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Apple TV revamp rumours resurface

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Apple is gearing up to release its fourth overhaul of the Apple TV user interface in as many years, part of a plan to revitalise the telly-connected device.

So claim moles cited by the New York Times, though they don't know whether the UI revamp will sit on top of the Apple TV's existing, Mac OS X-based software or involve a - much rumoured - shift to iOS.

Nor could they say whether all this will accompanied by a hardware rejig.

So they're not that "familiar with Apple’s television-related efforts", eh, NYT?

The Apple TV's UI has sported three distinct UIs, released with the Apple TV software 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0. The next major revamp would undoubtedly see the software jump to 4.0 and, by coincidence, that's what iOS is currently at.

But changing the UI isn't going to alter Apple TV's fortunes, beyond create some temporary iPhone-related buzz for it.

Apple TV hasn't proved a major success for a number of reasons, the biggest of which is the a lack of focus: is it the way you get your media onto your telly, or is it an iTunes-centric movie rental box? And both are too tied to Apple's software and the limited range of media formats it supports.

With decent devices that play downloaded content back on the big screen ten a penny, Apple TV's future - if it has one - would seem to be to become even more iTunes centric. For that to appeal, it needs to become cheaper, a throwaway gadget Apple can subsidise through rental sales.

But then iTunes itself needs to change, to promote rentals above sale. Right now, it's the other way round. New releases are quickly available to buy, but can take weeks more to be offered for rental.

If Apple's game is sales, it needs to make the Apple TV better able to play with users' storage needs, either by offering lots of on-board storage so it becomes more of a server than a remotely-connected iTunes client - fully synching an Apple TV today is already a chore - or slims down but is able to work with media libraries on external hard drives or Nas boxes.

A big box seems unlikely, especially now Apple has given its Mac Mini a slimmer casing and an HDMI port.

A slimmed down Apple TV of that kind could also do the rental thing, and internally be little more than a screenless iPod Touch Apple can sell for $99.

That doesn't just make it cheap to sell, it also makes it a potential app platform too. iOS 4 now has the basics of a multi-machine app framework - developers can specify which parts of an app work best on an iPad, which in an iPhone 4 and which on older portable devices.

Apps on TV, which is something telly manufacturers and Google are trying their hand it, in the hope of emulating the App Store's success - or at least grabbing some of the buzz surrounding app stores - could be just what Apple needs to allow the Apple TV to come out of its 'hobby' shell. ®

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