If Apple allows iOS apps on Apple TV, will that be the ultimate thin client for only $99?

We've all heard of the Apple TV. Some love it, some hate it, and the reasons for that are pretty well documented.


We've all heard of the Apple TV. Some love it, some hate it, and the reasons for that are pretty well documented. The thing is, most of those opinions all pertain to its ability as a home theater device and not much else. Still, it's hard to look at the Apple TV without wondering what else it could do. With some modifications, I think Apple TV could be transformed into a powerful, reliable, and inexpensive thin client. It sounds like the ramblings of a fanboy, but read on, then let me know what you think in the comments.

First, let's look at the device specs. The latest iteration, released in 2010, runs the A4 processor that was included with the first iPad and iPhone 4. While not as powerful as the dual core A5 or the rumored A6, it's no slouch. It also runs iOS, albeit a locked down variety. It's been jailbroken, though, and applications do exist that can run on it outside of Apples oversight. It has HDMI video out (720p only, though, so maybe not capable of displaying a useful, monitor-sized window) as well as bluetooth hardware. Bluetooth is not enabled by default, but it wouldn't take much effort for Apple to turn that on (it's been done by jailbreaking). It also has a real, wired ethernet port, so it doesn't have to rely on WiFi.

So, we can connect monitors already. If Apple opens up the hardware a bit more to allow connecting keyboards, mice, and wireless headsets, while opening up the software so that we can run regular iOS apps on the device, we could take advantage of all of the clients and applications out there to truly have a $99 thin client. Let's take a look at some of the capabilities we'd have:

Clients for just about any remote desktop

VMware, Citrix, Quest, Ericom, Virtual Bridges, Wyse -- everyone has a client that runs on the iPad, and since the hardware is similar, it stands to reason they'd run just fine on AppleTV, and with each solution's native protocol. The only thing I can think of that isn't supported right now is RemoteFX, but who's using that in a thin client environment. There are some, but not many.

Centralized Management

Mobile device management is H-U-G-E right now, and the solutions that people use today, Good, Matrix42, System Center, OK Labs, and so on (boy is that an incomplete list!) would easily work with Apple TV. They're fundamentally about managing the OS on the device, so it's not too much of a stretch to use them in this case. The device/OS can be managed, as well as the local applications that can be accessed by the users.

Corporate iOS apps

Apple actually has the ability to work with you to deliver your company's home-brewed iOS apps just to your users for local execution. If you don't want to write native apps, you can still deploy them via the browser since it could have the HTML5-compliant Safari browser built-in. Of course, companies are building and launching iOS-compatible versions of their clients all the time, so you could just deploy those, too.

You might mention that there are inexpensive solutions in the works for Citrix and RemoteFX. Citrix just announced the HDX System on Chip at Synergy in Barcelona, and Microsoft has been talking about the RemoteFX thin client for as long as they've been talking about RemoteFX. Neither is out, but prototype hardware does exist, at least. The thing is, those products, and anything else like them, are relegated to a single platform. Using Apple TV, much like our speculation around Android thin-clients, would allow orgs to work with any platform. In the case of Apple TV, though, the hardware is there, known, already being developed for, and supported by almost everyone.

It's not all about the price, and $99 might be too low for this, given that for Apple to expose the OS and the device would probably require more support and work on their side. Flexibility contributes to the overall value here, too. All of those clients, capabilities, and protocols could be supported on one device that already exists. 

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Keep dreaming Gabe! ;)

Regarding remoteFX... There is an iOS RemoteFX client available from ThinLinx


Have to say though... Desktop Virtualization using OS X and iOS are all pretty sucky... Best DV experience is always from a Windows end-point! - as it currently stands

Android thin client is more realistic IMO (CISCO are already doing it with with a phone dock) - not that anyone can afford it!


Why do we still insist on delivering a full desktop? As a long time believer in “application availability” and more and more thinking of “data availability”, because that’s what an app does, nothing more than a wrapper around data. The desktop is therefore nothing more than a wrap around the apps… So going back to the Apple TV, if it is able to bring your apps to you, and we can somehow remote manage the data and access to this. I think the device is less important. And if I read in-between the line correctly, isn’t this the point of the post?


Operating systems let you do lots of neat stuff.. like print.  I have a Logitech Revue (Android) for Google TV.  They just got a Honeycomb update.  I'll have to see if I can find a Receiver on the Market.  Logitech is dumping the product.  Pretty nice unit for $99 !  I bought two.


I have to agree with @sjdksjdk. Have we been brainwashed into thinking that a full desktop experience is what is important to users?

I would much rather offer streaming apps (productive and distraction apps) in a way that helps people get their jobs done!

Having said that, Google and Apple are heading into that realm and I am sure Microsoft, Citrix and VMware know this.

If application delivery can be done for the cost of a thin-client disguised as a hockey puck, Logitech Revue, or even iPad/Xoom,Playbook, then this offers a greater ROI/TCO/RIOC than your current heavy-weights.


We are thinking the same way Gabe ... looking forward to running apps on Apple TV ... at least one..



Full desktops still give the best overall integrated (and familiar) user interface/experience..

I also think the desktop is more than a wrapper around the app. It allows of applications to interact with each other as well as seamless access to data (you can't beat a good old fashioned drive mapping :) ). Not to mention seamless access to peripherals.

Full desktop is here to stay for quite some time - physically, virtually or hybrid.

Lets not pretend for a second that "today" an iPad/Xoom/Playbook can offer better ROI/TCO and (integrated) experience than a traditional desktop for a full days workload. Predication for 2012 - tablets will be secondary toys for 95% of the workforce who own one.. - If that!

For the same cost as an iPad or a few 100 quid more... I can get the PC equivalent of the MacBook Air! <hides iPad> I would do that every time rather than own a tablet for work </hods iPad>.


@Daniel - This is a good comment because you describe a specific user (yourself). Now - let's put oursaelves into the shoes (or sandals) of those we design and architect for. Most of the high-tech sales people I know need a highly mobile office with remote conferencing tools.

The analysts I know need a tablet and good keyboard connected to their publishing infrastructure.

Most (if not all) IT professionals need much more than a tablet or mobile device (unless it comes with 3 screens and retractable keyboard).

About half of the marketing folks I know can do their jobs with a laptop (PC or Mac) and a tablet device.

My experience in this sector tells me that the cost of building and maintaining the infrastructure is huge for narrow use-cases (mostly around "security" or reuse of existing datacenters). If companies can reduce their operating costs by letting the users pick their optimal platforms, then this is a win for the company.

(BTW: drive-mappings are so 1990 :-) )


To me this isn't so much about the blending of iOS / device native and remote desktops. I'm thinking of this thing purely in the context ofa really cheap thin client. I mean ThinLinx and Microsoft are talking about how cheap theirs will be.. now there will be HDX on a chip.. for all those, why should I buy them when I can buy this device which is more flexible & cheaper?


@Brian 720p? You think that's good enough?

What are chipPC doing these days? - not looked at them for a while but they had cheap tiny devices from what I remember?


I'm using Google TV from Logitech, it is also only $99. But it has 1.2GHz Intel Atom processor, 1GB of RAM, USB ports and 1080p HDMI and real keyboard with touchpad.

Last week it was updated to Honeycomb and i've installed stock Citrix Receiver for Android and it works almost great. (only problem that android receiver is designed for fingers, not for mouse)

The problem here - Google TV/Apple TV is cheap only for consumers, it will became much more expensive for enterprise use.


I suggest you compile a list of all of the features and capabilities that today's user expects to see in a remote desktop solution, and then decide how many of them would be available if this device were to be used as an afterthought (i.e., a thin client). Also ask yourself what the odds are that Apple will go out of its way to accommodate a niche industry by retooling the device to allow  the use of a keyboard, a mouse, and a couple of monitors, let alone printers and other USB peripherals. Here's a company that's out to change the world with its innovative products, and you want to reduce them to an annual exhibitor at VMworld, Synergy, and BriForum. Oh, and let's not forget the glossy brochures comparing Apple to Wyse, PanaLogic, Chip PC, and a host of others from Europe and India.

Also ask yourself if your kids are OK with watching TV on your laptop while you're computing on their TV.

Finally, to Chris Fleck: Citrix's stock price has fallen from almost $90 to $50 this year. Ever ask yourself why? Keep hyping up *** and the stock will get cut in half again soon.


I think the Apple TV is missing one corporate feature - a kensington lock. How long would you expect these to stay on desks after you've deployed them?


@AAron - I agree. Without a lock, how would someone be able to steal the desk and leave that black plastic box behind?


You may already use it as a thin client if you start receiver from your iphone or ipad and connect to appleTV using airplay. Then, why not use something users already have, an iphone/ipad in a docking connected to a big screen using hdmi, and then connect mouse and keyboard to it using bluetooth.


@Magnar  .. I love it .. we just need to work on the mouse solution

@Denis, should we have a Receiver for GoogleTV ?

@Brian, I think enterprises with existing Thin Client deployments will demand more features than Apple will accommodate. For them HDX SoC and related devices will be appealing.

However for any companies new to Thin Clients ( SMB, Apple Shops, etc ) there is big hurdle to manage something new. On the other hand anyone can manage an AppleTV/iPad. So a $99 AppleTV thin client could open up a huge new audience.


@Chris Fleck: The Apple Magic mouse is already working with iphone/ipad gizmodo.com/.../iphone-controlled-by-magic-mouse


VMware View for iPad already supports this with Presentation Mode.  You can airplay the desktop to the AppleTV and the iPad turns into a trackpad / keyboard.  See this blogs.vmware.com/.../airplay-desktops-and-new-vmware-view-clients-for-ipad-android-and-cius.html

I know.... it's #AWESOME ;-)


So you take a $99 Apple TV then add management software, 4 USB ports, 2 1080p HDMI ports, more video memory, legacy audio ports, printer support, a faster processor, a bigger PSU to drive it, bigger case because you can't get all that stuff in the current hockey puck, a fan because its now getting hot, loose the economy of scale because you no longer have a consumer device, but a piece of enterprise h/w that has to compete with Wyse et al. hire an enterprise sales force to sell the thing at $199 ... and tell me why you want to do this again?  


Lol Simon! Love it!


Anyone jailbreak their AppleTV yet ?


When this is " legal ":I do think it will open up new users to the Thin Client model. Small Biz or even homes where it never made sense to deal with traditional Thin Clients in low quantities.