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.