It’s been a while since someone came to the conclusion that “Wow, wouldn’t it be awesome if Apple made a TV?”, told people about it, and got this idea to become a rumor, which led it to the inevitable news that comes around every 3-4 months that Apple is just on the brink of releasing an incredible 40″+ television. Since 2010 they’ve been on the brink of releasing it, actually.
I’d love to have a TV designed by Jony Ive at home. Infact, I’d also love to have a washing machine, a toaster, a microwave and fridge designed by him too. However, where is the line drawn between wishful thinking and actual Apple plans?
Let’s look at Apple’s history with TV. Since they first announced the Apple TV back in 2006, they have released three models of it. The first one ran a modified version of Tiger, while versions 2 and 3 already came with iOS. The idea is to use it as an entertainment hub, which forwards content to your TV, coming both from the web (via the iTunes Store, Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, iCloud, Vimeo, Flickr, and so on) and from your iDevices and Macs, via AirPlay.
Apple provides the brain so you can connect it to your TV, whatever TV that is. In this case you’ll get the most from the technology provided by your TV, and will spend 100 bucks on Apple’s receiver.
When asked about the Apple TV back in May by AllThingsD, here’s what Tim Cook had to say:
“We’re not a hobby kind of company. Our tendency is to do very few things, put all of our wood behind a few arrows, and if something creeps in and isn’t a big success we get it out of the way and move on and put our energy into something else. With the Apple TV though, you can see what we’ve done and we’ve stuck in this. Now, it’s not a 5th leg of the stool, it’s not of the same market size of a phone business, or the Mac business, or the music business, or the tablet business, but last year we sold 2.8 million Apple TVs. This year, we sold 2.7 so far.(…) I think many people would say this is an area in their life they are not really pleased with. They might not be pleased with many things about it. The whole TV experience. So it’s an interesting area. We’ll see what we’ll do. Right now our contribution is Apple TV, and we feel really good about it.”
When you use the Apple TV, it’s pretty clear that it still has a lot of evolving to do. It’s confusing, the interface is completely unrelated to iOS or OS X, getting around is complicated, and as much as the content offer in the iTunes Store is wide, you’re stuck to one-shot content purchases. You rent a movie, you buy a series, and that’s that.
What the Apple TV is missing is continuity. A content flux that doesn’t depend on the user. And thus we reach a very complicated matter, which is the Cable TV business model. Today this model is still in widely in use, but ironically it is utterly outdated.
If you want to watch Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead, you must necessarily subscribe to channels which will also bring you psycho midget wrestling, ghost hunters reality shows, Toddlers & Tiaras. You pay for that. Even if you don’t even know which channels they’re in. And I hope you don’t.
The music industry almost died when people decided that it was easier to download an MP3 rather than buying the entire album, and they only managed to begin breathing again when they realized that they could also provide these tracks for 0.99 each. And guess what. People paid, because they didn’t want to screw the industry. They just wanted the option of buying the track without having to spend 20 bucks on the whole album.
The same applies for the entertainment industry. As soon as you give people the choice to subscribe exclusively to their favorite channels, they will do it. Take My Money, HBO is a good example. It was an innitiative to try to convince HBO to let people get online subscriptions without having to commit to a cable tv provider.
Imagine if the Apple TV brough channel subscriptions, or even specific shows subscriptions, free from the ball and
cable chain. Imagine if you could subscribe to a channel, and all you had to do was logon in their Apple TV app, and watch their content on-demand. Imagine if your iDevice could be used as a second screen for complementary information during a sports match or movie, giving you a real interactive and way less passive and limited experience. This is the path for the Apple TV. This is where the entire entertainment business should be looking at.
Even advertisers would end up being benefited from this, because they’d have an even better way to talk exactly with their target, instead of kicking the ball to their general area and hoping for the best.
Of course, this would work perfectly in the US. But in order for this to work in the rest of the world, a huge legal effort would be required. If you live outside the US, you must frequently come across that friendly message saying “This content is not available in your region. Fuck off.”.
This is the result of a long overdue territorial licensing business model applied to a world where it doesn’t matter where the spectator is, he doesn’t want to wait a month to watch the new episode of his favorite show on TV. He’ll download the episode 15 minutes after it airs in the US. Again, he is not thinking about screwing up the industry while twisting his mustache in his evil dungeon. He wants to watch the episode so he can consume related content on the web the next day. This is how things are now, and there is no turning back.
You could claim that the Apple TV is one thing, and a TV made by Apple is another. But it’s not. Remember that Alan Kay quote that Steve Jobs brough up in the first iPhone event?
“People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.”
So Apple thinks that releasing a powerful software running in a hardware made under measure for it makes sense? I think so too. The iPad wouldn’t exist without the iOS. The iPad wouldn’t be the iPad if it ran Android. This is why the Apple TV still has a lot of growing up to do before it can move out and start living in a new TV by itself. Now add to this what Tim Cook said in the same AllThingsD interview, when asked specifically about Apple making a TV:
“Here’s the way we would look at that. We would look not just at his area but other areas and ask Can we control the key technology? Can we make a significant contribution far beyond what others have done in this area? Can we make a product that we all want? So those are the things we would ask about any product category. It’s the ones we ask about products we’ve already announced. So this is how we look about it.”
So what does this mean exactly? Does it mean that they will put out a TV in the market when they have something that
Samsung others can’t offer yet? Something that would be enough reason for people to replace their current TVs with the iNew ones? That’s when Apple would release a TV?
In that case, it makes sense. In that case, I can begin to believe in the idea of an iTV. I can begin to picture a Jony Ive-designed TV in my living room. I can picture myself cancelling cable (which by itself would end up making the iTV cheap in the long run), and getting rid of 90% of the trash I don’t even know exist. I can understand Apple’s reasons for releasing a TV. And I can finally see myself adjusting the video volume right from my Apple Remote.