The only things keeping the AppleTV from becoming a full-fledged iOS-based desktop today is a lack of USB into which to attach keyboard and mouse, and Apple's reluctance to provide a desktop environment and App Store for the AppleTV. The foundation is there and ready to be activated.
In reality, we are early on in the iOS lifecycle. While the platform that Apple has chosen is very mature for mobile devices it is extremely underpowered for a desktop experience. But each generation brings more computing power to the platform. Soon, a desktop based on a later version Apple processor and iOS may easily exceed the average user's desktop expectations.
Most home users find their desktops today to be significantly overpowered for their basic needs of email, Web browsing, watching Netflix and YouTube, etc. These are tasks for which many people are switching to their iPads already. In another generation or two of processors we may see an AppleTV-like device that draws only four or five watts of power able to adequately power the average user's desktop computing needs.
Incumbent Mac users are now being introduced to the concept of finding software, acquiring it and installing it all through a simple, integrated system, just as iPhone and iPad users have been using for years now. Had the App Store and all of its cost and limitations been introduced to users and developers on the Mac first, it likely would have been shunned and faded away without real comment. But today the Mac landscape is far different.
The plan, as I see it, with the Mac-platformed App Store, is to begin centralizing critical apps for the Mac ecosystem into the App Store. Over the next two to three years this process is likely to see all major apps move in this direction. Only smaller, less popular apps will be handled through the traditional purchase and install system.
Once a critical mass of apps has been reached and the iOS hardware platform has matured to a point where the speed is adequate for daily desktop computing tasks, Apple will flip the switch and change out the Mac OSX desktop for a new iOS desktop.
This will either be a sister of the AppleTV or, potentially, Apple will simply use the AppleTV device itself encouraging Apple users to see the world of desktop computing and media delivery as one. This vision is not as unlikely as some might think given the combination of the two so common on iOS mobile devices today.
There are many options around such a low cost device low cost to purchase and low cost to operate. And with many companies already forced to implement iOS management for their existing iPad and iPhone devices, adding in iOS desktop devices might be a trivial matter.
Apple has conquered many of the hurdles that it faced with Mac OSX for the iOS platform before they've even announced plans to make such a desktop device.
The laptop space, where Apple has a strong foothold today, is possibly the easiest platform to migrate. The iPad is almost a full-fledged laptop today. All Apple needs to do is to add a hinge and a keyboard and theyd have a device that works like an iPad but looks like the Macbook Air. An easy transition likely to be heralded by enthusiastic users.
Apple excels at subversive technology. The iPod and iPhone and the iPad, snuck into the market as media players or phones but emerged as highly mobile computing devices used for all sort of tasks, spurred on by the success of social media. But they sneakily did one more thing. In only a few years the iPod Touch went from being a MP3 player and email device to being one of the most popular mobile videogame platforms making Nintendo shake and basically removing Sony from the sector altogether.