Pat Pilcher: What Apple should've done

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Standard corporate doctrine holds that playing ones strengths is the best way to hold onto and grow a solid market position.

Unfortunately, Apple appears to have ignored this and taken a risk with the iPad, which many are struggling to see a purpose for. Surely Apple could have done something smarter?

It's not as if Apple are immune to competitive pressures. Low cost digital media players from Western Digital, Popcorn Hour and soon Boxee are rapidly making in-roads into the space occupied by the Apple TV.

Increasingly affordable network attached storage devices are also quickly gaining favour, whilst ultra cheap net-top PCs are crowding into the niche occupied by the Mac Mini. Then there's the plethora of MP3 players and of course Android portable media devices and smart phones.

For what it's worth, my money would have been on Apple bolstering its already strong position in the multimedia/home entertainment space. Apple's MacBooks, iMacs, iPods and iPhones are easily the hottest consumer electronics in the known universe and Apple has iTunes as the glue that holds this product ecosystem together.

Unfortunately getting music, TV, movies and now printed media onto this gear tends to involve powering up a PC or Mac and using iTunes.

As I've alluded to recently, iTunes has become an increasingly clunky experience.

Wouldn't it make sense for Apple to introduce what could quickly become a key component of its iTunes/iProduct ecosystem – a home iTunes server?

At the moment, using iTunes to deliver video to an Apple TV, or music to an Airport Express requires that a Mac or PC be left running. Not only is this wasteful when a more energy-efficient appliance could easily do the job, but it's also a clumsy and confusing experience.

Ironically Apple has most of the pieces in place, yet seems to have completely failed to join the dots together and deliver a truly seamless iTunes experience.

The Apple TV may be petite and elegant in its design, but the only real reason they're selling is that they're relatively easy to modify to bypass iTunes altogether.

The Airport Express is a really cool idea, however once again, you've got to have a computer running iTunes before its multimedia functions can come to the fore.

Then there's the Time Capsule. It's a truly awesome network storage appliance, but could be an awesome multimedia device. Last but by no means least, is the Mac Mini. Its cute and incredibly affordable for a full blown Mac, yet it hasn't been a big seller.

Wouldn't it make several metric tonnes of sense if Apple had of launched an iTunes appliance? Doing so wouldn't be terribly difficult. Take a Mac Mini's innards, marry them up in a bigger case with the Time Capsule and install an iTunes server on top of OSX to dish up and manage media across all Apple devices within reach of your home network.

Being managed via a browser also means it could also be sold without a keyboard, mouse and screen.

An iTunes appliance would be the missing link that'd tie all of Apple's products together. The Apple TV wouldn't need to be hacked to be practical, and using it would no longer be such a clunky experience. iPods, iPhones and iPads could not only consume music, books and video courtesy of your home network, but could also do double duty as awesome remote controllers.

Delivering multi-zone music around the house with the Airport express could finally become the practical and near seamless option that Sonos owners have enjoyed for years.

In short a dedicated energy efficient iTunes appliance that could store large amounts of multimedia content and dish it out across a home network without the complexity of running iTunes on a computer would make Apple's already strong position in the multimedia space even stronger.

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