Monday, February 19, 2007

What's that hard drive doing inside the AppleTV?


I truly thought it was simply to allow buffering of content that you wanted to watch on your TV, to store frequently watched videos or frequently listened to music, and maybe even to allow you to connect to the iTunes Music store directly to download content.  In effect, I suspected that the hard drive inside the AppleTV was little more than a juiced-up iPod hard drive and that interaction between my main computer and the AppleTV would be very similar to the interaction between iTunes and my various iPods.  By the way, I do still believe this to be the case in the initial version/firmware version of the AppleTV, but I was interested to read a post by Robert Cringley that describes his thoughts about the hard drive.

Essentially Cringley thinks that the hard drive could be used to set up a massive peer-to-peer network:

Here is what I think is happening with the Apple TV hard drive. I
think sometime this summer Apple will ship a firmware upgrade for the
Apple TV and it will suddenly gain an important new capability. That's
when the Apple TV becomes a node on the iTunes peer-to-peer video

If the Apple TV is plugged in it is turned on. Did you notice that?
That means the hard drive will have at least the capability of running
24/7. Now envision a BitTorrent-like file distribution system that is
controlled primarily by iTunes, rather than by you or me. A centrally
controlled P2P system is VERY powerful because it allows for the
pre-positioning of content.

Cringley makes some further interesting points in his article defending his reasoning for AppleTV being a peer-to-peer network and I encourage you to read it.

Here are my thoughts about the AppleTV being a peer-to-peer node:

  • Why haven't they done it yet?  You don't need the AppleTV device to make this happen, they could have done it a long time ago with all of the computers that are running iTunes.

  • If the RIAA is any indication, it seems very unlikely that Apple would be able to develop a secure enough peer-to-peer system to make the MPAA happy enough to support this kind of distribution solution.

  • Pre-positioning on content means using my hard drive space.  If you operate under the theory of Apple seeding content to AppleTV boxes in order to make it easily available on the AppleTV peer-to-peer network, then that means that the content will have to be pre-positioned on AppleTVs throughout the country.  Certainly TiVo reserves a slice of the storage on my TiVo device for its OS and some additional video advertising, but from a percentage basis, that space is relatively small and insignificant when compared to what seeding a high-def video might take up.

  • Cringley makes the point that the only way the AppleTV can be turned off is to unplug it -- the same holds true for the new Airport Extreme, the old Airport Extreme, and the Airport Express; just because the device doesn't have a power button does not make it necessarily designed for peer-to-peer.

I'm not sure as a consumer that pays for his own broadband that I'm okay with participating in a peer-to-peer program using bandwidth that I pay for on a monthly basis and hardware that I paid for in an unsubsidized manner to support a system by which Apple profits.  Quite frankly, I would not care if my purchased movies downloaded just a little bit faster if I had to give up available bandwidth for my other online activities in order to accomplish that -- remember that most home high-speed connection are asynchronous, meaning that stuff downloads much faster than it uploads, so consider the upload (i.e., movie sharing pipe) much smaller than the movie downloading pipe and the fact that you would be making that pipe smaller if you were constantly seeding video and audio content for Apple.

Don't get me wrong, Cringley could be correct, but it's just hard for me to wrap my head around it at this point.


No comments: