4 Reasons Why an Apple-Branded Tivo/DVR Would Probably Suck - Macenstein

4 Reasons Why an Apple-Branded Tivo/DVR Would Probably Suck

Yesterday’s rumor du jour was that Apple will be partnering with Tivo for an upcoming update to the Apple TV which will finally bring DVR capabilities to Apple’s “hobby”. Given that I am in the market for a new DVR, on the surface this would be welcome news for me, as an Apple=branded DVR would likely fit in perfectly with my Mac-Centric entertainment system. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that an Apple-branded DVR would likely suck. Here’s why.

Above: Tivo’s remote may look cheesy compared to Apple’s, but it works great and actually feels good in your hand.

The remote would suck
Tivo has long been applauded for its remote (at least until the Premiere model). Its many buttons made navigating around the interface a breeze, and put most of what you would wish to access quickly at your fingertips without the need to for deep menu searching. Apple on the other hand, has an almost equally long history of having the most pathetic remote ever created. The Apple TV remote is almost identical to the one that (used to) ship with Macs back in the day, and its minimalist design, while futuristic-looking, would certainly not work with a real DVR. Apple would likely make SOME sort of button concessions on their DVR remote, but odds are not nearly enough to make navigation as fast as a Tivo. In fact, given Apple’s obsession with touch-driven input, it might even attempt to make a completely touch-sensative remote, which may sound cool, but realistically can’t be a good thing. Almost as important as functionality is the way a remote feels in the hand. Apple has yet to build a remote (and I would argue a mouse) that feels good to hold. There’s a reason why most remotes for devices from DVRs to DVD players and TVs are almost all the same size. The hand needs something to grip, and there needs to be a good weight to them as well. Not only are Apple’s remotes ridiculously easy to lose, they are no “fun” to hold.

The hard drive will be way too small
Almost every product Apple has released has had less storage than its competitors, and usually a LOT less. Sure, sometimes you can buy a larger hard drive from Apple (for 3 times the cost of a 3rd party) but in general, the stock model has embarrassing storage capacity. Given that any DVR Apple would make at this point would need to record HD broadcasts, it would seem ludicrous to go with anything less than a 1 TB drive, but Apple definitely would. I’m guessing a 250 GB drive in the lowest model.

In a way this makes sense, as any Apple-branded DVR will be meant to also serve as an Apple TV replacement, which is currently designed to get you to spend money on downloading movies and and rentals from the iTunes Store. So Apple’s rationale will probably be along the lines of “why would you want to record shows anyway when you can just buy on demand content?”.

Above: Size matters. When it comes to DVR’s, it’s all about capacity and expandability.

It will be physically too small to support extra hard drives

One of the most appealing aspects of a Tivo box is that not only have they traditionally been wide enough to accommodate two hard drives, but Tivo actually LETS you put in two drives. If the latest Apple TV is any indication, Apple has no plans of deviating from its mantra of “thinner is better”. Sure, there’s a chance Apple MIGHT add a useable eSATA port or such for expandability, but that has not been their traditional M.O.. As much as I’d like to think Apple would allow for easy expansion, I think the allure of having a picture of a minimalist-looking device next to an Ultra thin TV would take precedence over the needs of the “power user”. In fact, looking at the Apple TV page on Apple’s site, and there are more pictures of flat screen TVs than the Apple TV itself. They really want the device to disappear, which I suppose could lend some credibility to the idea that Apple may one day start selling TV’s with built-in DVRs.

No Netflix
Most DVR manufacturers these days include support for web services such as HULU, YouTube, Pandora and such, and while there’s hope that some of these might end up in an Apple DVR, odds are YouTube is the only sure bet, and the odds Apple would allow Netflix on the device are near zero. Sure Apple has allowed the Netflix app on the iPad, but thus far they’ve chosen to keep their Apple TV’s closed to 3rd party developers, and again, Netflix would be a huge competitor to the iTunes movie store which would likely be the go to movie rental system. As evidenced by the last major update to the Apple TV software, Apple is really pushing iTunes content, to the point where it now takes more steps for me to access MY video content, and seems to slow the system down in general as it downloads the latest DVD rental art from iTunes.

While it would be nice to imagine Apple would enter the home DVR arena, so far all we have is a rumor of an Apple/Tivo partnership. To add less fuel to the fire, Steve Jobs recently mentioned they had no plans to enter the home DVR market, although he DID mention that “other” companies already had good solutions. Apple certainly has a warchest of funds available to purchase an established DVR company like Tivo, but the question would be how much of Tivo’s time tested way of doing things would survive a purchase.

Obviously with Google TV on the horizon, if Apple DOES make a serious move into the DVR business I don’t mean to imply Apple will release a piece of crap contender. However, as a long time Apple fan I am more than accustomed to seeing Apple aggressively streamline a product, removing seemingly essential features and then acting as though only an idiot would want them. As a long-time DVR owner looking to upgrade my Verizon FiOS DVR’s anemic capacity, my main worry is Apple’s obsession with physical size would limit the capacity for HD recording, and their desire to control content might limit 3rd party services such as Netflix. Hopefully if Apple does plan to enter the DVR market, they realize that many of us take our DVR-ing VERY seriously, and what the unit looks like is not nearly as important as what it does.

12 Responses to “4 Reasons Why an Apple-Branded Tivo/DVR Would Probably Suck”
  1. JR says:

    I think you’ve got it wrong. Seeing the directions Apple has recently taken, the TIVO partnership would most likely turn into an “app” on a future Apple TV where TIVO is simply the software used for recording (to an external device where you choose the size). Apple will go small with a touch remote that will be new and fresh, no more huge clunky remotes. As much as we like those big remotes, El Jobso will show us what we need (ie a touch interface remote that is customizable to the buttons you actually want on there).

  2. Dave-O says:

    Anyone who likes that damned peanut remote didn’t use a Series 1. The buttons on my Sony TiVo were better laid out, and I never once tried to use it backwards. Award-winning my ass.

  3. dr Who says:

    Looks like you are fighting the old “one button” against the “two button” mouse ware all over again.

    I love my tiny white Apple remote and my Might mouse. Think the look and work great. They do exactly what the are planned for and get out of the way, not disturbing the thing it’s all about, user experience. It’s about what you are looking at or working on. It’s not about the geek factor of the device you are holding in your hand 😉

  4. Eric says:

    JR, a software-based touch remote is exactly the wrong way to go for a TV interface device. The touch interface works well for iPods and iPhones because your visual focus is also on the device you’re holding, but when a person uses a remote control, they usually don’t look at the remote — they look at the TV — and so any properly designed TV remote control will need to have physical buttons that can be navigated by feel (at least until we develop force field technology and can make hard light holograms).

  5. Doug petrosky says:

    Stupidest commentary I have ever read!

    Have you ever used a Tivo? One of the hallmarks of the UI is that 95% of what you need to do can be done with 5 buttons (four directionals and select). I could control my Tivo with an Apple remote. Also, for video streaming devices aka AppleTV, Apple supported larger drives than most of the competition, now they haven’t updated the device for 2 years but even using 2.5″ drives they were larger than what many other streaming devices supported and looking forward, if they do a DVR you can look at the storage sizes of the TimeCapsule to get an idea of what Apple is willing to do (not to mention the probability that Apple would support sync’ing with local computers as well for storage). And I’m sorry but in today’s flat screen world size does matter! the fact that my AppleTV is about one twentieth the size of my TiVo and runs totally silent is a HUGE benefit not a negative. There are plenty of options for USB and cloud storage.

    Then finally you just plain lie! NO CURRENT SETTOP BOX SUPPORTS HULU!!!!! And Apple is already supporting Hulu, netflix, and other content providers onto it’s iPad, iPod and iPhones so why would you believe an AppleTV would be so different. How quickly people forget. Apple was quick to add YouTube and podcasts to the Apple TV as well as streaming all of your local content and photos from a number of online sources.

    As for the likely hood of this being true, I give it a low chance because it does reflect Apple supporting something that I believe is old tech (current cable distribution systems will be replaced by services like iTunes, netflix and hulu). But if they believe that Tivo has the whole cable card thing figured out and they think they can legally add this TV content to the iTunes ecosystem (make it available to iPhones, iPad’s and iPods as well as AppleTV) then maybe it is worth a look. The biggest issue I see is that Apple is a hardware company. It wants to sell a box and then sell you a new one 3-5 years from now. Tivo is a subscription system. they want to give you a box and make you pay for it for the next 3-5 years. I’m not sure how that will play out.



  7. MIke says:

    Anyone who thinks a touch interface is acceptable in a media remote is watching movies with suboptimal lighting.

    A good media remote has to be usable in the dark: either buttons you can distinguish by feel (i.e. – the Tivo Remote) or backlighting.

  8. St.Jimmy says:

    It’s not the number of buttons, but the way the GUI adepts to the buttons.

    Although the apple remote is enough for quite some purposes, normal usage isn’t possible.

    But then again, the normal remotes suck in their own way.

  9. Andy says:

    Tivo needs cable or satellite to feed it, so where would an Apple DVR get it’s content? The Apple iTunes store? Bah Humbug! Unless there is content available for the Apple TV from the TV / Cable networks that is on par with sat / cable, then Apple TV will remain a hobby.

    Now if Apple adds a new on demand TV program source of their own that can replace sat / cable, like ABC Evening New with Diane Sawyer, then then really got something. El Jobso is pretty influential with ABC as Disney owns it and Jobs is the largest stockholder of Disney. ABC is currently running ads for the ABC iPad app during the Evening New broadcast, so maybe there is something in the works. Don’t hold you breath though.

  10. Jeremy says:

    The thing is that Tivo is merely a workaround for the dying “cable and broadcast” business model. The idea is that you can watch your stuff whenever you want, but the implementation is to pull it off cable when it’s broadcast. This entire means of delivery is a relic of the 20th century that needs to die as quickly as possible.

    Apple looks to the future, not the past. That’s why I think it’s unlikely. Not impossible, mind, but unlikely. Apple won’t want to rely on both Tivo and the cable companies. They want to replace them.

  11. I keep loosing the things. says:

    You’re not showing us a Tivo remote. The remote pictured is a Direct TV remote. Yes, Direct TV uses Tivo for listings, but they design their own remote with many additional features.

  12. seearees says:

    I would love an Apple TV with Tivo. In fact it’s pretty much my dream dvr. But having said that, if they kill the peanut remote and keep out services such as netflix among others it would be utter fail. But considering there is netflix on the iPad I still have faith that Apple would allow netflix on Apple TV. In the end I’m dreaming of an Apple tv with tivo and the appstore. In fact they need this to completely kill google tv before it ever had a chance.

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