Bijan wrote about Boxee this morning. As I understand it, Boxee is media-center software with social features optimized for use on TVs, so you can use a spare PC or Mac connected to your TV (or an AppleTV, but not all features work on it) and get very good features. Format compatibility should be excellent, since it’s a fork of XBMC.
(Bijan represents Spark Capital, an investor in both Tumblr and Boxee.)
This is not an easy market — nobody has ever been successful in it, including Microsoft and Apple. Some of the challenges they’ll face:
- Many people in the target market don’t even have HDTVs yet, and this sort of product really needs one to be usable.
- Most people don’t have a spare computer to connect to their TVs, and are unwilling to spend $600+ for one. You can buy the $230 Apple TV, but…
- Most Apple TV owners won’t be willing, able, or motivated to hack it, as required to run Boxee. And there aren’t many Apple TV owners to begin with. And instant-Netflix, one of Boxee’s killer features, can’t run on the Apple TV. And Apple can break Boxee with an update at any time. So I don’t think it’s even valid to consider the Apple TV as a viable platform for Boxee, just as using OSx86 on PC hardware isn’t really a viable way to run OS X.
- Most people don’t need Boxee’s additional features over whatever their current equipment can do.
I think Boxee has to be so good — good enough that a non-geek can be convinced to try it without first seeing it at a friend’s place — that it can get past people’s desire to minimize the number of boxes and remotes they have, and overcome the cost and complexity barriers.
With the cost barrier at $600+ for a dedicated TV-computer, plus the complexity of installing the software properly before connecting it, it’s just not realistic to expect many people except geeks and tech VCs to adopt this.
The key lies in making Boxee available, preconfigured, on a cheap and widely available hardware device. Make it so that geeks and rich professionals can buy them for their parents, the way they did with TiVos, and not expect painful tech support calls. (Avoiding TiVo’s fate shouldn’t be hard — there’s no way the cable companies will compete with Boxee’s features.)
And the price is critically important. I think $199 is the upper bound for what people will pay for a device that does only this. And even that’s not going to be an easy sell. But it’s going to be a heck of a lot easier than trying to get people to buy Mac Minis or hack Apple TVs.
But I want this to succeed, so go out there, get a slick hardware deal, and kick some ass. Good luck.