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Reality Check: Does Apple Really Want to Conquer the Living Room?

You’ve got to hand it to the tech pundits. They feel they not only have the right to tell you what’s going on in the tech world, but they sometimes pretend to read the minds of the executives in charge of the companies. Truly awesome!

Now let’s be clear here. I’m a tech writer too, and I’ve written for some of the same publications as others, and I wouldn’t presume to claim that everything I do is absolutely perfect. At the same time, many tech writers are totally sincere in their work. They don’t let their egos get in the way, nor attempt to impugn motives on the part of a company without a sufficient amount of evidence.

In saying that, it’s being claimed more and more these days that Apple’s ultimate goal is to control the living room with its hardware and software. In other words, they desire to be intimately involved in the content you see and hear on your TV set and home audio system.

Is there any truth to that?

Surely the iPod is a strong contender, since tens of millions have been sold, and they contain billions and billions of songs and videos, including the ones many of you have purchased from the iTunes Store.

At the same time, despite the fact that it dominates the industry, only a small amount of iTunes content can be found on any particular iPod. The average is maybe a couple of dozen or so. This means that the rest of the content was acquired elsewhere, be it CDs, digital photos or videos. Most of it is legal, some of it otherwise, but that’s not the point.

So, despite its incredible impact, the iPod is largely a content carrier, but not the exclusive content carrier. Even though more and more motor vehicles have iPod connectors of one sort or another, it’s not the exclusive source of entertainment. There’s still the car radio, the CD player and — in a lesser number of cases — the cassette deck. Some vehicles even have DVD players and custom screens in the rear to keep the kids happy on a long trip.

In your home, you can play your iPod through your Mac or PC, any of a number of earphones, a separate speaker or full-blown audio system, and even through your TV. But it doesn’t dominate your living room.

That’s supposed to change with the Apple TV, which is supposed to ship shortly, after a short delay.

This gadget, which will store and convey your content — wirelessly or via a wired network — directly to a high-definition TV, is supposed to be the next step in Apple’s great plan. But where does it fit in? Certainly it’ll be ultra-convenient to transfer music and videos from computer to TV. But how is that going to replace your cable or satellite set top box or DVD player? Well, all right, your computer has a DVD player too, but isn’t it a lot easier to use the one hooked up directly to your TV?

Some day, you will soon be able to buy high-definition TV shows and movies from iTunes, although today’s broadband is really barely up to the task. But how does that translate to becoming the primary carrier for that stuff? Where, for example, is the TV tuner, the CableCard?

I suppose it could be argued that Apple taking baby steps that are part of a long-range plan that will eventually result in great things that will turn the entertainment industry on its ear. The Apple TV will be revised, expanded, and will eventually provide TiVO-like capabilities and far more, all done with Apple’s trademark elegance.

But right now, it hasn’t happened, and the existing products won’t take you there. They will easily integrate a Mac and a PC with your TV set, to be sure. They will indeed provide another method of content delivery. But an alternative is not a replacement.

True, you don’t know Apple’s long-range plan, nor do I. Certainly it’s fun to read the tea leaves, and try to glean trends and possible goals based on what has gone before. Beyond that, it’s all speculation, and I don’t think anyone outside of Apple is capable of ferreting out the truth.

Apple has pulled a few fast ones in the past, as they will in the future. Let’s leave it at that, at least in the real world. But there’s nothing wrong with a good guessing game.