Frightened Companies Try to Upstage Apple Connected TV

January 10th, 2012

All right, you know there is no such thing as an “Apple Connected TV,” an iTV whatever you you want to call that so-far nonexistent Apple entry into the flat panel TV market. You know, as I do, that there have been plenty of rumors about such a product, but nothing from Apple to indicate that their solution to the living room is yet another TV set in a highly saturated market.

Of course, all those rumors arose from a statement Steve Jobs was quoted as making in his authorized biography, that he’d “cracked the code” of building the simplest TV interface possible. That statement has become the jumping off point for loads and loads of speculation that Apple is going to introduce a flat panel TV set that will exploit that technology.

It didn’t take long for the media to hop onto the iTV bandwagon. The set will use Siri voice control, a possibility that doesn’t require a whole lot of imagination to believe. It will be powered by the latest Apple A-class chipset, run iOS apps, and so on and so forth. From there, the speculation encompasses some sort of advanced LCD panel, maybe using a new technology for which Apple has applied for a patent, which will allow for better display of letterboxed content.

Notice, so far, that nothing is being said about a superior presentation of home theater sound. There is, for example, that 46-inch Bose LCD TV set, the $4,999 VideoWave (it used to be several hundred dollars more). Bose justifies a price over five times that of competing products by promising to deliver superior audio. It doesn’t even have 3D, and you’d think that you could buy a separate audio system with great sound for a whole lot less. But this is nothing that you’d expect from Apple, even if that rumored Apple Connected TV boasts better audio.

If Apple’s TV set is delivered at a very competitive price, at best a few hundred dollars above that of a premium set from such companies as Samsung, Sony, LG, and Panasonic, it will be a strong competitor, but that’s no guarantee of success, as you’ll see later in this article. And I haven’t begun to consider whether Apple would even consider 3D capability, with or without those dreadful glasses.

Now let’s go back a couple of years, to the time when the first rumors about an Apple tablet computer were hitting full steam. Before the iPad was announced, loads of companies were demonstrating tablet prototypes at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show. When the iPad came out, at a much lower price than the pundits expected, you can bet a lot of companies went back to the drawing boards. The marketplace is littered with the failures from HP, RIM, Motorola and others. Efforts to build iPad simulations were wanting, although perhaps the Amazon Kindle Tablet, cheap and without frills, probably did quite well during the holiday season.

Taking the iPad anticipation frenzy into consideration, I wasn’t surprised to see evidence that tech companies are trying once again to upstage Apple with new contenders in the TV market.

So there’s the news that Lenovo, the maker of some of the best Windows PC note-books you can buy, has announced the launch of the K91 Smart TV. The new set, which is being demonstrated at this week’s CES, will include all the usual bells and whistles of a “smart” TV, including voice recognition, apps from different services, plus Google Android 4.0, known as Ice Cream Sandwich.

Other features include 42-inch and 55-inch IPS-style LCD displays, SRS TrueSurround, a standard method of producing faux multichannel audio that many TV makers offer, plus a 5-megapixel camera for videoconferencing. There’s even a cloud-based storage system, but nothing is mentioned about special deals with content providers and some sort of competitor to iTunes. Indeed, a lot of the iTV speculation centers on Apple making deals with the entertainment companies for a new subscription TV service.

Now other than featuring Android and supporting voice recognition, I’n not seeing much new in the K91. Will Lenovo be able to provide any unique video processing tricks to produce a superior picture, or just imitate what other TV makers are already offering? Indeed, there’s little to nothing original here. It appears Lenovo may have simply considered the rampant speculation about what Apple might produce, and cobbled something together in an effort to enter the consumer electronics space as quickly as possible.

Don’t forget Apple has been building consumer electronics gear for years. Back in the 1990s, they had digital cameras, the Newton, and other gear. So when the iPod arrived, it wasn’t so much of a stretch for Apple to build such a gadget. But Lenovo is  PC maker pure and simple. It’s all about PCs, servers, and accessories, period. Sure, there are really good products to be found there, but are they prepared to jump into the cutthroat TV market with both feet?

If Apple wants to build a TV, they could leverage their experiences over several decades to turn the market upside down. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. Just finding lots of buyers may be difficult at a time when TV manufacturers are struggling to move product as prices continue to drop. Even if an iTV is as truly amazing as the iPhone and iPad, it’s not as if people are going to be quick to buy one. While users will trade smartphones and computers quite frequently, a TV set is apt to have a five or ten-year lifecycle. Customers won’t buy one on a whim, when the existing set is working just fine, even if the replacement offers a superior picture and user interface.

So the companies who are hoping to upstage Apple may just be whistling in the dark.

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One Response to “Frightened Companies Try to Upstage Apple Connected TV”

  1. Kaleberg says:

    Does anyone have a TV that can be controlled by an iPhone or iPad app? That, combined with Airplay, strikes me as one logical way of handling things. Of course, this means a WiFi app interface for the equivalent of the set top tuning box which will probably never happen given the split between the various types of cable and satellite tuners. In fact, what will happen is that it television will go all internet because app developers can experiment with ways of controlling, scheduling and tuning. My guess is that Jobs realized that television is just another big media closed system, and it is either going to be opened up or go away.

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