With Apple’s new operating system released yesterday, OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion), AirPlay has finally come to the Mac. That’s a killer feature for cord cutters. Now, any media you can pull up on your MacBook or iMac — and there’s plenty of live and on-demand video most easily accessed that way — can be sent over to your big screen with a click. This was already the case for your iPod Touch, iPhone, or iPad, but nothing beats the flexibility of a personal computer with a Web browser.
Now, yes, it has always been possible to plug your Mac or any other computer into the side of your television. That’s how I and a lot of people I know do it. But it’s ironic and more than a little cumbersome that cutting the cord actually tends to involve, well, a lot of cords. Apple TV and AirPlay let you skip the hassle of plugging and unplugging your various devices, and the more Apple devices you own, the more convenient this seems. (Yes, of course, that’s the strategy. I am increasingly trapped in Apple’s ecosystem.)
When I was first considering which set-top box to buy, I chose Roku because it’s much more flexible and has many more apps. Apple TV is in the same price range but more limited: it has Netflix and MLB.tv but no Amazon and lots of other apps I find valuable. At the time, I saw the core strength of Apple TV as iTunes, which others may value but I don’t use much. But now it’s abundantly clear that Apple TV’s greatest asset is actually AirPlay, and that’s why I’m finally going to buy one. A friend and fellow cord cutter emailed me last night to say she’s also taking the plunge for the same reasons.
Apple has sold 4 million Apple TVs this year, but the company still calls the device a “hobby.” For that and other reasons, a lot of people speculate about Apple releasing an actual television that will enter the market with the same kind of splash that the iPad did. That may still happen — who knows — but as Peter Kafka wrote last month, “Look a little closer, and you might see the outlines of Apple’s TV plans staring you right in the face.”