While I don’t believe it, to many, it appears that Apple has already won the smartphone and tablet wars, so the next logical conclusion is “what’s next”. Many articles about the Apple in the TV business rumors (not to be confused with the “hobbyist” Apple TV) focus on what a lousy business TVs are or questioning if Apple could add enough incremental value given cable and content companies have the power position. These are good and pragmatic reasons, but then again when has Apple been pragmatic? I see nothing pragmatic about expensive MP3 players at 2X the price of others, paid music downloads or app stores 10 years ago. I personally would like to see Apple enter the TV market.
TVs and STBs Have Big Issues
Let’s face it, TVs aren’t very easy to use, especially when they are connected to a set top box (STB). Most of us tech-heads forget just how literate we all are with technology. Just ask a less tech-literate person to change inputs on the TV to go from the set top box to the DVD player. Many times they have “Channel 3” written down somewhere so they remember. Ever lost that remote? Sure you have and it really pissed you off. How about a set top box from a cable company? Mine takes almost a second to change the channel. And why do I keep running out of storage when I have TBs of secured storage in other parts of my house? I know what you are thinking… too complex, too many companies involved with too many conflicting agendas. Well, I’ve heard that same short-term thinking before with digital music.
Big Problems Need a Fearless Company like Apple
Apple has a solid track record in fixing those issues that have plagued users for years. Apple has significantly moved the industry in:
- Simple digital content downloads
- Application purchasing and updating
- UI simplicity
- Computer boot time, wake from sleep time
- Reliability and dependability
So Apple fixes huge issues and TVs and STBs have big issues. It sounds like the perfect match.
A Bold Assumption on Content and the Distributors
My assumption is that Apple will find a business model the content providers will find advantageous or tempting enough to cross the cable and satellite companies. If not, then you would expect them to declare war and do everything in their power to circumvent this by investing in the “pipe” or content companies themselves. This market is too huge and too big an opportunity for the most valuable company on the planet to pass up. I know, this sounds impossible, but when Napster arrived on the scene, how plausible did iTunes sound? How plausible did downloadable movies sound with bit-torrent around?
So why should Apple make a TV? Because there is so much they could improve and people will pay a hefty premium to have a superior experience in a few different areas.
Finding Content via Advanced HCI
Controlling a device with 1,000s of “channels” makes absolutely no sense with a physical remote like we have today with up and down buttons and even numbers. This would be like instead of having Google web search as we have today, we were stuck with Yahoo directories and no search. Directories made sense until the options exploded, like we have today with content.
Apple is one of a few companies who could master controlling the TV’s content via voice primarily, then secondarily air gestures for finer grain controls. First, the TV needs to be smart enough to determine who in the room has “control” and who doesn’t. It’s the future problem of today’s “who has the remote” issue. Then it needs to separate between background noises and real people if you are to have the best voice control. After you have found what you want to watch, you can fine-tune with the flick of a finger. This takes technologies even more advanced than the Kinect to pull this off, including the right sensors and parallel compute power delivered by OpenCLTM frameworks.
Apple Device Integration
If Apple developed a TV, they could conceivably guarantee that the iPhone, iPad, Time Capsule and Macs could seamlessly share content between each other. We have seen from the issues with Android and webOS on getting Netflix and Hulu+ that content providers are more apt to license when there are more closed systems.
As I am watching my NFL Football game, I want perfect, real-time sync of stats on my iPad, and want to be able to carry the game from the media room with me on my iPhone into the kitchen. I’d like overflow content storage to go to my Mac, PC, or Time Capsule. Finally, I would also expect to see sharing of basic sensors like cameras, microphones, gyroscopes, proximity sensors, and accelerometers to extend and facilitate security, monitoring, and gaming applications.
I would want some of the basic positive characteristics I get in my iPhone and iPad in my iTV. I would expect it to be very responsive, reliable, and with a sense of awesome style. My set top box or my TV is neither of these. I would know that every differentiating feature would work well or it wouldn’t be included. I would also expect some key 10’ UI apps as well.
I believe Apple can and will be able to arrive at a business model with content providers and cable/satellite companies. Either that or it will get very ugly for everyone. The most valuable company in the world with a huge pile of cash, no debt and a historic track record of pioneering breakthrough content deals can do this, or if forced to will go around it. Apple has been a company that fixes those nagging problems, and the TV and STB have a lot of them. Our basic method of finding content is broken. STBs crash and are slow and don’t work with other devices in the home. I’d like to see Apple fix these issues. How about you?