The 4th Leg.

What happened to the 4th leg?

So today Apple unveiled iPhone 2.0. The whole Internets is abuzz about how much it sucks or how much it rules or how we wish technology could improve faster or how we hate it when it does. For some reason, my mind wasn’t really on iPhone 2.0 today. It was on something that went completely unmentioned on the Internets, but was subtly referenced to in the keynote today. I normally don’t write this kinda stuff on this blog, but it’s late, I’m tipsy, and I wanted to put my thoughts down on the record so that I could come back 10 years later and see how right or how wrong I was. I’ll laugh either way. So what is this mysterious item I’ve been thinking about all day?

The 4th leg.

The Jobs likes to talk about Apple’s 4 legs. He’s mentioned it a couple of times in prior keynotes – how Apple desires to have 4 legs. The Mac platform was 1 leg. You know, the hardware. Computers. Oh and the software that runs them – OSX. The 2nd leg is iTunes and the mighty iPod – generally speaking, Music. The 3rd leg is iPhone – headliner at WWDC today. In the past, The Steve called AppleTV the 4th leg. The coveted living room. Wars for control of your living room have been waged since the beginning of living rooms themselves. AppleTV was to be Apple’s front-line assault on your living room, but so far has been kept back as a “hobby,” in Jobs’ own words. Disrespectfully, today Jobs all but disowned the 4th leg – instead showing in his slideshow a 3-legged stool sans AppleTV.

So where did the 4th leg go? It hasn’t really gone anywhere. It’s been incubating as a “hobby” while the 3rd leg finishes getting sanded and polished, prior to its final coat of lacquer. I own an AppleTV and have a love/hate relationship with it. Its potential is the most frustrating thing. It has so much potential and would revolutionize entertainment if Apple would put as much into it as they have the iPod and iPhone.

My theory is that Apple is, in fact working on AppleTV, but in a roundabout way. All evidence points to an easy installation for the 4th leg when it is ready. Why? Because the majority of the work is being done by the prior 3 legs.

  1. Leg 1 – Mac Platform – Guess what all 4 legs of the chair run? OSX. Guess what’s coming in Snow Leopard (also announced today) sometime next year? A smaller OS. How did they do this? Apple engineers learned a lot from leg #3 (iPhone) by trying to cram OSX onto a computer that fits in your pocket. Who else benefits from these improvements to the OS? AppleTV.
  2. Leg 2 – iTunes/iPod – iTunes and its vast distribution network was built to support leg #2 (iPod). It is still being refined and improved, and guess who is in line to reap the benefits of a sleek, optimized, well performing distribution network? AppleTV.
  3. Leg 3 – iPhone – Not only did iPhone bring optimizations and improvements to Leg 1, it has also given cloud computing the shot that it needs to become a reality. Mobile life spawns too many headaches revolving around syncing data, losing devices containing all of your contacts, and incompatabilities between formats. In comes MobileMe ( to save the day! But wait, there’s more! You know how annoying it is to type in a movie title with the little AppleTV clicker thing? Apple TV needs a keyboard, but nobody wants to tarnish the elegant design of the Little White Box. Why not use you iPhone’s touchpad typing abilities to control your AppleTV? While you’re at it, use your iPhone to set up your AppleTV to download the latest episode of Planet Mars from your desk at the office. So what do the past 2 years of development for the iPhone and neglecting of the AppleTV directly benefit? AppleTV.

AppleTV will neatly slide in as the 4th leg. All 4 legs will work seamlessly together, thanks to the newly launched MobileMe service. All of our data, and essentially our lives, will someday live in “the cloud,” the ever-present virtual storage space in the sky. The MP3 you purchase from iTunes will be saved into the cloud where it is automatically pushed out to your other devices – your work laptop, your home laptop, your home desktop, your phone, and yes, your AppleTV. All of your emails, your contacts, your calendars, photos, bookmarks, maps, and movies, will always be present on all of your devices at all times. No longer will your laptop/desktop/phone be storage devices for your data, they will merely be interfaces to it. And your iPhone will be the interface to the interfaces!

Nobody seems to be noticing the forest because they’re too focused on the trees. Nobody is noticing the chair because they’re too focused on the legs.

The worlds of separate computers, phones, music players, televisions, living rooms… hell, even life itself, will be merged into one, and Apple (and it’s soon-to-be-polished AppleTV) will be at the forefront of this revolution.

Buckle up.