There’s a story this week suggesting that the non-appearance of an Apple branded TV set means the company is losing the battle to control your living room. This theory presupposes that other companies have solved the problem in innovative ways, and that nothing Apple can do would offer a better solution.
I suppose the Xbox One might be considered a potential competitor, although it’s first and foremost a gaming console despite the ability to run TV content, and Blu-ray discs. The fundamental problems of the aging living room environment remain unresolved. It’s a sure thing that a set top box from Apple or Roku will give you alternatives to traditional TV fare, but they don’t quite replace the cable or satellite services for most people. Cord cutters have to do without or be creative about getting the shows want to watch by using several services. Doing more things to achieve the same result is not a simpler solution.
All right, so TV makers are busy adding content to their “smart” sets, but it’s just a built-in solution to what Roku is doing, which is to add lots of streaming services. But it may also be true that at least one TV maker, LG — and likely more — are busy recording your viewing habits to deliver targeted ads or otherwise serve the masters from Google and other companies who perhaps subsidize those super cheap sets. Profits in the TV business are quite low these days, competition is cutthroat. Sure, you can buy top quality gear really cheap, but someone has to make up the difference.
So what is Apple’s solution? What secret did Steve Jobs “crack” before he died to provide the best TV solution ever, the best interface? Where is it?
It would seem that today’s Apple TV isn’t providing an answer. It’s hardly changed at all except for the addition of more channels, but that doesn’t make it especially different from other set top accessories, other than offering content from iTunes. Yes, AirPlay is neat, being able to stream stuff from your Mac, iPad or iPhone and all, but that is just a way to get more stuff to the TV set, not offer a smoother, more integrated solution.
Google’s Chromecast, the cheapest alternative, isn’t providing a unique solution either. It also seems that image quality doesn’t quite match an Apple TV or Roku.
Aside from Apple’s magic interface, when and if it ever appears in a shipping product, just how does a prettier or more intuitive environment change the TV/living room paradigm? Does it offer an easier way for you to get all of your content from a single product, without having to browse through dozens of apps and services? What about accessory devices, such as the gaming console or Blu-ray player? Well, iTunes offers the same current movies as you can buy on physical media, although it’s lacking in older content. Besides, customers may have invested a fair amount of money buying movies and other video content on DVD or Blu-ray, so would it make sense for Apple to tell you to forget about it?
Today, switching through your various TV-related devices isn’t always easy. You may get the universal remote, but they are still glitchy to program or to use. Each of your devices has a remote sensor located in a different position, so you aim the remote in a sort of compromise position to control all of them at once. If you fail, you may have to use a Help menu to straighten things out, or start from scratch. Sure, some remote sensors use Wi-Fi, which doesn’t have the directional problem, but not many.
So would the ultimate Apple iTV (or whatever it would be called, since that name is taken by a UK-based network), or Apple TV box allow you to hook up everything, and manage the control functions from a single location? Would you have to attach tiny remote sensor modules on the other gadgets, as you do now with some systems? Or would Apple expect you to throw them all away and start anew?
With Apple, I sort of expect the latter. That’s the Apple Way. You start from scratch, accept the compromises and wait for products and services to get with the program. Certainly there are reports that Apple is trying to sign up TV networks to offer a subscription service as an alternative to existing cable and satellite systems. Yet another rumor has it that Apple is also working with the content carriers, such as Time Warner Cable, to offer the unique Apple interface. Or maybe they are trying to get a foothold wherever they can.
At times, I’ve even wondered if Apple might just deliver TV technology to third-party manufacturers. They will offer licensed sets that have to adhere to a basic set of performance specs, and allow Apple to take over the entire user interface, including initial setup and picture customization menus. Now Apple is certainly moving into the car business with iOS in the Car, and it’s already beginning to show up in some vehicles. Honda recently announced that you’ll be able to buy a dealer-installed accessory to offer this interface for their Civic and Accord vehicles. But you don’t expect Apple to get into the car business, despite the rumors that they might acquire Tesla, a company who makes expensive battery-operated vehicles.
One thing is certain, and that is that nothing will happen until 2014, and maybe not till the fall of next year. Or maybe not at all if Apple can’t put all the pieces together, but that’s not an assumption you can make without evidence. Certainly no existing company has yet offered a compelling new solution to conquer the living room — at least not yet.
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