October 01, 2010

New Apple TV Extends Fragmentation, Cupertino Style

For all the noise around fragmentation in the world of Android, one would think the state of affairs on the other side of the technology aisle would be perfectly unified - with one operating system, one user environment, and one experience where all things play nice. But while it's not as often discussed, my plethora of Apple devices is increasingly fragmented. The newest culprit? The brand new Apple TV, which has an incredible form factor, and some surprises in terms of what's simply not there - making me have to remember what media plays on what devices, and what devices are capable of doing what.

Despite my switch to Android on the phone, I still have plenty of Apple products in my house - from my wife and my laptops, our iPads (shared with the twins), a first generation Apple TV and second generation Apple TV and the newest iPod Touch.

After getting the new Apple TV, and attaching an entirely too expensive HDMI cable (not included) from Radio Shack, I set up the device and browsed to available TV shows to rent or buy.

The first search I made was for "Dexter", the Showtime drama I've become addicted to in the last month or so. Having already pulled down seasons one through three on my Mac, I wanted to pull down season four on the Apple TV. No dice. No results found.

Browsing the available TV networks quickly displayed why this was the case. Apple TV only offers selections from Fox, ABC, BBC and Disney. With Fox being the lowest in the alphabet, I thought it was a bug, but it wasn't that I missed Showtime outright, it just flat-out doesn't exist. CNET highlights how only 3 of the top 25 shows are available, but there's just something odd about knowing content is in the iTunes store (like Dexter) but my new Apple TV can't get to it, while the old first gen one (downstairs) can.

The capability gap between different devices from Apple is already clearly felt within iTunes. The iPad has started a cottage industry of high quality application development for the larger screened devices, which is great, but the backwards compatibility is practically invisible. In fact, if you have iPhone and iPad, you might find yourself buying an application twice, on the same account, for each device, with no discount. With the promise of applications being developed for the new Apple TV, you can see the potential for yet another purchase looming on the horizon.

While Android is clearly struggling with the challenge of bringing 2.2 support to all the latest handsets (and making progress), we see Apple TV running a variant of iOS (mixed with the traditional Apple TV OS), different than that of the iPhone/iPod Touch, with iPads still not having iOS 4, and yes, Macs still being Macs. I don't think it's too crazy, for a company focused on the Open Web (courtesy Daring Fireball) to find a way to tap into the Internet in a very real way and unify access to media and applications.

For now, until this is solved, it seems we need to expect the new Apple TV to have a different set of titles from iTunes than its older cousin, and the iPod Touch or iPhone to have a different set of applications than the iPad or Mac OS. This is real fragmentation, and it's a drag.

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