So I asked the question: is AppleTV going to be a new kind of iPod? Chuq Von Rospach, replying by e-mail, suggested that as an iTunes-slaved appliance, AppleTV will be similar to but in a different class from the iPod. Neither one is meant to be a central processing hub and both serve stored data but they’re used in very distinct ways.
This made me revisit what it means to be an appliance or a computer. Computers are, pretty obviously, general purpose. You load them with any number of tasks and software and operating systems and you configure and expand them easily. The Mac Pro is my choice for the most computer-ish of Apple computers with all its processing power and expandability.
Laptops and the Mac mini start moving towards the center between computers and appliances. Although far less configurable, no one would ever consider them anything less than processors. They do, however, lend themselves better to special purposes like embedding with their portability and small form factor.
The iPhone crosses the middle line. Like many PocketPCs, the iPhone lives more in appliance-land than computer land regardless of whether Steve Jobs says it will run a kind of “OS X” or not.
The iPod is clearly an appliance–very special purpose, very much slaved to a master unit. For the purposes of this discussion, it does not matter whether you can run Linux on it. My TiVo runs Linux and it’s still an appliance. It is slaved to the TiVo subscription service for its listings.
So what about AppleTV? (Which will be running Linux in about 5 seconds after it hits the first hacker’s home.) With its “only-for-servicing” USB port and its soldered-in CPU? And its insanely small 40-GB disk drive? Appliance.
I’m still not convinced that it’s an essentially different kind of appliance from the iPod. Slaved-to-iTunes. Photos, music, movies and maybe games. Sounds very iPod, even if headless iPod, to me.
But at the same time it also seems like a really really cheap non-configurable Mac Mini in an appliance-like way. If you’re willing to lay out $600-$800, you can probably configure yourself up a pretty decent living-room media center. Or for $300, you can use your existing computer and just expand it to the living room with AppleTV.
So what is AppleTV? Headless iPod? Crippled Mini? Something different? You tell me.