I think it’s about time that Apple give us a decent Home Media Server. Have a look at the Windows Home Server offering (currently buggy), and you’ll immediately understand how an Apple quality copycat could enhance your digital lifestyle.
The principle : Instead of filling up your Mac hard drive with music, photos and video, then sync it with your iPhones, iPods, Apple TVs and laptops, you could store all your media on a wifi enabled NAS (Network Attached Storage) running an iTunes server.
For appealing to windows users, it could also run a DLNA (Digital Living Network Association) server for devices that conform to Universal Plug and Play Audio/Video standard (Windows Media Center, Xbox 360, PS3 and most Media Streamers).
But beside looking ugly and making a lots of noise, they are too complex to setup, their interfaces have very low usability (or none), and are designed and marketed to Windows geeks. They probably does not sell much. However they demonstrate the concept, just like the Creative Nomad Jukebox, demonstrated the feasibility of an Hard Drive based personal music player… before Apple created the iPod.
There is a strong need in the market, demonstrated by lot’s of discussion about iTunes Server NAS solutions or guides to build your own geek solution… Clumsy and too expensive but that give an idea of how much money and time some are ready to spend for such a product… still imperfect. Album covers are missing when accessed from an iTunes server, they are incompatible with iPhone Apple Remote, Apple TV, video can’t be accessed using that protocol, so you must switch to UPnP protocol compatible Media Streamer with another crappy interface, etc. A real techno mess.
So why would an Apple product succeed ? Of course it would be a beautiful object, affordable, easy to setup, with good software, … Of course it would integrate with your Mac and PC running iTunes and FrontRow, your iPod Touches, iPhones and Apple TVs. But Apple has other uniques technologies that combined, can turn a good geek idea in a great mass market product.
First, the Apple Media Server would be easy to access from any Internet connection. It would simply register to your Back To My Mac account like your home computers.
Secondly, it would run on 802.11n wifi providing enough bandwidth for streaming video to your Apple TV. It would register itself using Bonjour and appear auto-magically on your iTunes Mac, PC, iPhones, iPod Touches and Apple TV. Maybe even on your iCar. It would mount on your desktop in AFS, just like the Time Capsule or an hard-drive shared using an Airport Extreme.
But now, the killing feature… Your media storage needs will keep growing more and more, years after years. Until then most of us managed our storages need by buying bigger and bigger hard drives. Actually a thousand times bigger every 10 years. Ideally the Apple Media Server should have no drive size limits.
As recently announed, Apple is working at integrating Sun’ ZFS file system in Snow Leopard Server, the next iteration of it’s server grade Operating System. ZFS allow storage pooling and dynamic volume expansion.
Now imagine the Apple Media Server, a NAS (nearly) infinitely upgradable using Firewire or USB hot-swappable drive that you could plug on your Apple Home Media Server running a stripped down version of Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server with ZFS support on a slightly upgraded version of the motherboard of the Apple TV with the server grade hard drive in the Time Capsule.
Your personal cloud… of unlimited size.
While searching Google for links to enrich this post, I discovered the Mac predictions website. It seems that I am not the only one having the same idea. I think the Apple Media Server should not sit in your living room but in your attic, basement or in a closet, but we basically agree on the product features.
Let’s hope that Apple agree too 😉