The Next Apple TV: Apps on the Big Screen?

Over at Engadget, Josh Topolosky has written about a tip his site received about the next Apple TV–which supposedly is essentially a $99 screenless, diskless iPhone which streams 1080p content from the Internet or a Time Capsule network drive. It would presumably tie into a service along the lines of the one described in a musty old rumor known as iTunes Replay. And it would clearly compete with existing boxes such as Roku and future ones based on Google TV.

(One major Google TV selling point which Apple TV definitely won’t match, at least in our lifetime: Google’s gizmo will play all the Flash-based video on the Web.)

Josh’s tipster didn’t say anything about whether the next-generation Apple TV would run apps. But if it runs iPhone OS, it feels kind of inevitable that it would–if not at first, at least eventually. Stock iPhone and iPad apps would make no sense at all on an HDTV screen, but ones scaled to the right size and aspect ratio might. Netflix, for instance, could create something akin to the Netflix interface on Roku. And games would be a no-brainer.

It’s still not obvious that many folks want to run apps other than games on a TV set. Yahoo’s Connected TV platform has let you do that for awhile now on sets from multiple manufacturers, and although it’s well-done it doesn’t seem to have set off a living-room revolution just yet. But I’m even more cautious about one of the big ideas behind last week’s Google TV announcement: that consumers hunger for full-blown access to the Web on their TVs. I’ve sat through innumerable press events over the past fifteen years or so listening to tech execs who were confident that real people wanted to browse on a TV. Those real people, however, have always seemed to be in short supply.

Given how long we’ve all been online, most living rooms remain surprisingly short on Internet technology. I’m still not sure if there’s an iPod-like transformative device out there waiting to be invented by Apple or anybody else, but if both Google and Apple give it all they’ve got it’ll be fun to watch, if nothing else.

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