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At long last, a blog post that has been in the making (in my mind) FOREVER. Im going to touch on several different topics, therefore each one may not get the requisite attention it deserves. I will cover the new AppleTV 5.0/5.1 UI, the concept of “Applications” / “App Store” for the AppleTV, the AppleTV TV (aka the… shudder “iTV”) as well as the jailbreak status for 5.1 on AppleTV 2 and the AppleTV 3.
Since there are so many topics to cover in this post, I’m going to skip doing a long winded introduction, and just dive right in.
New AppleTV UI
Clearly there is widespread discontent with the new UI, I would have to be blind to miss the blogosphere go into ludicrous speed when a former AppleTV engineer, Michael Margolis, spoke out saying Steve Jobs was against this current design paradigm. “Fun fact — those new designs were tossed out 5 years ago because SJ didn’t like them. Now there is nobody to say “no” to bad design.” Whether you love or you hate the new design, I personally cannot think of any way to accommodate a large selection of Appliances/Applications. Is the layout a little sloppy and is it there a choppy transition from the top to bottom? Yes, does it suffer from “boxes half off the screen” (as i’ve been noted to criticize Microsoft Metro designers for), Yes as well. For some reason, it doesn’t bother me, its very strange. It definitely brings a better sense of continuity across all the Apple platforms, and yes it does seem to start to pave the way for “Applications”.
Either way my feelings / opinions on the subject are not at all important, what does matter is practicality. The horizontal scrolling of “Take Three” (yes the shelf / horizontal appliance scrolling was Take Three, not Two, Take Two is the second picture in the timeline below) was not practical, as appliance numbers ballooned things like Overflow became a necessity. Scrolling through a whole catalog of apps could get incredibly tedious under these circumstances.
This is a good segue into the App Store / Application conundrum.
Applications / App Store
In the past I had a list of reasons an App Store would not happen in the current environment of the AppleTV software, I would list 3 core reasons.
1. Horizontal Appliance Navigation
Before 5.1, this was a major problem, now that the UI has changed this hurdle has been cleared, so it is being taken off my initial list (which was never written up or posted, outside of twitter, that is).
2. Shared Memory Space / Bundle loading Infrastructure
This issue alone is enough to prevent an App Store from appearing on the AppleTV. As of right now there is only one application that runs on the AppleTV, called “AppleTV.app” (formerly known as Lowtide.app, but only on 8M89). The old name of this Application (as of AppleTV 1G) helps explain this phenomenon (Finder.app) every appliance USED to be a standalone plugin that would load as a bundle to the Finder.app (AppleTV.app) as of 5.1b2 this has changed, all of the appliance binaries have been merged into the AppleTV.app binary and all that remains independently is .appliance plist files.
The merge detail appears to be frivolous at the moment, however, the fact remains that all plugins/appliances share the same memory space, footprint, whatever you want to call it (my technical lexicon is atrocious at times, I apologize). Therefore, one false move by ONE appliance/plugin/merchant and the whole house comes crashing down. This drawback is the same reason that since 10.5 (or maybe 10.6) Third party developers were barred from the main contextual menu in the Finder when right/control clicking, if the contextual plugin had a bug in it, the whole menu could crash, same idea.
Never in a million years would Apple let third party developers loose in that mine field (at least I’m pretty confident they wouldn’t!)
3. Input Devices (RE: Gaming Platform)
This reason doesn’t exactly solidify the argument against an app store, it is used to underscore the need for better input devices before the AppleTV could be considered a viable gaming platform. A touchscreen device without any kind of tactile controls (D-pad, joystick, etc..) makes for a terrible gaming controller, the need to look at the screen in your hands to properly control a game on your TV? miserable failure. That being said, with bluetooth capabilities, is it possible a better gaming controller could be made. Airplay mirroring may work well for some games (Real HD racing, etc), however, on a whole, its an incredibly underwhelming gaming experience.
Now that I’ve laid out my case for why there won’t be an App Store (at least not until the remaining two issues are addressed) I would like to cover the evidence that one IS coming.
Between versions 4.2.1 – 4.3.0 a BRMediaType + (id)app was added. In between 4.4.4 and 5.0 -(BOOL)_shouldLoadApp:(id)app was added. A few choice ivar names in ATVMainMenuController also point towards some vague hints about “apps” coming _appsBackground and _appsBackgroundShroud. Of course this kind of “evidence” is pretty flimsy and doesn’t really go very far to prove anything. Aside from the latest layout, those are the only things I can think of that point to the possibility of an App Store. Could _shouldLoadApp be short for Appliance and they just got lazy?
It’s possible. Yes it is. Are there other indicators I could have missed and/or overlooked? Of course. To be honest, I have only scratched the surface on the UI changes between 4.4.4 and 5.0. It’s possible I will dig deeper and find some kind of evidence that completely convinces me one is or isn’t coming. In that vein it’s entirely possible this post could be updated in the future to address these possibilities.
I feel confident I’ve covered these two topics pretty well, On to the TV.
AppleTV all in one TV aka the ‘iTV’
I’m going to start off by apologizing for calling it the iTV, I know Apple will literally NEVER release a product called the ‘iTV’ (whether or not they release an actual TV). I’m not going into specifics of why it won’t be called that, this whole debate was covered over 6 years ago when the very first AppleTV was introduced during its wild rumor mills. If you really want to know the details, look it up! A little research never killed anyone, you might learn something!
This is another topic i’ve wanted to cover for a while but haven’t due to a combination of laziness and lack of time to do so. There are a laundry list of reasons I supplied for this, some of which have been eliminated (same as the new layout eliminating a bullet point against the app store). I will list all the bullet points, and obviously point out the one that is no longer relevant.
1. One Size Fits All?
They would have to offer too many different TV size models to appeal to all the customers that they are targeting. There is no silver bullet when it comes to TV sizes, yes they could offer a few different TV sizes, but how practical is that?
2. Maintenance and Servicing
Updating or restoring any of the first three generation AppleTV’s is fairly simple, the old one has a built in restore partition on its hard drive, and the newer ones can be plugged in to any USB port and restored with iTunes. No need for a laptop to restore, no worries about failed updates “bricking” the TV. If you don’t own a laptop do you want to carry your TV over to your computer or have a super long USB cable to service it when something goes awry? What about taking it in to the genius bar? Are we going to have Apple come out to our house to pick the TV’s up for us so we don’t have to lug them in? I really see no benefit to Apple making a full fledged TV unless they make them dirt cheap and make an insane profit. Theres zero benefit. In addition, generally speaking I don’t think most consumers update their TV’s as often as their phones or other smaller / cheaper tech miscellany.
That being said one of my reasons against a TV was it was cheaper and more pragmatic to offer an update to the little square hockey puck either at the same time, or first, before they moved on to an actual TV. With the AppleTV 3 being capable of playing 1080p, it’s reached its upper limit, aside from putting in a faster better processor or more ram, there isn’t much room for expansion. Theres no logical upward progression from here, they aren’t going to add a USB port or a DVD drive or any kind of peripherals, so unless they stop updating the hardware altogether and the AppleTV 3 is end of the line (till some new resolution tech/whatever comes around) the next step would logically be an actual television. I honestly don’t know how to weigh in on this one, between the potential app store trajectory hinted by the new layout, and hitting a plateau with where to go from the AppleTV 3, things may be very interesting for WWDC 2012.
it’s time to talk jailbreaks.
AppleTV 2 5.1 jailbreak
I’m sure many reading this post are aware that with the geohots A4 limera1n exploit it’s always possible (and quite simple) to jailbreak each new version that is released with relative ease. What isn’t easy is finding an vulnerability for an untethered exploit, and sometimes, massive software changes require a lot of work to achieve cross compatibility with a reasonable range of software versions. As of right now the jailbreak for 5.1 on the AppleTV is limited to a tethered jailbreak, yes I am aware that Stefan Esser (@i0n1c) has an untethered exploit, I don’t know any further details, and am not certain of whether or not he intends to share his research. The tethered jailbreak is only part of the problem, right now we are still busily sorting out legacy and compatibility issues to make sure all roads still go through beigelist when loading third party appliances. I’m not certain how long it will take to merge the differences between beigelist and espresso, hopefully, not much longer. That being said you should all give thanks and praise to two brilliant developers that have been involved with the AppleTV community for a very long time. Brandon Holland (@640774n6) and Dustin Howett (@DHowett), if you run into either of these fine gents or follow either of them on twitter you should show them some love
There is still work to be done, there are some bugs to sort out, however I can report that nitoTV works about 95%, XBMC is broken, and I’m uncertain of the status of all of the firecore products, I know they are progressing along nicely, but I can’t comment any further than that.
There isn’t much to say about this jailbreak, so I’m going to move on to the final topic, which I am going to cover very briefly.
I’m sure mostly everyone reading this article has probably heard MuscleNerds thought’s on jailbreaking the AppleTV 3, I echo his sentiments. I believe he said the “attack surface” is much smaller, I couldn’t have put it better. There is no built in default web browser, there are less services running, with no web browser and less services running there are fewer places to smoke/fuzz out a vulnerability. For instance, even if the AppleTV 3 was out before the iPad 2 and 4S were jailbroken with absinthe, it would not have been applicable, no mobilebackup to exploit for part of the injection vector. I’m not saying the AppleTV 3 is hopeless, however, without an A5 bootrom exploit being found, each AppleTV 3 jailbreak (after the first one happens) will be an uphill battle. Nothing earth shattering here, wish I had better news on this front.
Well thats it, I doubt this post lived up to what I thought it would be, or audience expectations, however I hope it answered some questions that many people are asking about a variety of AppleTV topics, that being said, hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it.
just for fun heres a few old pictures for the progression of the AppleTV UI