Rumors of an Apple-branded television set – as opposed to the set-top box the company already makes – are no stranger to this blog. But the rumors have taken on a fever pitch of late, with the Wall Street Journal and Digitimes adding details to the mix. The latter claims that we might even see 32-inch and 37-inch iTVs as soon as this summer.
Before Steve Jobs died, he told his biographer Walter Isaacson that he had “finally cracked” the problem of television. To quote from Isaacson’s book: “ ‘I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use,’ he [Jobs] told me [Isaacson]. ‘It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud.’ No longer would users have to fiddle with complex remotes for DVD players and cable channels. ‘It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine.’”
Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Fresh news reports are lending the thing a flavor of imminence. The Wall Street journal recently reported that Apple was marching ahead on what it somewhat dramatically termed its “assault on television.” The full report is a cornucopia of information and very much worth clicking through to read, but here are a few highlights of what Cupertino is reportedly up to. It has been holding meetings with media companies (often at the latter’s requests), in which it is putting forth a vision of the future of TV. Imagine starting a show on your TV set, pausing in the middle, and resuming it on your iPad or iPhone or laptop later. Imagine integrating your DVR storage with iCloud, so that programs you buy through iTunes or programs you record through your DVR are all accessible from the same place. Imagine controlling your TV with your voice, or with gestures. (One thing Apple didn’t do yet in its meetings was propose to license any shows in particular.)
And imagine, of course, and Apple iTV itself, and the possibilities of such a device. According to the WSJ, the device Apple has in mind would use AirPlay (its wireless-streaming tech) or some variant thereof to transform users’ iPads and iPhones into remote controls for the TV. The TV could also simply stream content straight from those devices, something currently possible but a little clunky with the Apple TV set-top box.
Today, Digitimes leant new credence, and a specific timeframe, to the vision swirling through the WSJ report. It says that Apple’s supply chain will start preparing materials for an iTV in the next few months, and that we might even see the thing on the market by the second quarter of 2012.
How much might an Apple TV set run? No one knows for sure, yet, but one analyst has ventured to say that Apple would charge twice as much as other companies do for comparable integrated TV sets, perhaps $1,600 where another company charges $800. That certainly would help address one problem that doubters have leveled against the Apple iTV theory: that it’s a low-margin business and a low-frequency purchase.
You don’t have to be an industry insider these days to know that TV is a confusing space. I can hardly count on both my hands the different sites, devices, and formats I use to watch TV. I have cable, which I don’t use. I subscribe to Netflix (which streams on my PS3), and HBO Go (which doesn’t), but not to Hulu Plus (which is known for streaming TV, but also has a vast movie catalogue). Sometimes I’ve even watched HBO Go on my iPhone. Sometimes I buy DVDs. Sometimes I buy from iTunes. Sometimes I buy from Amazon. YouTube, meanwhile, is fast becoming a site for the lean-back experience of TV, and Google itself might want to get into the cable business.
This isn’t a space poised for disruption. It’s a space that’s already been disrupted – to such a degree that it can make your head hurt to think about it. What TV-lovers may want more than anything is simplicity – and if ever there was a company good at providing that, it’s Apple.