Roku Blows Apple TV Away, But It Doesn't Matter

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) --

Claire Atkinson had an interesting piece in the New York Post earlier this week detailing a holiday advertising push by Roku devised to help the streaming media player stay even with or surpass Apple ( AAPL) TV in the U.S.

I own a Roku Player. Two in fact. And I have played with Apple TV enough to know that, almost hands down, you're better off with a Roku. Unless you have a massive stash of videos purchased in the iTunes Store, I can't think of an area where Apple TV comes out on top.

Apple won't make much of a difference in the living room until it produces an actual television set that takes an industry diluted by Samsung et al. and reinvents the way consumers view and behave within it.

We can apply the Roku-to-Apple comparisons to Pandora ( P) vs. iTunes Radio discussions. Here's another area where, as a feature, Pandora easily trumps Apple, but, again, it really doesn't matter.

With Apple TV, Apple captures a meaningful segment of its core consumer base under the halo effect. We would need somebody with the statistical prowess of Horace Dediu at Asymco to confirm, but I reckon it's safe to assume Apple TV owners have a strong affinity for Apple's top-selling products. Apple TV merely rounds out what amounts to an obsession.

I have these Apple things, so it makes sense for me to have this one as well. That's a perfectly viable and meaningful strategy for quite a few Apple people.

With iTunes Radio, you have a solid feature that adds to the allure of owning an iPhone or iPad. That said, Pandora -- and your favorite music application -- works as equally as (or more) important cogs to pull together the superior iOS experience.

Until Apple TV becomes a truly game-changing piece of hardware, it's akin to a feature like iTunes Radio.

Secondary hardware products. Features that make Apple gadgets just a little more compelling. Stickier. You can lump all of these things into the same broad basket. When Apple truly comes to play in one of these areas, we'll know. I tend to think, and hope, it has its sights set on the living room. If it does, Roku should worry.

Though not until then. Because, at this stage, "all" this basket of extras accomplishes for Apple is to keep the loyal a little bit happier and contribute to the best mobile ecosystem in the business. That's a big "all." No doubt.

However, it doesn't make Apple a software company. Its bread and butter is and will always be hardware. Premium-priced, best-of-breed, top-selling, upgrade-inducing, high-margin hardware. Even if Apple annihilates Microsoft ( MSFT) someday with iWork, hardware will always be what brought Apple to and keeps Apple the prettiest girl at the dance.

-- Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.
Rocco Pendola is a columnist and TheStreet's Director of Social Media. Pendola makes frequent appearances on national television networks such as CNN and CNBC as well as TheStreet TV. Whenever possible, Pendola uses hockey, Springsteen or Southern California references in his work. He lives in Santa Monica.

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