I was beginning to doubt my mental health… Finally! I am not alone in this universe to see the AppleTV as a cool gizmo.
I must stress that I am a huge fan of discarded Apple technologies. I own and use regularly a Newton, I still have an Apple IIgs somewhere, and I once had the chance to play with a Pippin.
Suddenly, Apple provides us with something that as of today is not very impressive, but just wait a second. First, we’ll have a working streaming solution for video, complete with the 5.1 sound is so desired. That’s good in itself. Second, as John Gruber points out, there is a certain probability that the OS in the AppleTV will be something like the OS on the iPhone : a “stripped” Mac OS X, with specific features.
Anyone who has ever tried to build a somewhat complex application on Mac OS X can see that you have to use a lot of different frameworks to get anything done. I have yet to see an application that has a GUI and performs any input/output processing (sound, for example) that loads less than 4 system frameworks. It probably means that this “stripped” version isn’t as small as you can think. Sure, most of the hardware drivers are gone, along with the things that make no sense such as printing etc… But the core remains. I am pretty sure that you have a full IOKit, AppKit, QuartzCore, CoreAudio, Foundation, CoreVideo, CoreAnimation (?), and probably a not-so-limited QuickTime framework, along with its underpinnings : Carbon. These last two will probably be heavily stripped, but I guess you can’t have everything.
What does that mean? That pure Cocoa apps will probably need little rewrite to run in this “OS X” thing. The major update will have to be the GUI, not because it doesn’t work anymore, but because it should work differently.
So, we have something that connects to a TV, has a probably decent OS under the hood, and a few connection possibilities. Put that next to the Wiimote Control project and clever hackers and you have… An AppleConsole! :D
Even if Apple withholds the SDK and helps no third-party developer as they seem to be planning on doing for the iPhone, I doubt the hardware will be as tightly integrated and as specific as a cellphone. In many ways, I guess it won’t be much harder to dissect than the Mac Mini.
In conclusion, I agree that the announced specs can be seen as limited. But if you extrapolate up to the far side of computing, there’s only one thing left to say : wait and see.