Dennis Sellers over at Macnews has a small piece about the recurring issue of Apple making a Home Server product. Whilst he doesn’t elaborate on what particular details of such a device would appeal to him, he does point out that Automator would be a good way for people to tweak something to their needs. This is true but I don’t think that’s the way such a product, should Apple build one will work. What I’m interested in is what features would Apple build into a consumer home server/backup device. Now lets avoid the naming issue for now, I’ll come back to that later. Lets look at Apple’s current offerings and see where the holes are:
The current AppleTV stores no content on it’s own, is merely a gateway to content stored elsewhere. You can stream content from a Mac elsewhere in the house via Home Sharing. You can stream content off your iPad or iPhone via Airplay, but only limited apps can do this (Videos and photo slideshows basically). The promise is there for full screen mirroring in future versions of iOS but it is not there right now. Incidentally I applied the recent update to our AppleTV but it still has a button for the now defunct MobileMe gallery feature. One presumes this will eventually be replaced by an iCloud Photostream equivalent button.
Holes: No way to add third party channels to the interface. I don’t have a MLB account or use most of the buttons on the AppleTV home screen. Everything we do is via the shared computer (iTunes) interface. I would like to see a way in which we could add, say Australian TV catch-up services like ABC iView and SBS replay services.
These can take photos and create videos via apps such as iMovie for iOS. But synching these back to your home network requires iCloud. In the first iteration of iCloud I complained that PhotoStream was an all or nothing affair. You turned it on and everything started flying to your home computer whether it was a crappy photo you hadn’t deleted yet, or an embarrassing photo your friends took of you when they grabbed your phone at a party or whatever. Now at least iOS6 promises that we will have some finer control over personal streams we can share with friends and family.
Holes: Network backup relies on iTunes or iCloud synch
iTunes remains the 600 lb. gorilla. It really houses all your content in the home, except photos where iPhoto is the most common “solution”. iTunes then takes your photos and downsizes them to serve up to your iDevices or stream to your TV via an AppleTV. But iTunes is not a server product that is readily extensible to other functions, and neither is iPhoto. For a start they always need to be up and running on the Mac in order to be accessible on the home network. This kind-of works where only one person uses the Mac but if multiple family members are logging on and off and horror, shutting down, it all goes wrong. The Mac is pretty good at creating content but all the sharing functions are a bit higgledy-piggledy. Through MacOS (and iOS) Apple seems pretty keen to integrate Facebook and Twitter into sharing functions but doesn’t seem to be focussing much on sharing within the home.
Holes: iPhoto sharing is one-way. You can turn it on and people can browse your shared libraries. No one can contribute files except devices that are synched via iCloud and then only the most recent 1000 photos. Additionally many graphics file formats are not supported for streaming.
Time Machine/Time Capsule
Simple network backup device. Set and forget. Simple, does what it says. Good for revisiting older versions of documents but not for sharing them.
Holes: Time Capsule is not a server product, but it could be.
So taking that all into account, what would my dream device be? I envisage something like a current Time Capsule with a stripped down iOS/MacOSX operating system. It would serve like a current unit for network backup, but it would also be an iPhoto server.
Scenario 1: You arrive home after holidays and your iPhone is full of photos. You want to back up your keeper shots to the home server. You fire up the Photos app on the phone, mark the photos you want to back up and choose. They get dropped into an album in iPhoto server that anyone in the house can look at via Home sharing. You could of course do it in two steps via your Mac as well: dump everything into your normal iPhoto library, make a custom album and just like you could with the old MobileMe Gallery, choose “send to iPhoto server on Time Capsule”
Scenario 2: You arrive home after holidays with a non-Apple Digital SLR full of photos. As above you upload via iPhoto to the Time Capsule server
Scenario 3: For a school project your kids need to make a photo montage of your family. From a network-connected device they browse the “best of” albums on the Server, crop as they see fit, save etc but they also have the option to send retouched photos back to the serve under a new name
Scenario 4: The iPhoto server could also stream full-res photos to your AppleTV directly, not being reliant on iTunes being the intermediary, open and running on the main house Mac.
Scenario 5: MiCloud (or any other name). Currently a household usually has one main computer that is the iTunes hub. It has the AppleID for Mac and IOS app, iTunes music/TV/movie purchases. All your iDevices have to connect to it to synch your content. Now Apple has made it possible to do all of that without a home computer but using iCloud instead as the hub. What if the home server was called MiCloud? What if you could set it up to be the hub? Admin could be via an iOS app, or even on screen with AppleTV.
Scenario 6: Documents in the (M)iCloud. Home-networked shared folders. That all I want. Let me set them up remotely, let me set access levels. Let me use them for more than just iWork documents. Just give me a NAS that other people sell lots of, but with Apple polish, oh and an iOS app to access it all
The product name: choose 1.
- Apple Home Server + MiCloud
- Apple HomeCloud
- Time Capsule + iCloud
- Apple Butler
- Apple Jeeves