For an Apple device, the company's TV set-top box has had a surprisingly small impact thus far. Perhaps that's because the product is considered by Apple to be, as Steve Jobs once said, merely a "hobby." One of the reasons Apple TV hasn't set the world on fire the way the iPad and iPhone have might be because unlike those devices, it lacks access to third party apps in the iTunes Store. Imagine all the things you could do on your TV if this weren't the case.
Well, that's what exactly two hackers were envisioning when they came up with MobileX, a modification that jailbreaks the Apple TV via the Seas0nPass hack and lets users run full-screen iOS apps on the set-top box. The hack involves rewriting the Springboard iOS app launcher.
So how does one use iOS apps on a large screen without multitouch support? In a demo, Steve Troughton-Smith shows how he uses VPN and SHH to control apps using a combination of the Apple remote, wireless keyboard and multitouch trackpad. The solution is somewhat clunky and the use of VPN slows it down, but it manages to get iPad and iPhone apps to display on bigger screens, often just as attractive and functional as they appear on smaller form factors.
While the MobileX hack may not be something every Apple TV owner is going to have the stomach to tinker with, it may provide at least a partial glimpse into what Apple plans to do on television sets. Very little is confirmed, but rumors that began circulating a few years ago about an Apple-branded HDTV were all but verified by Steve Jobs himself in the late cofounder's recent biography.
Apple's TV initiative is expected to go from hobby to big deal in 2012, with two different sizes rumored to be launching. In terms of its physical design, a sleek, clean form factor is a sure bet. But what about what appears on the screen? Apple is rumored to be working out content partnerships and the device will almost certainly hook into traditional cable subscriptions as well.
How Would iOS and Apps Work on a TV Screen?
In terms of its software and operating system, a big-screen version of iOS and its App Store may well be in the works, which will enable viewers to run media apps from everyone from Netflix and Hulu Plus to NBC and HBO Go, not to mention social networks and possibly even games.
Of course, porting apps from iPhone and iPad to iTV will be even more of a dramatic shift than it was porting apps from iPhone to iPad. Since the device won't be portable, that eliminates a whole breed of potential apps for it. For example, it's conceivable that Apple's TV will come with a built-in Web cam, but don't expect it to be very useful for Instagramming. Games and other apps that use the accelerometer will also need to be re-imagined or scrapped all together.
If a television-focused app marketplace is indeed part of the new offering, it won't be the only feature worth touting. Recent rumors have included a built-in DVR, iCloud support and Siri-style voice control.
At this point, there's little more than speculation and rumors to go on. It's more or less certain that Apple will be launching some kind of TV-related offering later this year, but exactly how they'll tackle it - how they "cracked it," as Jobs put it - remains to be seen.