• Apr 2, 2007

When Apple's low-cost Mac Mini computer debuted, it wasn't long before industrious hackers took advantage of its small form factor to create some incredible in-car installs. There have always been some major limitations, however, to installing a Mac Mini in your dash, the most significant being how to interact with it. Driving around with a keyboard and mouse in your lap isn't very ergonomic. Enter the new AppleTV, a device that despite having only been on the market for a week or so has become the most hacked Apple device ever. It has not, however, been installed in a car yet. Here's why it should be.

The AppleTV is a device that's designed to be used in conjunction with a Mac or PC running iTunes, which, let's face it, most computers do. It connects to your desktop via an 802.11 wireless connection and syncs video and music purchased from the iTunes Store onto its own 40GB hard drive. In essence, it acts much like a screenless Video iPod that syncs wirelessly with your computer. Instead of connecting it to an HDTV as it was designed, one could easily envision hacking the video input of a car's in-dash screen to accept the video output of an AppleTV. If successful, you could theoretically pull into your garage and wirelessly sync the video and music on your desktop computer to your car (assuming the range of your wireless network reaches the garage). Once on the road, all of the AppleTV's functions are controlled via a tiny Apple Remote, so there's no need for a keyboard, mouse or other exotic input device.

The AppleTV is even smaller than the Mac Mini, so finding room in a glove box or even behind the dash shouldn't be a problem. Third-party companies have already come up with pre-modified AppleTVs that feature hard drives as large as 120GB. There's even a USB port on the box that, while disabled by Apple from the factory, has already been opened up by hackers.

OEMs are already offering in-car entertainment systems with built in hard drives, the Infiniti 9.3GB Musix Box and Chrysler's 20GB MyGIG are but two examples. The problem with factory-offered solutions is that while they'll accept music files all day long, none have an operating system sophisticated enough to play back video files stored on their hard drives. The AppleTV is literally a small computer that, while not as powerful as your Intel Core 2 Duo box, has more than enough muscle to display episodes of Sponge Bob Square Pants all day long.

Listen up automakers, 'cause this is good advice. Give Steve Jobs a ring, offer him any amount of money to license the AppleTV for use in automotive applications. Don't worry about getting exclusive rights, because Jobs won't give them to you. You just want to be the first to offer the technology of the AppleTV in the cars you sell. The hackers will beat you to it, but their success will serve to prime the public on how much better this technology is than anything being offered.

The real reason why the AppleTV would be a killer auto application is because it syncs with iTunes, where so many people keep their music, video and podcast collections. Basically, the first automaker that can say its cars will seamlessly sync with iTunes on their home desktop... well, that's a tough trick to beat.


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  • 27 Comments
      • 7 Years Ago
      It's definitely thinner, but not smaller. The footprint's a little bigger than of a Mac mini.
      • 7 Years Ago
      http://www.heycool.com

      I've seen some pretty cool mobile media apps with the mac mini, not so sure about the apple tv though.
      • 7 Years Ago
      The real advantage of a car-maker licensing this is not in the wireless syncing. Adding that feature to any ICE system regardless of manufacture is trivial at best. I could build such a system for anyone for $300 with significantly more capability than the CrApp[y]TV.

      No, the real advantage in licensing this is the "instant cool" that the Apple brand would bring to whatever car into which it is placed. Dealers would be inundated with mindless hipsters thirsty for whatever bleached white and chrome POS hardware that Apple builds. GM should license it and slap it in their new Saturns, especially the Green Lines and the Astra. I bet sales would go up at least 25% immediately.

      "Impress your friends with your cool new Apple Mobile Media system and your environmental awareness!"
      • 7 Years Ago
      I think if an OEM were to license the technology, it wouldn't be a matter of fitting the AppleTV's box somewhere. Different components that were more shock and weather resistant could be used and housed behind the dash in whatever way was necessary to ensure they operated under all conditions. The real score would be the AppleTV software combined with the wi-fi, which would allow your car to sync with iTunes in your house. That's the key here. It doesn't matter if the car you sell has a hard drive or can even play video, syncing wirelessly with the most pervasive media application, iTunes, is the clincher.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Will; I don't know if you've noticed, but the AppleTV is a lot more compact than an XBox. A person can probably fit an AppleTV in a dash. An XBox wouldn't even fit under a powered seat, it would probably have to take up space in the trunk.

      White; I don't think just any geek can make a device as compact as the AppleTV for the same cost. I think it's the size that's attractive, even if you add some noise, vibration and harshness dampeners into it. I don't think one can put together a miniITX system for the same cost as an AppleTV. Anyone can put together computer parts on the cheap, but that's usually the ATX type stuff, and it's a huge waste of space to stuff such a computer into a car.

      In short, space matters.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Why turn Autoblog into another I-crap commercial - we have EVERY other blog for that.

      In-car pc's have been around for years - with wireless syncronization.

      Quit making it look like crApple invented the concept.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Without a touchscreen, GPS-nav, and BT-phone integration it is probably not worth it yet. If I was a car manufacturer, I would probably try and get an Apple exclusive, but it really needs a bit more work.

      Could definitely see something cool coming out of it for hackers with a combination of Growl alerts for GPS directions and phone alerts.
      • 7 Years Ago
      How the hell are you going to fit an Xbox into any part of a car. He talks about using the Apple TV because its tiny Xbox's are huge plus what normal person wants to mod an Xbox just to do what the Apple TV already does. You made a shameless plug and not a well thought one.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Um... OmniFi Has been doing this for years.
      Though its not as cool as the Apple stuff.
      • 7 Years Ago
      John, the only problem with this plan is that while the apple tv is only half as tall as the mini, it's actually wider at 7.7 inches square vs 6.5 for the mini. Apparently the top surface which acts as the heat sink for th processor gets rather hot as well. If you can find a spot that fits and allows for some airflow and access to the IR port for the remote, it could still be a good option.
      • 7 Years Ago
      @9 Didn't realize I was plugging, in that I'm not involved with the stuff except as a user. As far as where the unit is going to be located, even the ATV is going to have to be isolated into a storage area, (such as the truck or large glovebox), just like the Xbox.

      And as far as not well thought out, what CarPC do you have in yours? I'm running Meedio on my 300C's touchscreen... Hope to see your project soon ;)
      • 7 Years Ago
      I have started an official thread at the MP3 Car forums. It is not clear that in its current incarnation, hacks and all, as to whether or not the AppleTV will be a better choice than a Mac Mini or not.

      If you have any insight or want to be a part of the conversaation, come let us know what you think here:

      http://www.mp3car.com/vbulletin/maccar/100252-official-appletv-maccar-thread.html
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