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The Never-Ending Apple Connected TV Discussion

With Lenovo and other tech companies hoping to beat Apple at the integrated TV game, I wonder how many of you even care. I mean, it’s not as if today’s TV sets are broken. For the most part, they work just fine, and deliver an entertainment experience that most of you are pleased with. They are not in any way the same as personal computers, where crashes, system instability, and malware are possible. They are appliances that mostly just work.

Sure, the set top box provided by your cable or satellite provider may be less instinctive to use. But changing channels is done pretty much the same way regardless. Sure, checking an onscreen menu’s channel listings and recording a show may not always be as user friendly as they could be. Sure, the complexities increase when you connect accessories to your TV, such as a Blu-ray player, an auxiliary set top box, such as an Apple TV, or perhaps a game console.

Where a problem may arise is when a user is trying to do more than just switching channels and setting recording schedules. Having to cope with different boxes, different remotes, or programming a universal controller, can, I suppose, present some setup frustrations.

Depending on your setup, you may even receive most of your stations off the air with your TV’s tuner, but I expect most of you have an account with a cable or satellite provider. Whether you take the basic packages or order up a bundle to get all the stations you want (and loads of stations you have no use for), and perhaps the DVR to record shows, you are still making that service your first-tier connection. Everything else is an add-on.

This is why Steve Jobs regarded the Apple TV as a hobby, because it’s near impossible to compete with the free or leased set top boxes. Clearly Apple would have to find a way to replace those services, or at least those set top boxes. How he “cracked the code” is anyone’s guess, as is the final solution, but it doesn’t necessarily mean there is an Apple Connected TV, or iTV, in our future.

However, that phrase was sufficient to start a media frenzy, and we have such companies as Lenovo wasting time and money developing products that they hope will somehow head off Apple at the pass. Lenovo’s K91 Smart TV is a product that appears to have been designed with checkboxes, such as 3D here, voice recognition there, not with a vision or any awareness of what works and what doesn’t work. It’s not as if Lenovo has demonstrated the ability to create innovative tech gear. Their PCs are certainly quite good, but hardly original.

Apple’s shadow is surely hanging over this week’s Consumer Electronics Show, with loads of products, such as smartphones and tablets, which pretend to respond to something Apple is already selling, or they expect to sell in the very near future. The TV makers are aware of the rumors about an Apple TV set, and thus they are joining Lenovo in hoping to get a leg up on the expected competition.

But as I suggested earlier in this column, it’s not as if tens of millions of customers are chomping at the bit for an Apple branded TV set, or would even consider buying one should it appear. Unless someone is already considering a new TV, they aren’t going to throw out the one they have just because Apple made one. It’s not that simple. TVs are expected to last ten years, and sometimes longer. Even if a new model has a slightly better picture, 3D, or Internet apps, that’s not sufficient to convince large numbers of people that they need to upgrade. 3D is a colossal failure, and probably won’t gain traction until there’s a credible and cost-effective way to deliver multidimensional content with great picture quality and no glasses. Getting Netflix and other apps merely requires buying an Apple TV, a Roku or a similar product, or a new Blu-ray player.

Even if Apple did introduce a TV set, it is very possible they will recognize the reality too, that converting existing TV owners is going to be a steep climb. More than likely, there will also be an revision to the Apple TV that will incorporate a similar feature set. That way, customers who can’t afford, or don’t need, a new TV, will have a low cost path to achieving a similar goal.

More to the point, the tech media cannot design Apple’s products. We can all make assumptions of what the next Apple TV or a rumored Apple connected television set might include. From Siri, to iCloud and iTunes, certain features might be a given simply because they would leverage products and services that Apple already produces. But few outside of Apple know what sort of content deals Apple might be negotiating, except that the TVs from Lenovo and other companies are strictly hardware. Lenovo will depend on Google for the set’s OS, and none of the TV makers are engaged in providing exclusive content beyond a basic app store and access to such streaming portals as Netflix. They’ll just put in whatever’s available from the parts and service bins.

But if Apple comes to the realization that there aren’t enough customers for such a product, you won’t see it, at least for now. Instead, there will probably be a killer Apple TV to consider instead, one that’ll work on any high definition TV with an HDMI port. That may mean that TV makers may be spending lots of money attempting to compete with the wrong product.