New Apple TV shifts to Micro-USB port, challenging hackers

Initially paid little attention on the first-generation Apple TV, a rear-facing USB port has been changed on the second-generation model—a point not mentioned during Wednesday’s introduction of the new Apple TV in San Francisco. The old port was a full-sized female USB connector, physically capable of connecting to keyboards, other peripherals, and even Apple’s own Dock Connector to USB cables; the new port is a female Micro-USB connector, located immediately beneath the HDMI port and labeled only with a small USB icon. Apple describes it as being “for service and support,” without further explanation.

Apple TV’s full-sized USB port was included on the original Apple TV solely for use by authorized service professionals, enabling a crashed device to be restarted and potentially diagnosed at an Apple Retail Store with appropriate tools. It was never supported by Apple for any type of accessories during the product’s three-year lifespan, despite some user interest in adding additional storage capacity, TV tuners, keyboards, and other peripherals to the device. However, hackers seized upon the USB port to enable unauthorized improvements to the device’s software, using inexpensive USB memory keys to create “patchsticks” that installed customized modifications, including services such as XBMC and Boxee.

Due to the change, USB to Micro-USB adapters will now be necessary to connect common devices to the second-generation Apple TV—assuming that hackers succeed in enabling it to be used for something other than service purposes. Until and unless that happens, the Micro-USB port will remain “for service and support,” only. (Thanks, Brian.)

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