Why the New Apple TV Is Now Interesting

Things are getting interesting in Apple Land. The new iOS version that came out in the last week includes AirPlay, which is a potentially killer feature. While there are some limits on it — such as not streaming videos show on the iPhone 4 — it brings a major new integration into the Apple environment. Now, you can stream pictures, videos, or music on your iPhone or iPod Touch straight to the Apple TV. This is (A) a very cool bit of technological wizardry and (B) a potential game changer for many of us.

I have an old-fashioned Apple TV now, with a big beefy hard drive. I’ve used it over the last nearly three years to watch mostly video podcasts. I’ve downloaded a few TV shows through iTunes on it, and even bought a movie. But it’s most always been a video podcast player — iFanboy, HD Nation, a couple TED talks, D-Town, etc.

The problem is, for whatever reason, the Apple TV doesn’t connect to my Mac anymore. This might have something to do with the time I attempted to hack the box to install Boxee. Ever since, the box hasn’t found the home network. So I’ve been forced to manually download shows I want to watch. It’s not a big deal, but it does remove some of the automation that makes using such a box a no-brainer.

With AirPlay, my iPhone — always synced up with my laptop — can now be used to store the podcasts I want to watch. I can also easily and neatly play ANY video on the iPhone (in the iTunes app) to the TV. Why not just connect to the computer my main iTunes library is on? That computer isn’t always on, and it’s two floors above my TV, so running upstairs to turn it on is a pain.

This also allows me to keep track of what I’ve watched. The problem with a purely streaming service is that I don’t always watch the entirety of a podcast in one sitting. It gets broken up into two or three pieces. If I’m purely streaming, then I have to restart and wait for the stream to catch up to where I was, or I have to scrub ahead to the point I left off at and wait for the stream to find that spot. If the video is stored on my iPhone, then the iPhone will remember instantly where I was and start playing from there.

Another thing: Although I haven’t read any reviews that mention this or have tested it, AirPlay is supposed to work with any device within range of any AppleTV. Now my iPhone can be a mini video library for my daughter. I can put a few episodes of Dora the Explorer on it, and stream it to a friend’s TV with an Apple TV connected and keep her entertained. Or I can share whatever other videos I have stockpiled on there. Suddenly, I’m happy I paid the extra for the 32GB iPhone.

All of this is available for $99 for a box a fourth the size of the current one. The only downside is that my heating bill might go up, since the original Apple TVs were known sources of fireplace-level heat in any room they sat in.

I can’t help but think that this is only the beginning of the ways the various Apple devices can find to work together. I long ago replaced the simple remote that came with the Apple TV with the iPhone app. But what’s next? I don’t know, but it ought to be fun getting there.

I just know this — I had no interest in the Apple TV before this iOS update. Now there’s a killer feature that puts it back on my radar again.