My First 24 Hours With the New Apple TV

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apple tvToday is a big day for Apple (AAPL) fans. The new Apple TV and the new iPad are both being released to rabid fans across the country.

I got in early. I ordered as soon as pre-orders were available. There's a new iPad on a UPS truck that should arrive at my doorstep any minute.

My Apple TV was delivered a day early, so for those of you shopping today, here's what to expect when you open the box and plug in.

First, the positives:

1. It's easy to use: Should it be any shock that an Apple device was easy to hook up? It took less than five minutes from opening the box to full-blown operation thanks to Apple's easy-to-use interface. (I should note that I'm connecting to a Mac, iPhone, and Airport Extreme, so that should be as easy as it gets.)

Home Sharing -- a new concept to me -- was easy to set up for both my iPhone and Mac. This is what connects your music, pictures, and movies to the Apple TV without an iTunes Match subscription. In just a few minutes, all of my pictures, videos, and movies were available on my TV. The Remote app on the iPhone isn't anything to write home about, but I imagine there's more functionality to come.

Apple tv

2. Your $99 gets you more than you probably expected: My expectations weren't terribly high for the $99 device. I just wanted to be able to rent a movie, look at my pictures, and sync my iPad to the screen. As I expected, Netflix (NFLX), Google's (GOOG) YouTube, and iTunes are fully integrated. But then I discovered that there's even more integrated into the home screen than I thought there would be, such as NBA Game Time, MLB.TV, and NHL Gamecenter. Also available are Wall Street Journal Live, vimeo, and flickr. Uhh-ohh, I sense this is going to suck a lot of my time.

3. Streaming is flawless: One of my concerns was a delay in downloading 1080p movies because of a slow Internet connection. My first attempt, a Moneyball rental, rendered no delay or ill effects. After streaming a number of YouTube and vimeo videos, I don't think this will be a big deal. Apple TV makes movie rentals and purchases easy (great!), really easy (uh-oh!). This $99 gadget is probably going to be a more expensive endeavor than I thought. But isn't that always the case when you start buying things from Apple?

And now, some annoying flaws I've encountered:

Annoying flaw No. 1: The Apple TV remote is syncing with both the Apple TV and my Mac, controlling the iTunes on my computer when I'm trying to control the TV. This essentially renders the remote useless when I have my computer on in my living room because you have to have iTunes on to access Home Sharing. Annoying. (By the way, the iPhone Remote app is a way around this problem.)

Annoying flaw No. 2: You can't control the volume without your TV remote.

Annoying flaw No. 3: I've argued for years that Apple's biggest opportunity is providing apps for the Apple TV. Imagine what game makers could do with iPads and iPhones as their controllers! You can see that the foundation is already there, with an interface built very similar to iOS devices. Making an Apple TV App Store shouldn't be an earth-shattering endeavor. So, where in the world is my App Store? I'm under the assumption (or maybe it's a delusion) that this will be the next upgrade from Apple. When it will happen is anyone's guess. Steve Jobs hinted at an App Store over a year ago, but for now it's still missing.

Is This the Future of TV?

The current Apple TV isn't a revolution, but it is a step forward, especially if the rumors are true and Apple is developing a TV (or maybe a more advanced Apple TV). For now, the Apple TV is best used as an interface with iPads, a movie rental platform, and an easier way to view your photo albums on the big screen.

The future of Apple TV really centers around two things: First, will Apple open up apps in the way I imagine it could? Second, will content providers allow Apple to unleash their content outside the grips of cable providers? The sports apps don't really cut that cord, although it might be fraying a little bit.

Motley Fool contributor Travis Hoium manages an account that owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Google and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Google, Apple, and Netflix and have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple.
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