iPod 4th generation, 2004. Photo © A Jenks.

iPod 4th generation, 2004. Photo © A Jenks.

The reason I will almost certainly buy the new model of Apple TV later this year is because of a purchase I made in 2004. That’s the 2004 purchase pictured at right – a fourth generation 40 gigabyte iPod.

You might think the link between the two would be the obvious one – I bought into Apple products then and I still buy Apple now because I like them. While that’s true, it’s not the main reason a fourth generation Apple TV is likely in my future.

It was while listening to another great episode of Not Another Mac Podcast that I suddenly realised this link. In Episode 166 (What do you mean by true 4K?) Mike McPeek, aka “Mr. Gadget Man,” spoke at length about his thoughts on devices, services and vendors in the “TV” market. During this he kept saying “depending on where your content is…” and that’s the crux of my situation.

Back in 2004 I was running a generic PC running Windows XP and had many years previously “ripped” my extensive CD collection to a variety of digital audio file types. WinAmp was my player of choice, but when the iPod entered my life, so did iTunes. Now, iTunes 4 was nothing special. Apart from being curiously different in its interface, I still far preferred the “cool” WinAmp. But there was no choice in the matter. If I wanted my music on my iPod, then it had to first be in iTunes. And so there it moved.

The same year I bought my first iPod, the iTunes Store first began selling songs outside of the United States and a little over a year later, in late 2005, they went on sale in New Zealand. But… digital rights management was a hot topic and my 2005 self didn’t like it. CDs were still plentiful and could easily be ripped for use on my iPod – even by iTunes itself.

Up to this point, I could easily have “jumped ship” to some other ecosystem, but consider this was still well before the iPhone, the advent of Android and the subsequent explosion of “mobile” as a platform. There weren’t really “ecosystems” to jump between.

I described in a previous post, Apple Music – My analysis, how I gradually shifted to purchasing much of my music directly from iTunes, which consequently began tying me more and more into iTunes. Admittedly somewhat due to inertia, I have stuck with iTunes because my investment in it has been steadily growing, and that’s where this story takes a pivotal leap – to video.

Similarly to my music collection, I keep all of my video in iTunes. Why? While my first iPod did not handle video, my second one did. How did I get video to it? Through iTunes, of course. It started off with a few ripped episodes of Black Adder from my DVD collection. Yes, it’s just as funny on a 2.5″ display.

Today, I have all of my large collection of DVD movies and TV shows ripped and tagged to within an inch of their lives and that makes up by far the majority of my video content. In recent years I have bought movies directly from iTunes to add to these. I also rent many movies from iTunes. Yet more tie in, buy in, to the iTunes ecosystem. Even when new DVD or Blu-ray discs are purchased (usually in deep discount sales) they are ripped and end up in iTunes because that’s where everything goes. And that’s why I have a third generation Apple TV – so any of that content is easily brought to the living room television and sound system.

So, what are my alternatives? Certainly there are endless generic solutions which offer little more than folder browsers for network connected storage. But none of those are likely going to handle my iPhone, iPad and Mac at the same time. Even if so, it wouldn’t have the elegant simplicity of the iTunes system. What about higher end boxes like Roku? Not available here and in any case somewhat reliant on services unique to the US. What about alternate services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO? Well Netflix is now finally available in New Zealand as of mid this year, but it’s not the same as the US service with a much reduced catalogue.

It is a simple fact that the majority of my media is in iTunes and even though most of it is not locked there (stuff I have ripped from my physical media) it is an incredibly convenient place for it to be because I have Apple hardware.

So… I have Apple hardware because I like it and therefore the best place for my content is iTunes and therefore the new Apple TV is as compelling, if not more, than the one I already have. The only thing the new Apple TV is competing against is its older brother. Ever heard the iPod called a gateway drug? Yup.

Of course this is my own position, but I think it may be a far more common position outside the few markets where true alternatives are available. Much as I malign Apple for not bringing service to New Zealand in a timely fashion, the fact is for many years they were the only ones who ever brought popular US-based services here. I’d like to point out, though, that TV shows are only available in six countries still. What’s with that?

I was pretty much sold on getting the new device until I heard that the New Zealand model will come with a Siri-incapable remote. WTF? We’re well used to getting Apple services late here in New Zealand (including some of Siri’s capabilities) but selling me different hardware just doesn’t sit well with me. I would hope the price will reflect this, but exchange rates will make this impossible to verify.

Epilogue

I’m a geek. I’ve been known to tinker with stuff. I could have watched US Netflix through a proxy. I could have got a second generation Apple TV and hacked Plex onto it. I could have made any of the generic player boxes play my content. I could have imported a Roku or similar and made it work. I could have built a media PC and hooked it to my TV with a third party remote. But I choose to spend my innate penchant for tinkering on my creative side – making stuff. When I want to take a break from being creative and be entertained, I want something that “just works” and, for all its faults, the Apple ecosystem generally does just that.


Banner image derived from image © Apple, Inc.

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