On My Wish List: the Apple iServe

Apple has regaled us with a new iPod, with a color screen and photo display functions, rounding out the iPod range. There are now three distinct types of iPods: the mini, the 4G iPod and the iPod Photo. So, for a while, we can consider that Apple will rest and allow these iPods to sell a bit.

In the meantime, it is clear that Apple’s recent foray into non-computer devices for consumers has been profitable in many ways. The iPod has boosted Apple’s earnings, profit margin, and share price, and has turned the company, once again, into the darling of the business world.

So it’s time for Apple to release another innovation: the Apple iServe.First, don’t assume that I have any inside information on the possible existance of such a device: this is merely what I would like to see. But this idea is based on existing Apple technology and would follow what seems to be the direction Apple will be taking in the years to come.

The Apple iServe would be a home server, a headless Mac (one without a monitor) that would centralize all the elements that make up a user’s digital hub: music files, photos, and videos. It could also store other personal files such as word processing documents and spreadsheets. Instead of each user storing their files on their own computer, they could put everything in one place, providing simpler access to other users, and allowing for backups of all users’ files simultaneously.

This is most useful for “digital hub” files: music, photos and videos. Why should each user’s computer contain all their music files, many of which may be duplicated on another user’s Mac? (Considering that the iTunes Music Store allows up to 5 computers to play the files, this is not a violation of copyright; the same is true for music files that users rip from their own CDs.)

In this scenario, all the Macs on a home network would be connected to the server via AirPort – the server could contain an AirPort base station, or simply be connected to a base station or an AirPort Express. An Ethernet jack would allow the iServe to be connected to a wired network, which could include other Macs without AirPort or computers running Windows or Linux. Users would be able to access shared files by simply mounting the server on their desktop, or would even be able to play music using iTunes built-in music sharing – the iServe would run iTunes itself, or a simpler version of the program, to provide a shared library to other computers on the network.

But let’s not stop there. iPhoto offers photo album sharing, so users can access photos on the iServe from any Mac. Videos would be a bit more complex, since iMovie is merely an editing and authoring tool, but, again, the technology exists to provide shared video in a manner similar to iTunes’ shared music.

If the iServe were to go one step further, it could even be used in the living room to record video from a TV, set-top box or decoder; the Apple version of the TiVo would be a welcome competitor to Microsoft’s forays into this area. Or Apple could simply work hand-in-hand with TiVo to provide a seamless connection to their TV recorder.

The iServe would run a slimmed-down version of Mac OS X Server, one that allows simple management of users and groups, either through an Apple Remote Desktop server or through a web-browser interface. Since the iServe should be small – remember the cube? – it wouldn’t need a monitor, keyboard and mouse, though it should be possible to connect these if desired.

The Apple iServe would be the perfect solution to the once-hyped convergence of computers and other digital entertainment devices. If it were priced right (less than $500; ideally even cheaper than that), Apple could spearhead a new world of home computing. And, with a small business model, offering more advanced server features, the same iServe could help Apple get a stronger foothold in the critical market of businesses who need such features but cannot afford the time or the complication of full-scale server solutions.

This is just an idea, of course, but who knows? Maybe Apple will surprise us…


Read more articles in this category: Apple & Mac OS X

20 thoughts on “On My Wish List: the Apple iServe

  1. To go even a step further, what about using 802.11n (or something like it) to
    provide the ability for all users to actually use the computing power of the
    iServe on a remote system.

    Like logging into a large unix system with very simple consoles.

    Colin D. Devroe
    Blog: http://theubergeeks.net/

      • Not really. I think that this would be more beneficial to schools and
        businesses than anyone. If you look at what Bill Gates has spoken about the
        ability to load software remotely, or share software applications, etc. – it does
        hold some weight to it. I just don’t think that Microsoft’s alleged strategy
        towards such an end is correct.

        I was merely saying it’d be cool. But there would definitely be drawbacks.
        Consider the fact that the remote systems would never be allowed out of the
        range of the central iServe. So drawbacks are a plenty!

        However, perhaps there is a way to handle something "like" this using the
        power of software. Perhaps allowing one of the Macs on your network
        become the "Supernode" if you will, which would allow it to act as the iServe.
        People do this all the time currently. People, meaning those who have more
        than 1 computer in the home, usually designate each machine for specific
        tasks like file storage, burning CDs, or browsing the Internet from the couch.

        Creating a piece of software to work in conjunction with iTunes, iPhoto etc.
        would allow users to designate 1 machine to keep everything organized. I
        suppose this could be done now using network shares, but not everyone
        knows how to set those up properly.

        A lot of things to think about, since Wi-fi is starting to have some nice
        throughput at relatively low cost. My Airport Express cost about $130USD,
        not a bad price to pay for an incredibly easy 802.11g wireless network.

        Colin D. Devroe
        Blog: http://theubergeeks.net/

        • You said:

          However, perhaps there is a way to handle something "like" this using the
          power of software. Perhaps allowing one of the Macs on your network
          become the "Supernode" if you will, which would allow it to act as the iServe.
          People do this all the time currently. People, meaning those who have more
          than 1 computer in the home, usually designate each machine for specific
          tasks like file storage, burning CDs, or browsing the Internet from the couch.

          Creating a piece of software to work in conjunction with iTunes, iPhoto etc.
          would allow users to designate 1 machine to keep everything organized. I
          suppose this could be done now using network shares, but not everyone
          knows how to set those up properly.

          —–

          Yes, this is certainly an option, but user/group management with OS X client
          is not very simple. Also, when doing the above, most people would naturally
          choose an old Mac, one that is perhaps noisy and one that uses a lot of
          power. I’ve got a G3 iMac that I use for testing – I thought of leaving it on all
          the time as a server, but then I’d have to un-wire the monitor so it doesn’t
          waste too much power.

          A software solution would be interesting; a hardware solution even more so.

          • But really it would all come down to software anyway. The abilities you ask
            for in your wish are mostly taken care of by software solutions and synergy
            rather than a "silver bullet" piece of hardware.

            Not giving people the choice to use whatever hardware they’d like, for iServe
            functionality, could prove near-sighted. Meaning, if someone had to buy an
            iServe (with specs that would no doubt rival that of an XServe), than they may
            be less apt to use such a solution. And then there’s always price and setup.
            Would the average user be able to use such a hardware solution? Possibly,
            but only if it’s powered by extremely well thought out software.

            I think that they’ve begun working towards something like your describing
            already. With Rendezvous being built into iTunes, even for Windows, it won’t
            be long (probably when Tiger is released) that many more applications will
            have rendezvous (read: the ability to share) built-in, such as Address Book,
            iCal, etc.

            I think software is step 1 – step 2 would be killer hardware to leverage that
            power.

            Colin D. Devroe
            Blog: http://theubergeeks.net/

  2. To go even a step further, what about using 802.11n (or something like it) to
    provide the ability for all users to actually use the computing power of the
    iServe on a remote system.

    Like logging into a large unix system with very simple consoles.

    Colin D. Devroe
    Blog: http://theubergeeks.net/

      • Not really. I think that this would be more beneficial to schools and
        businesses than anyone. If you look at what Bill Gates has spoken about the
        ability to load software remotely, or share software applications, etc. – it does
        hold some weight to it. I just don’t think that Microsoft’s alleged strategy
        towards such an end is correct.

        I was merely saying it’d be cool. But there would definitely be drawbacks.
        Consider the fact that the remote systems would never be allowed out of the
        range of the central iServe. So drawbacks are a plenty!

        However, perhaps there is a way to handle something "like" this using the
        power of software. Perhaps allowing one of the Macs on your network
        become the "Supernode" if you will, which would allow it to act as the iServe.
        People do this all the time currently. People, meaning those who have more
        than 1 computer in the home, usually designate each machine for specific
        tasks like file storage, burning CDs, or browsing the Internet from the couch.

        Creating a piece of software to work in conjunction with iTunes, iPhoto etc.
        would allow users to designate 1 machine to keep everything organized. I
        suppose this could be done now using network shares, but not everyone
        knows how to set those up properly.

        A lot of things to think about, since Wi-fi is starting to have some nice
        throughput at relatively low cost. My Airport Express cost about $130USD,
        not a bad price to pay for an incredibly easy 802.11g wireless network.

        Colin D. Devroe
        Blog: http://theubergeeks.net/

        • You said:

          However, perhaps there is a way to handle something "like" this using the
          power of software. Perhaps allowing one of the Macs on your network
          become the "Supernode" if you will, which would allow it to act as the iServe.
          People do this all the time currently. People, meaning those who have more
          than 1 computer in the home, usually designate each machine for specific
          tasks like file storage, burning CDs, or browsing the Internet from the couch.

          Creating a piece of software to work in conjunction with iTunes, iPhoto etc.
          would allow users to designate 1 machine to keep everything organized. I
          suppose this could be done now using network shares, but not everyone
          knows how to set those up properly.

          —–

          Yes, this is certainly an option, but user/group management with OS X client
          is not very simple. Also, when doing the above, most people would naturally
          choose an old Mac, one that is perhaps noisy and one that uses a lot of
          power. I’ve got a G3 iMac that I use for testing – I thought of leaving it on all
          the time as a server, but then I’d have to un-wire the monitor so it doesn’t
          waste too much power.

          A software solution would be interesting; a hardware solution even more so.

          • But really it would all come down to software anyway. The abilities you ask
            for in your wish are mostly taken care of by software solutions and synergy
            rather than a "silver bullet" piece of hardware.

            Not giving people the choice to use whatever hardware they’d like, for iServe
            functionality, could prove near-sighted. Meaning, if someone had to buy an
            iServe (with specs that would no doubt rival that of an XServe), than they may
            be less apt to use such a solution. And then there’s always price and setup.
            Would the average user be able to use such a hardware solution? Possibly,
            but only if it’s powered by extremely well thought out software.

            I think that they’ve begun working towards something like your describing
            already. With Rendezvous being built into iTunes, even for Windows, it won’t
            be long (probably when Tiger is released) that many more applications will
            have rendezvous (read: the ability to share) built-in, such as Address Book,
            iCal, etc.

            I think software is step 1 – step 2 would be killer hardware to leverage that
            power.

            Colin D. Devroe
            Blog: http://theubergeeks.net/

  3. And while your at it Steve…. why not bundle Parliant’s PhoneValet and
    Indigo’s home automation software and throw in SecuritySpy just for good
    measure? First class phone answering with email forwarding of telephone
    messages coupled with an ability to control my home’s lights, temperature
    and hot tub with a fulltime security guard to boot for any home would be a
    nice extra.

    Now that’s a nice digital huba-Buba!

  4. And while your at it Steve…. why not bundle Parliant’s PhoneValet and
    Indigo’s home automation software and throw in SecuritySpy just for good
    measure? First class phone answering with email forwarding of telephone
    messages coupled with an ability to control my home’s lights, temperature
    and hot tub with a fulltime security guard to boot for any home would be a
    nice extra.

    Now that’s a nice digital huba-Buba!

  5. I think the product you are describing is already well on its way. It is called
    the iPod! These things are all natural extensions to what the iPod is. A 60Gb
    hard disk goes a long way and I am sure with time this will reach 100Gb. Ass
    a TV In/Out and you have your TiVo. Maybe even Wi-Fi at some point though
    the portability of the device makes the use of this questionable.

    • No, the iPod cannot function as a server. It doesn’t have an operating system
      allowing users and groups to be defined, and it is not designed for its hard
      disk to run all the time.

  6. I think the product you are describing is already well on its way. It is called
    the iPod! These things are all natural extensions to what the iPod is. A 60Gb
    hard disk goes a long way and I am sure with time this will reach 100Gb. Ass
    a TV In/Out and you have your TiVo. Maybe even Wi-Fi at some point though
    the portability of the device makes the use of this questionable.

    • No, the iPod cannot function as a server. It doesn’t have an operating system
      allowing users and groups to be defined, and it is not designed for its hard
      disk to run all the time.

  7. Let’s be realistic… Even if it would be headless to save costs, the amount of
    starage & memory would add up quickly. So you can wish for everything and
    the moon… but getting it at that price-point is not very realistic IMHO…
    Let’s check quickly:
    Storage: 1-5 80-250GB disks (possibly raid to make it reliable), 1 small disk
    for OS & boot.
    Backup: DVD or RAID…
    You do the math…

    • I think Kirk is on the right track here, but others want too much, akin to those
      demanding a video iPod. MS
      makes Win XP media center, but the current systems run for $2000 with
      everything but the kitchen sink. They’re far too expensive and try to do
      too much at once.

      Apple is better at focusing at doing a few things right. Apple needs a set-top
      box that is a DVD/CD player, can rip CDs, has a fat 3.5″ HD (200GB is now
      cheap), Ethernet, WiFi built-in (but not a base station), USB ports, FireWire,
      and AV connectors to connect to your TV and sound system. That’s it. No
      RAID. No permanent DVD rips. It’s unneccessary. They even
      have 2 options: beef up the iPod firmware or strip down the Mac OS.

      It would hold your iTunes library and other files. It could allow you to view
      any QuickTime file on your TV. Host your home folder on
      an iServe. It could have a web interface, but more importantly, it’d have a
      remote control. It would work with Windows, but it would sell Macs.

      And while your at it Steve…. why not bundle Parliant’s PhoneValet and
      Indigo’s home automation software and throw in SecuritySpy just for good
      measure? First class phone answering with email forwarding of telephone
      messages coupled with an ability to control my home’s lights, temperature
      and hot tub with a fulltime security guard to boot for any home would be a
      nice extra.

      Uh, no. That’s why the iServe would have a USB port. PhoneValet would be a
      popular product for such a device, but let’s not shovel everything on this
      device and
      drive the price through the roof. An iServe would establish a new consumer
      product category, the “household server”, and the potential market for 3rd
      party add-
      ons, software and hardware both, would be immense.
      $500 is a great price point. I’ve been waiting for something like this for
      several years, and I’d bet millions of others are as well.

  8. Let’s be realistic… Even if it would be headless to save costs, the amount of
    starage & memory would add up quickly. So you can wish for everything and
    the moon… but getting it at that price-point is not very realistic IMHO…
    Let’s check quickly:
    Storage: 1-5 80-250GB disks (possibly raid to make it reliable), 1 small disk
    for OS & boot.
    Backup: DVD or RAID…
    You do the math…

    • I think Kirk is on the right track here, but others want too much, akin to those
      demanding a video iPod. MS
      makes Win XP media center, but the current systems run for $2000 with
      everything but the kitchen sink. They’re far too expensive and try to do
      too much at once.

      Apple is better at focusing at doing a few things right. Apple needs a set-top
      box that is a DVD/CD player, can rip CDs, has a fat 3.5″ HD (200GB is now
      cheap), Ethernet, WiFi built-in (but not a base station), USB ports, FireWire,
      and AV connectors to connect to your TV and sound system. That’s it. No
      RAID. No permanent DVD rips. It’s unneccessary. They even
      have 2 options: beef up the iPod firmware or strip down the Mac OS.

      It would hold your iTunes library and other files. It could allow you to view
      any QuickTime file on your TV. Host your home folder on
      an iServe. It could have a web interface, but more importantly, it’d have a
      remote control. It would work with Windows, but it would sell Macs.

      And while your at it Steve…. why not bundle Parliant’s PhoneValet and
      Indigo’s home automation software and throw in SecuritySpy just for good
      measure? First class phone answering with email forwarding of telephone
      messages coupled with an ability to control my home’s lights, temperature
      and hot tub with a fulltime security guard to boot for any home would be a
      nice extra.

      Uh, no. That’s why the iServe would have a USB port. PhoneValet would be a
      popular product for such a device, but let’s not shovel everything on this
      device and
      drive the price through the roof. An iServe would establish a new consumer
      product category, the “household server”, and the potential market for 3rd
      party add-
      ons, software and hardware both, would be immense.
      $500 is a great price point. I’ve been waiting for something like this for
      several years, and I’d bet millions of others are as well.

Leave a Reply to Anonymous Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.