Is a Media Center Mac Part of Apple’s Furture?

Recently, Apple announced a partnership with ABC under which Apple would offer select shows for download.  On Tuesday, Apple announced an additional partnership with NBC for the same purpose.  The initial deal with ABC was the first of its kind and seemed like a reasonable way for Apple to test the market.  Shows are made available for download via the iTunes Music Store the day after their initial broadcast.

The new deal with NBC indicates favorable sales in this new market.  New shows offered as of Tuesday include Law & Order, The Office, Surface, The Tonight Show, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Monk, and Battlestar Galactica.  Several more classic shows have also been added including Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Dragnet, and Knight Rider.

But its the timing that strikes me as interesting.  A second splash of downloadable television content is great and it shows a new market for Apple to promote its music store as well as the new iPod.  But with rumors flying that Apple will release its first Media Center Mac in January, the timing seems ideal.

If you have missed out on the rumors, Mac faithful sites have been buzzing with MacWorld rumors.  Everyone is trying to guess what new products Apple will release in early January.  Most seem sure that it will be the first volley of Intel based Macs.  Consensus seems to be that Apple will start with the iBook line of machines.  Some think the new offerings will include an Intel based Mac Mini.  But growing speculation includes talk of a new Mac Mini based design running on an Intel chip and equipped with Front Row 2.0— essentially a Media Center based Mac.

Such rumors have been circulating for years.  For a time there was even talk of a Tivo like device that Apple was developing.  But now, with the iTunes Music Store offering television programs for download, it seems an ideal time for Apple to bring the product to market.

Front Row 1.01 is a fun piece of software for Mac users.  It allows easy access to all of the music, photo, and video content stored on a Mac, but it is intended to be displayed on a TV screens.  Unfortunately, the only Macs that run the software (without being hacked) are the latest round of iMacs.  And iMacs are not ideal for incorporation into a home entertainment center.  This is where the Mac Mini promises to shine.

Still, the current release of Front Row only allows users to play existing content.  And while people could download new content via iTunes and play it in Front Row, this would be cost prohibitive for the average couch potato.  No one is going to pay $1.99 per episode for each of the 7 different programs they watch per week.  Ideally, Apple’s media center would need the ability to record content when it airs, just like a Tivo.  Then, simply make the content easy to transfer to an iPod and you have the makings of a hit product.

As I have said, these rumors have been kicked around for years.  And each time, I have been disappointed when they fall back through the cracks and disappear into obscurity.  But it does seem that Apple has decided to attack the television content market and all of the latest news seems to point toward a more concerted effort.  Will Apple finally release a Tivo like Media Mac?  Steve Jobs gives his keynote address at MacWorld on January 10th at 9am PST.  Until then, we can only hope!


Steve

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