The Consumer Electronics Show has officially kicked off here in Las Vegas, and if there’s one thing every Mac fan should go into CES knowing, it’s that the whole television industry is petrified of Apple entering it.
As CEA’s Chief Economist and Director of Research Shaun Dubrovik made clear in his introductory presentation on the trends they expect to see this year at CES 2012, the whole television industry is scrambling. They are all trying to anticipate just what the heck Apple is going to do when they unveil their long rumored television, the iTV.
What are TV makers betting that Apple has up its sleeves? A bezel-less, ultra high resolution TV that runs apps and is controlled by a mixture of gestures and voice control and effortlessly interact with tablets and smartphones.
No wonder they’re scared: no one is better positioned to roll out a next-gen television that does all of the above things than Apple.
• No Bezel: The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) expects that 2012 will see a number of new televisions that feature greatly reduced bezels. Specifically, they believe that Corning’s new second-generation Gorilla Glass technology will eventually eliminate the need for bezels once and for all. Apple already has an extremely tight partnership with Gorilla Glass, and ship hundreds of millions of devices a year with Gorilla Glass installed. Cupertino also has been rumored to have already designed an iPhone 5 prototype with larger screen real estate thanks to a reduced bezel. If Apple releases the iTV this year, expect it to go edge-to-edge hanks to Gorilla Glass 2.
• Ultra high-resolution: The television industry is pushing 4K display technology this year, which quadruples the resolution of 1080p. Who better to pioneer a 4K television than Apple, a company which also pioneered super high-resolution displays in smart phones with the iPhone 4’s Retina Display?
• Apps: The appification of HDTVs continues as briskly as ever, but if Apple enters the TV market, they bring the juggernaut of the App Store with them. TV makers simply can’t compete with that momentum.
• Gesture and Voice Control: Dubrovik thought this would be an important enough trend in 2012 that he dedicated five minutes of his talk to the increasing complexity of remote controls, and he’s right: TVs are becoming full-blown computers, but they are still controlled with absurdly unintuitive, unergonomic button-laden wands. For TVs to embrace their promise as computers, there must be a breakthrough in the way they are controlled, and devices like the Microsoft Kinect and LG Magic Wand show the way forward with gestures… but TVs are still hopeless with voice control. The iPhone 4S’s Siri functionality is a serious threat to TV makers: it’s a wide-scale beta test amongst millions of users internationally of how the whole industry expects almost all modern televisions to be controlled in just five years time. Between Siri and gesture control, this is what Steve Jobs meant when he said he’d “cracked” the TV problem… and the whole industry’s pissing itself because they know he’s right.
• Smartphone & Tablet Interactivity: What is there to say? The iPhone and iPad are the best-selling smartphone and tablet in the world, respectively. Anyone who buys an iTV is going to have one or both of these devices already, allowing a perfect, unfragmented union between remote and TV. That’s an integration between mobile devices and television that the rest of the industry will have a hard time touching, but which Apple has been laying the groundwork for in Airplay and Bluetooth 4.0 support over the course of the last year. TV makers who also make smartphones (like Samsung and LG) will have to play catch-up with Apple, while the rest of the industry will have to content themselves with partnerships and apps.
What’s the bottom line? From the get go, TV makers at CES are pissing themselves over the possibility that Apple will launch an iTV this year, and as device makers did at CES 2010 with “slates” in anticipation of the iPad’s imminent arrival, they are desperately trying to head off Apple at the pass. But Apple’s played this game before, and already has all the elements, partnerships and services in place to offer a truly futuristic, seamless integrated television experience.
TV makers? They’re screwed. And here at CES, our distinct impression is already know it.