Apple’s Television

Jim Dalrymple / June 7th, 2012

People have been talking about an Apple television for the last couple of years, but nobody knows for sure if the company will actually make one or not. I wouldn’t count Apple out of that market.

I’ve long held that Apple will enter markets that it feels it can make a significant impact. Those don’t have to be brand new markets, but areas that Apple feels it can improve on the current products and make a profit. The last decade of Apple product releases illustrates this point.

The iPod music player certainly wasn’t a new product category, but Apple took a poorly designed product that had limited storage space and changed the market forever. The iPod is iconic and it helped turn Apple around, as well as paving the way for the future.

Everyone had to have an iPod. For years it was one of the most sought after products in the consumer space. Apple changed it, innovated it with a variety of technologies and rode the wave.

They did the exact same thing with the iPhone years later. An industry that hadn’t changed in years was ripe for the taking. While pundits and entrenched manufacturers scoffed at Apple’s attempt to change the industry, they did it and haven’t looked back.

Walk into any wireless carrier or look at any manufacturer’s Web site and Apple’s influence can be seen in almost every smartphone on the market today. Copying Apple’s success has almost become a sport for some companies.

Of course, the latest product to achieve market-changing levels is the iPad. The tablet market has been around for a decade or more with little success, but Apple changed all of that. With a new design, new software and a focus on the customer, Apple redefined what can be done with a tablet.

The iPad fits into our lifestyle. It changes with us, but it doesn’t require that we make changes in order to use it.

That’s the type of challenge Apple faces in the television market or any other market it enters. Apple will try to solve the current problems, while advancing what consumers can do. The home entertainment market needs to be shaken up and it will take a company that isn’t afraid to change the status quo to do it.

Some people think Apple will release a television with new menus or Siri integration. I don’t believe they are thinking big enough. If Apple enters that market they will disrupt it and change it forever.

Jim Dalrymple

Jim Dalrymple has been reporting on Apple for almost 20 years and has written for many industry publications. Jim currently runs The Loop, a technology focused blog, and plays guitar in his spare time. You can follow him on Twitter or visit his Web site.
  • It really comes down to content delivery. How you get your TV fix is a severely broken model right now. The Apple TV will not be about disrupting the Samsungs and Sonys of the world. It will be about disrupting Comcast and Time Warner.

    I fully expect the Apple TV (when and if we see one) to be a pane of glass, 1080p, with a great refresh rate. Thin as hell, just a sexy beast. That’s what will sell. How you get your content into it, though, will be new. Apple TV (the existing box) will be built-in, and you’ll get your cable channels a’la carte, $X a month all you can watch. Easy as pie. Just like you have on your iPhone and iPad today, TV Channels will be just like apps on those devices. (Notice how many channels already have their own iOS app?)

    You’ll probably pay more to do it this way, just like the cable companies claim you would. But Apple got people to pay for music again. They made small software profitable again. If they can woo a few major networks, as well as supporting Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, etc., they can change the TV content industry. The TV hardware companies had already figured this out a long time ago, but they didn’t have the muscle to be able to get the networks to play along. Apple probably does.

    • FalKirk

      Putting an Apple TV Box inside of a television set would be like putting an iPod inside of a boom box – unnecessary, redundant and counterproductive.

      • Rich

        You got that right!

      • Exactly. All of the value that Apple would capture by entering the television manufacturing market can be captured by their set-top box, minus the myriad headaches that have been noted by people who refuse to be blinded by the tech press hype machine. It’s about content.

    • NK

      I agree with you that Apple takes the path of disrupting any ecology by a hardware wedge. Others think that the current little black box is enough (I have one) but it’s not… that’s why Steve Jobs kept it at hobby status. It can only be elevated to full product when Apple has delivered a compelling and hypnotic platform device.

      It’ll take a complete hardware package that leaps forward along with unmatched style and slick software (think the iPhone all over again) for people to forget that they’re suddenly paying for small apps that were previously known as widgets and gadgets. So the audience forgets the old way, climbs fully onto the new way, but not without something exceptional to distract them. Wonder if they’re testing Retina display yields at 52″ inch sizes out there somewhere…

      We always said “software sells hardware” in the IT business. But Apple has twisted that around into an equation that only they can solve, over and over again.

  • lucascott

    “I’ve long held that Apple will enter markets that it feels it can make a significant impact.”

    I seem to recall that both Jobs and Cook saying the same thing for a while now.

    And you say that folks aren’t thinking big enough with just menus etc but you don’t expand on what you think is thinking big enough. Or why the little black box isn’t enough to disrupt things.

  • Bruno

    I hope it will be a mix between TV Channels and Internet, you are watching a serie, you want to know what is the story, how many episodes in the serie, where is filmed….

    You watch a basketball games, you can see the last week score, informations about all team players…

    • Greg

      My wife already does this. She sits on the couch with her iPad and if she wants to look something up while watching she does that on her iPad.

  • This seems like as good a place as any to post this. I’ve been talking this through with a few fellow geeks over the last couple of weeks and I think this may be a sensible guess as to how Apple could disrupt the TV market:

    First, forget an actual TV set, at least for now. The current Apple TV is a cheap, simple and established product and would be a logical first step. At WWDC Apple introduce two things: 1) Apps for Apple TV delivered via the App Store and with a very tight limit on local content (Apple TV only has 8Gb of storage I believe and that’s largely for streaming content?). 2) A new service that for the sake of argument we’ll call a ‘unified content manager’. This service has suitable hooks so that every Apple TV app that delivers content can (and indeed must) tie into it and provide a full, searchable directory of all content available with an Internet lookup for cast, crew and genre info.

    That gives you effectively a TiVo box on steroids but one that’s an ‘open’ (well, open-ish) platform. At a stroke Apple solve the content problem by combining iTunes, Hulu, Netflix, Lovefilm, iPlayer and all the other content apps into one content management tool and supplement with the iTunes store and your own media (assuming it’s available over the home network).

    Let that little black box sit for a few months and wait for the content apps to appear. With a bit of luck the big boys would jump on board as quickly as they could and by the time iOS 6 launches in September / October there’s already a wealth of content available. Then, or whenever it’s deemed there’s a good enough library and the bugs are worked out, introduce a TV set with a focus on top end image quality, all the interface goodness of Apple TV, Siri integration, Facetime camera and whatever else they have cooking…

    As I said, only a guess, but it does seem a reasonable one to me. Of course now I’ve committed that to t’Internet it’s guaranteed to be wrong 😉

  • Mr Gridlock

    4K res? Higher FPS? Studios as publishers within an iBooks-style app?

    I think they can leave all the legacy broadcasting crap behind, that’s their unique position in this.

  • Jay Martin

    The thing that many seem to be missing in the equation was pointed out earlier this week by someone (forgot where): a non-trivial amount of the content is created/controlled by Comcast (NBC Universal), Time Warner (HBO, Turner), the companies that also own the “cable” business. These companies will be protecting their cable business by wielding their content as really big bats. Not sure how Apple will deal with that.

    If the strictly media-based businesses can be convinced then maybe these others will have no choice but to follow. But that’s a HUGE “if” since the cable companies can also attempt to renegotiate/hold out with any media company that plays ball with Apple. The other problem of course is that the cable companies also own a non-trivial part of the broadband pipe and can/will start throttling if they see profits from other aspects of the business start to shrivel.

    It’s a very thorny problem – here’s hoping Apple can break it loose! I would LOVE to only pay for the content I want to see rather than the bundle of crap that I pay for now.

    [EDIT] – just found that Time Warner (owner of HBO, etc) is no longer financially affiliated with Time Warner Cable (which uses the brand under license). The argument still holds though it may not be as big a problem as I’d first thought.

    • Ted Britt

      Comcast (NBC Universal) and Time Warner (HBO, Turner) are already making their content avaliable on the iTunes store for purchase/rental. Either they don’t see it as much of a threat or treat it as an opportunity to sell more product (profit!). I see the proposed distribution model (channels=apple tv apps) as just an extension of this business.

      • steve_wildstrom

        Nope. Unless there’s an exception I haven’t heard of, premium cable content such as HBO is available on over-the-top devices only to cable subscribers. You can’t buy HBO Go or ESPN 3 content independently of a subscription.

      • Jay Martin

        Those guys make a lot more money selling renting per episode/movie/series than they make on a subscription so they’re willing to do it. That’s the difference. I sure hope you’re right I just don’t see it being that easy.

  • My own, somewhat wild, guess is that any “TV” product will actually be more a distributed-system adjunct display device with significant local compute power (think iOS AirPlay on Apple TV as an example) than a stand-alone “point product”. Apple builds systems, not point products these days, though their products are also sufficient in stand-alone use to be valuable, though perhaps not compelling.

    I’m betting that if this is the direction they’re going, we’ll see some kind of new distributed-system framework at WWDC that allows apps to either push parts of themselves to other devices (including Macs, iOS devices, and Apple TVs/successors), or easily collaborate with helper/companion applications downloaded to the other devices. Think OpenCL/Grand Central Dispatch on steroids.

  • Player_16

    Apple make a Telly: ain’t gonna happen. SJ said a couple of years ago (D8), the one big thing with ‘TV’ is getting it to market. An Apple made telly just can’t happen due to getting it to market.

    • Norval2

      Good point.

  • Pete

    Please can you add a left margin to the articles and not have text start at the very edge. Like you already do with the comments. That would really help readers. Thanks!

    • benbajarin

      what browser are you reading it on? Is it an iPad?

  • RudyGr

    Is anyone really going to buy an Apple TV just because it has Siri? No!!!! I don’t understand the hype folks are making of this. For Apple, the TV is really going to be about games and apps. It will be the premier gaming platform and severely impact the Xbox marketplace.

  • The big innovation would be to get program providers/content owners to understand that their customer is actually the person in the living room rather than the cable TV monopolies. If Apple creates an infrastructure that democratizes TV distribution the same way that the iOS development program did with software development, they can force this along.

  • I think the move here is to treat every content provider–even Comcast and the cable networks–as an App.

    Apple will then resurface all individual content titles to the user via its Apple TV interface using Genius. So yes, Apple will be unbundling individual titles and showing these to users as Recommendations. For first time ever, a YouTube video will be next to MadMen in a discovery panel–and 1 click away from watching.

    Unbundling individual titles will be quite destructive, actually. It’s the greatest fear of Cable TV.

    This user-experience can take place by owning a $99 Apple TV or by buying the $1999 Apple TV.

    This is how Apple “wins”.

    Most non-technical thing Apple can do is buy Disney so they can unbundle ESPN–the most valuable programming on TV. I think the scenario presented above is more disruptive, though. And it fits the M.O. of Apple.

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