So Maybe Apple Won’t Make a TV?

June 6th, 2012

Some industry analyst continue to suggest that Apple is going to build a TV set, and that it will be announced later this year with an on-sale date that may stretch into 2013 or 2014. That this sort of prediction was made even before a certain comment on the matter from Steve Jobs in Walter Isaacson’s authorized biography is especially important, since those predictions obviously never came to pass.

Certainly, CEO Tim Cook was predictably coy about the future of Apple’s TV initiative. Yes, sales of the revised 1080p Apple TV are roughly double over the predecessor. Yes, those sales are very much on par with the number of Macs Apple used to sell, but these days the figures are a mere pittance, particularly when we’re talking about a product that costs just $99. So, by testing the waters, Apple clearly has an end game, and customer reaction will surely dictate where they take the set top box concept. But it may be that Apple hasn’t decided which way to go.

Now today’s Apple TV is very much a limited function device, with loads of potential. Some point to AirPlay as a magic bullet, since you can use an Apple TV as a receiver with which beam content from your iPhone and iPad to your TV. Macs will join in that game with the release of Mountain Lion. But most of you watch a whole lot more on TV, and the question is how Apple will handle the content you traditionally get from a cable or satellite TV provider. Yes, you can use iTunes or Netflix to stream movies and recent TV shows, but that only partly replaces the aforementioned alternatives, though I grant that’s enough for some of you. But is that all there is?

Now the real question is whether it makes sense for Apple to build the entire widget, rather than just an accessory device that can hook up with any TV that has an HDMI interface (and that goes back more than five years). Can Apple offer anything special in TV hardware that requires building a complete set rather than just an Apple TV set top box? That’s a serious question. I suppose Apple could build a set with superior picture quality compared to current models. Maybe it would be nicer to look at, though I think most of you want the exterior aside from the screen to just stay out of the way. The era of fancy cabinetry ended long ago. Perhaps Apple could devise a tricked out sound system, but you’d hope it wouldn’t be near as expensive as Bose’s VideoVision, which lists for just shy of $5,000.

Besides, it’s not as if people are in a rush to upgrade their sets. I’m sure most of you keep them for five to ten years. I have a set that’s nearly 20 years old in my son’s now unused bedroom. It still works perfectly, so why replace it? If there’s anything wrong with TV, it’s the handling of user interfaces and integrating multiple devices, such as a DVR, gaming console, Blu-ray player and even an Apple TV.

But what argument can Apple make to convince you that you want to buy a new smart TV with their brand name on it? How would it be stocked? Would they be stacked up in the rear storage room at an Apple Store? Would you be restricted to checking out a demonstration model, and be forced to check a box on an order sheet to get one delivered to your home? Or would they be available for immediate delivery strictly from a dealer who can handle big box hardware, such as a Best Buy or a Walmart?

But taking orders for later delivery is against the philosophy of an Apple Store, where you expect immediate gratification, except, perhaps, for a special order Mac. Taking orders without stock is a throwback to the days of the catalog stores from Sears and Wards, though it was also used at the failed Gateway store chain years ago. That’s not a mistake Apple will repeat.

Besides, most of what Apple require with a TV interface can be contained in the tiny confines of an Apple TV. Why do they need to replace your TV set? Sure, perhaps for the initial setup process, where you make a set of screen quality adjustments that most of you overlook anyway. I wouldn’t think Apple would build a TV set just to replace that function; the rest can be handled just fine with a set top box.

One theory has it that Apple might try to strike deals with existing content delivery networks, such as the cable and satellite providers. They’d have to do is give Apple admission, and provide iOS apps to use instead of their own set top boxes, so you can take advantage of Apple’s superior interface. No, I’m not talking of something in the vein of CableCard, which is a failed one-way connection scheme that cable services offered for use with third-party gear such as a TiVO. The main problem with the CableCard scheme is that you can’t use two-day services, such as video-on-demand. The successor is a work in progress, so it would be up to the individual services to make deals with Apple that they haven’t, so far at least, made with anyone else.

As far as Apple replacing your TV content provider with their own service, it’s not going to happen so long as ISPs set bandwidth caps. Apple could, I suppose, sign deals to get unfettered access to an ISP’s pipes, but that would be skirting net neutrality in the U.S. in a very controversial fashion. But I’ve already covered that subject.

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5 Responses to “So Maybe Apple Won’t Make a TV?”

  1. Kaleberg says:

    There’s something interesting going on generationally. Starting maybe five years ago, the exclusive link between TV and video has been weakened. The time period is even longer if you consider those portable DVDs resembling laptops that started becoming popular maybe ten years ago. So, if you are a teenager today, you probably don’t really remember thinking of video as TV-only. If you are setting up a household and have a choice of a TV or a computer, the computer is the obvious choice, and maybe you’ll get a TV when you upgrade the couch or put one on your wedding gift list.

    It’s not clear there is a television problem for Apple to solve. My guess is that this was Jobs’s great insight.

    • @Kaleberg, That comment speaks interface, and there a revised Apple TV set top box can do wonders if the feature set allowed it to manage your cable or satellite connection, and maybe even your hookups to a Blu-ray player.


  2. Yacko says:

    It isn’t a TV. It’s a display screen that can take wireless streamed input. The “tuner” is a device you already have or will acquire for other reasons. Same thing as the “remote”. I can’t imagine Siri being part of the screen. Multiple devices can be used with the screen. Families can watch video by themselves, alone or together, and queue up some stuff for the larger screen either for themselves or to share as a family experience.

    Phones, tablets, Apple TV will be the “input” devices. The best vector for Apple is channels as apps. Most content providers get less than 20 cents per head per month from cable companies. A $1 app even at a 70-30 split with Apple, yields as much as 3.5x revenue increase. Disney, FX and Fox News could have a $2 app for anywhere from 2x to 3.25x revenue.

    Sports will still be a problem. ESPN gets about $4 from cable companies. People who want sports will pay big time. The average person who doesn’t want sports will pick al a carte, 10-20 apps and pay as little as $10 to as much as $30 a month. Whether Apple can get content providers go along with this app vision, time will tell. Perhaps contracts with cable companies make this difficult.

    This is the only way I can see Apple providing an insanely great TV experience.

  3. Sipester says:

    There are 3 huge obstacles with the whole concept of the Apple TV.

    1. Content. In order to replace your cable/sat DVR, they need to get access to all content, from ESPN to HBO and the big one for many, Sunday Ticket.
    2. Connection. If they do #1, they need a way to distribute. Both bandwidth caps and overall bandwidth (try running multiple HD streams through the internet today, IPTV today is much less capable than cable tv/satellite) will limit this, Apple needs to figure out someway to get 50Mbps + into all homes in the US to make IPTV a viable alternative to today’s cable satellite.
    3. Interaction with other devices. Even if they do #1 & #2 above to replace the cable tv/satellite DVR, there is still the issue of Blu-ray players, game consoles, and receivers. To simplify all that, they need to figure out a way to replace blu-ray players, game consoles, and receivers or intergrate very well with them.

    To do all 3 of the above, they would revolutionize the home entertainment area. But to maximize their profits on accomplishing the above, it would make sense that #3 would be handled by a new set-top box to rule all set-top boxes, as there is nothing in the above that a set-top box can’t do that a TV can.

    In fact, a set-top box can do the above better than a TV (do you really want a bunch of cords connected to the fancy Apple TV, or do you want a wireless HDMI connection between the set-top box and the Apple TV).

    There is absolutely a much larger target market for an apple set-top box that works with any HDTV, as compared to just those that want a new TV.

    So in effect, the amount of effort that Apple puts into the actual TV device (i.e., the monitor) should probably no more than 5 – 10% (if that) of the total effort it puts into items 1 – 3

  4. Selemon says:

    I hooked this bridead HDMI cable between my HDTV and my computer to stream video from the internet to my HDTV. The picture is clear and the sound quality is very good. I don’t see any difference while using this cable from computer to HDTV than I do when watching TV directly from my satellite box. The only problem I have with this cable is that it is very thick due to the braiding, which makes it hard to turn. I need to plug it into one side of my HDTV, loop it around the back of the TV and bring it out on the other side where I place my computer out of tripping range. The thickness of the cable makes it hard to loop around and it’s heavier than the other cables I have. This cable would probably be best for professional use where there might be heavy usage and plugging and unplugging of the cord. It will probably stand the test of time and constant movement easier than the regular smooth vinyl cables. But, for normal home use, the vinyl cables are easier to handle. For anyone who has not used an HDMI cable and is new to HDTV, this cable can be used to hook up your cable box, DVD or Blu Ray disc player, computer, Wii, sound system and whatever else you have that has an HDMI cable connector. You do not need to use separate audio cables as this beauty steams everything through it. It’s super simple to use just plug it in to your HDTV and plug the other end into the other component and play. I suggest getting HDMI cables for each separate component so you don’t have to pull out the DVD cable to plug in your computer.

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