is quite sexy, the most interesting thing I thought while strolling through the Apple booth was how much they were pushing the newly updated Apple TV.
If you haven’t heard of it, it was originally announced last year and is basically an iPod that you keep attached to your TV. You navigate the on-screen display with a small remote using an interface similar to Front Row on OS X. I was wholly unimpressed with it as originally announced as it required you to sync content to its 40G drive from another computer on the network. This year, they have improved the software to where you can now rent movies or purchase music or movies from the device itself (before purchases had to be made on your computer and synced to the device).
While Apple isn’t the first to offer movie rentals via digital delivery, they are arguably the highest profile and stand the best chance on making it work (much like they were with digital music purchases with the iTunes Music Store). My question is, what is Apple up to? Are they trying to be the premiere source for digital delivery of media? I suppose so, but it doesn’t necessarily make sense. Maybe they are going to truly transition to the classic razor and razor-blade business model and try and get as much (or more) revenue from each Mac or iPod purchase in the services they offer. It appears the the new price-drop of the Apple TV is not due to lower costs which supports the theory.
I personally have two gripes about the rentals. First, the HD versions of movies are $1 more (generally being referred to as a “guy tax”) and can only be purchased on an Apple TV. That means that my Mac Mini which I have set up as a media center for my TV can only do standard definition. My other complaint, which is more of a deal breaker, is that you have 30 days to begin watching any movie you rented (which is decent), but only 24 hours to finish watching it when you start. That’s a problem. When Becky and I watch a movie, we often don’t finish it in one sitting (especially during the week). With the current model, when we go back to finish it the next night, it’ll be expired and already removed from the system. Lame. My guess it’s a short-sighted requirement from the studios rather than a “feature” from Apple, but either way, it’ll have to change before I get on board.