I guess it's no surprise that the new iOS-based AppleTV was jailbroken instantaneously on release, but as the former AppleTV plugin developers race to the new platform to disassemble it and get their own plugins up and running on the new system, I can't help but wonder how the future of AppleTV will play out as regards developers.
It's widely rumored that Apple will open up the AppleTV platform and create an 'App Store', allowing developers write apps for the big screen. It seems almost inevitable that they will make this play, if not to compete against Google TV then to at least make the AppleTV a relevant platform; leverage against the movie studios reluctant to agree to Apple's movie rental terms and who knows what else.
What I don't see is an AppleTV SDK being built around BackRow, the current framework that provides the UI on the device. Previous AppleTV plugins have all been built for BackRow, using a framework that is decidedly not very Cocoa-like or developer friendly. They have nonstandard design patterns, and they run as actual plugins to the UI process; a crashed plugin can currently take out the entire UI. From what I've seen (and I've been using it since the original AppleTV hacks back in 2007), the BackRow framework is not fit for third party developers and was never designed to be.
Assuming Apple does launch an App Store, then, how are we going to write apps? The only option I see is UIKit. UIKit is familiar to all iOS developers, is very Cocoa-like, and very powerful. In fact, since iOS 3.2, 1280x720 (720p, or the same resolution as AppleTV) is a supported resolution for developers, mainly for those creating TV-out UIs in iPad apps (Chopper 2 is a great example of this). Developers have already started crafting ten-foot-UI experiences in existing iOS apps, so it would be a no-brainer for that to translate over to AppleTV wholesale. To make it work, Apple would have to build remote control support into iOS… - but hold on a second, Apple already added that in iOS 4! Effectively, all the pieces are in place to build a remote-control driven 720p iOS app. All Apple needs to do is build the distribution mechanism and open the floodgates, and 'Universal' apps would be a definite possibility.
Of course, some people will complain that UIKit isn't the native UI for AppleTV; our apps will look and act differently from the native experience on the device. Point taken, and it's an important one; I think Apple could effectively build an AppleTV UI framework on top of UIKit that internally uses the BackRow APIs but offers the developer a much cleaner way to implement common features. Does it need to happen? No, but it would certainly feel unfinished if they didn't do it. Then again, Apple can be surprising: I'm still astounded they let the iPad ship with that horrific iPhone app scale-to-2x support :o).