Where’s Apple’s Media Server??

Am I missing something, or has the whole world gone out to lunch..?

media_server

Ok… if you haven’t guessed by now, I am a tweener.

I sit firmly in between both the Apple and Microsoft eco systems with my feet firmly planted in the middle of the pool. I’ve got a boat load of Apple gear (with a “What I Use” column pending…) – an iPad, iPhone, MacBook Pro and of course, an Apple Watch (and no, if you’re at all curious if my Watch shows that its shipping early, it isn’t, doggone it).

On the Microsoft side, I’ve got a Surface Pro 3, a Dell Latitude 10 ST2, and of course a Microsoft Band (part 2 of its review can be seen here). I also run a Windows 7 VM via Parallels Desktop on my MacBook Pro to enable me to write Windows-based software reviews. Much of my early writing career was also spent as a Windows Mobile/ Pocket PC Microsoft MVP nominee and in covering Microsoft on both WUGNET – The Windows User’s Group Network and in the Computing Pro Forum over at AOL/CompuServe.

So, yeah… firmly planted in both camps.

When it comes to digital media, though, I am wholly and totally a Mac. The iPod, iPhone and iPad have made it too easy to take your media where ever you want, and since I’ve been firmly planted in the Mac camp since I made the total switch in 2010 or so it makes sense for me to really have all of my digital content in iTunes instead of anywhere else. I’m not much of an Android person any longer, having moved back to an iPhone with the iPhone 4S from a Nexus One; and because Microsoft is just now getting its act back together again when it comes to a digital media store and ecosystem, again, being on the Apple side of this fence just seems to make perfect sense.

So, here’s the big issue I have with all of this. I hate streaming stuff over the internet.

I know that may come as a shock to many people, but hear me out first, before you color me beyond crazy and write me off…

Yes. I have Netflix. Yes. I have Hulu. Yes, I’ve used Pandora and iTunes Radio and the like (but honestly, I don’t use those last two a lot, due to mobile bandwidth caps. That’s a whole other story on streaming, so please… pleASE, PLEASE… don’t get me started on that!). But when I – or anyone for that matter stream content over the internet – there’s a GREAT deal of space between me and whatever server I’m trying to get content from; and WAY too much can happen between there and here to block, impede or otherwise slow down the receipt of streamed content to my TV set, or receiving device f choice. If at all possible, I’d really much prefer to stream content across my home network. Its totally self contained and much more reliable. If I have problems with the streaming, I know those issues are within my control to resolve…, which gets me back to my opening question – Where (the hell) is Apple’s Media Server?

See, when first introduced back in January of 2001, iTunes synchronized content from your local hard drive to its portable music player, the iPod. When Apple introduced Time Capsule back in January of 2008, I thought, from an iTunes perspective, that I had died and gone to heaven. Here’s why:

  1. Time Capsule has more storage than my Mac
    My 15″ Late 2013 MacBook Pro Retina has a 512GB SSD. I just upgraded my Time Capsule to 6TB of space. That’s 12 times more space than my current Mac.
  2. All my Apple Stuff sits on my Home Network
    That would include my family’s Macs (there are currently 5), my AppleTV, my iPhones, iPads, iPods, my (soon to arrive… hear that, Apple..? SOON TO ARRIVE..!!) Apple Watch and of course, my Time Capsule. With 12x more space than my Mac, it has ALL of my iTunes content backed up on it. All of it. However, as far as my Mac and any of my iDevices are concerned, my Time Capsule may as well be a boat anchor. None of them can see it, or the three plus terabytes of content stored there.

And I’d like to expound a bit on that…

While I can definitely browse my home network and find stuff there on any of the computers in the house, my AppleTV and none of my other iDevices can see any of that content. iOS doesn’t include a file browser. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to have a cool NAS product like Time Capsule, with the ability to have a large, upgradable hard drive on your home network, without having the ability to stream content locally.

That’s the idea behind a media center or media server computer on your home network. That server allows you to stream content across a home network, bypassing all of the inherent latency and other bandwidth issues and downloading problems that many often bump into when trying to watch content on HBO Go (or other cable network premium channel iOS app) or Netflix or Hulu over the internet.

There are likely third party products out there that can do this, and that’s all fine and good; but what I don’t understand is why Apple doesn’t have a way to set this up as part of the out of box setup process for Time Capsule. This is totally a huge hole in the product.

I know that Time Capsule was initially released as a companion to Apple’s Time Machine. The two can work seamlessly together; and Time Machine will default to it if it finds a Time Capsule on your home network (it will also create one via the Airport Express base station that’s part of its make up). However, not everyone uses Time Capsule that way; and more importantly, I don’t. I have a dedicated 2TB LaCie drive that’s connected to my Mac via Firewire 800. It does a great job connected to a port on my Thunderbolt Monitor that would otherwise go unused.

However, let’s get back to Apple, Time Capsule and what you can do with what you (may already) have.

You can always copy all of your music to your Time Capsule and then ALT/Option Right-Click iTunes, iPhoto or Photos and open an alternate library location, and that’s cool, but that doesn’t really hack it. All this does it put your iTunes library on a home network location. If you do that with a MacBook or MacBook Pro, you can’t use iTunes to listen to or anything on your Mac when you’re out and about (unless you have a local library that you update with the (new) content you want to watch or listen to before you go). In this case, you’re maintaining multiple iTunes libraries, and who wants to do that??

You can install something like Plex, which according to TWiT does a really good job; and it does have a NAS component, for Netgear, QNAP, unRAID, Drobo and the like; but it doesn’t support Time Capsule. That’s the solution that I, and I think so many other Apple fans want.

I’ve written a note to Tim Cook, asking where something like this that would naturally and automatically hook into a Time Capsule might be; but that was a couple weeks ago, and I haven’t heard anything from Mr. Cook regarding an answer. This isn’t the first time I’ve asked this question of Tim Cook, and it probably won’t be the last; but I have a feeling, that no matter how many times I ask it, I’m going to end up with the same answer – silence.

UPDATE: While writing this column, a new article came out on Neowin. Apparently, Microsoft has killed Windows Media Center in Windows 10. It won’t be part of the end game for Microsoft either. I hate to say it, but I have a feeling that I’m not going to see anything like that come out of the Apple camp at all…ever. It just seems as though the whole idea of streaming content across your home network, FROM your home network, is a dead issue, which is totally sad (and totally crazy…)

The last thing I’m going to say on this subject – hear me and hear me well. Until the day when ISP’s are true Title Two utilities, AND until the average speed across the entire nation is well above 50-75Mpbs down (with that being the totally suckiest speed, ever), things like Netflix and Hulu and other streaming services aren’t going to take hold and be the must have services they want to be. Last mile issues aside, issues with general traffic and bandwidth I think will always be a concern until full Title Two as well as super speeds are common place in the United States.

What do you think of all of this? Will Apple create their own media server? Is Time Capsule the best way to go for holding and serving up a local copy? Why don’t you join me in the Discussion Area below, and tell me what you think?

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