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  • Here We Go Again: The Apple Connected TV

    January 5th, 2012

    There is a report this week, one getting loads of coverage, that Apple’s genius product designer, Sir Jonathan Ive, has a 50-inch Apple TV in his design studio. If true, it might grant credibility to the growing expectations that Apple has such a product in our future that will go on sale some time later this year.

    But you have to wonder from where this story originated, and it appears to be a statement attributed to someone who may have at one time worked at Apple. At the same time, if true, it may not mean a thing. Apple typically has development products in prototype form that are never released to the public, and this TV set may be one of those products. It doesn’t mean that you can expect to buy a production version at your nearby Apple Store this year or any year.

    All this chatter is clearly the result of that famous reference in the authorized Steve Jobs biography, from Walter Isaacson, that Jobs announced proudly that he had “cracked” the code, as it were, towards succeeding in the TV space. I assume the statement is true, just as I assume Jobs knew the quote would be published and reprinted worldwide. It may very well be that it was made deliberately to cause consternation among TV makers. Just what was Jobs talking about, and how soon would that product appear?

    At the same time, any major product introduction from Apple, even in the future, will likely cast a cloud upon the Consumer Electronics Show, which occurs in Las Vegas next week. In recent years, Apple has been good about upstaging the event with their own announcements. Last year, it was news about the impending introduction of a Verizon Wireless version of the iPhone, but it was followed with plenty of speculation about the form and features of the next great iPad.

    The rest of the tech industry just can’t catch a break.

    As to the alleged Apple connected TV, the media is already designing the product for Apple. It would have Siri voice recognition, and be available in the usual sizes, such as 42 inches, and, if the story about that TV in Sir Jonathan’s studio is true, 50-inches. But that’s nothing special. These are among the sizes in which a flat panel TV is typically offered. What may be true is that Apple would pick two or three popular sizes, and that’s it. You won’t find a 32-inch version. That would be too close to the iMac anyway.

    But those sizes aren’t a given. Other reports do mention 32-inch and 37-inch versions, but that seems underwhelming. Sizes ranging from 40 inches to 55 inches seem more sensible.

    In addition to Siri, you should expect something akin to today’s Apple TV set top box on steroids, I suppose. It would have an A5 or better processor, support for AirPlay and, of course iCloud. Aside from Siri, though, that would seem to be little more than taking today’s Apple TV and placing it inside a real TV.

    What about the content?

    OK, there’s the problem, and there can be several solutions. But first and foremost, I do not believe Apple will deliver a TV set that’s deficient in any of the connection choices you expect. There will be a built-in over-the-air tuner, and several HDMI slots for whatever programming you want. You will be able to connect a cable or satellite TV adapter, a gaming console, a Blu-ray player, and even a Google TV gadget if that’s what you want. It wouldn’t make any sense for Apple to skip these essentials, as much as they’d want you to entice you to get your content from them. Otherwise, the set’s sales potential would be sharply reduced. And I won’t speculate about 3D, which still remains underwhelming, unless Apple develops a credible solution that doesn’t require those dreadful glasses.

    However, Apple is supposedly working with the entertainment companies to give you their own unique iTunes-derived subscription experience. It may well be that this, in addition to Siri, would be Apple’s ace-in-the-hole, but whether it can truly happen is another issue entirely. For Apple to offer a compelling alternative, they’d have to make deals with all the major networks, and, perhaps, local stations, assuming all the content is going to be streamed.

    The other question is the cost of streaming. If you are downloading mostly high definition content for eight to 12 hours a day, and these are fairly average figures for TV watchers, there will come a point where your ISP is going to protest. Faced with the loss of cable TV customers, broadband providers might just raise prices for potential bandwidth abusers. Suddenly what you save in dropping cable won’t be such a savings anymore.

    Or maybe, just maybe, Apple will filter your cable or satellite connection, allowing for Siri control and perhaps display of a TV schedule in a customized iOS interface. That might require agreements with these companies, but seeing they’d get more customers, it doesn’t seem as if it would be a problem, right? But they also sell a service with supposedly unique features, so that might not be feasible. Or maybe it’ll just be Siri and you’ll have to endure the same lame programming interfaces they offer now.

    If and when an Apple connected TV arrives, I’ll be very curious and, if I have the spare cash, tempted to buy one. But that nagging feeling of skepticism about the whole thing won’t go away.



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