Why I Believe In The Apple HDTV (And Why You Should Too)

Why I Believe In The Apple HDTV (And Why You Should Too)

This is going to happen. Bet on it.

The iTV. The Apple HDTV. SiriTV.

Whatever you want to call it, there’s a lot of talk out there about how Apple is going to revolutionize the living room experience by releasing their own proper television set.

There’s reason enough to be skeptical of these reports. From the industry’s notoriously low margins — Sony’s losing billions on their television business — to the fact that consumers simply don’t upgrade their TVs like they do their smartphones, does it even make sense that Apple would want to release their own television set?

Sure, Steve Jobs said he had “cracked” the TV problem before he died, but who’s to say that he wasn’t talking about Cupertino’s existing set-top box, the Apple TV, a $99 puck that anyone can afford and that slurps up streaming content from the web or the iPhones, iPads and (with Mountain Lion) Macs already in the home?

I’ll say it. The Apple TV is not enough, and Apple absolutely must release a revolutionary television set in the next two years.

Why? Because no matter how popular the Apple TV becomes, it will never be essential.

The Apple TV Is Not A Nexus

Why I Believe In The Apple HDTV (And Why You Should Too)

That’s not to say the Apple TV isn’t a great device. It is. If you have an Apple TV, you can stream media from Apple’s servers through iCloud, or through apps like Netflix and Hulu, or even beam video from your iPad or iPhone to your existing television set. Even better, it costs under $100. It’s a steal.

But while the Apple TV is great, it’s an accessory, a peripheral. It’s a hanger on, eking out bare sustenance by feeding off the living room’s unconquerable behemoth: the television set. And for Apple, that won’t do.

If you look at Apple’s core products — the Mac, the iPad, the iPhone and the iPod — what Apple primarily does is make the one essential device that a person needs to connect to whole spheres of media and information.

In other words, Apple makes nexuses. That’s why the current Apple TV isn’t enough. It’s not a nexus, because it’s not that one essential device. And that means other companies can cut Apple out of the equation.

Why Apple Needs To Make An HDTV

Why I Believe In The Apple HDTV (And Why You Should Too)

Why? Smart TVs by Samsung, Sony, LG and others already have much of the Apple TV’s base functionality baked into their latest models of HDTVs, right out of the box. Worse, the Apple TV doesn’t allow you to watch actual TV through it: it does nothing to tame the incredible variety of content streaming into your home through a user’s cable box. The Apple TV may be a great device for people already invested in Apple’s ecosystem, but it’s not locking anyone new in. And between Roku, the PS3, the Xbox 360 and all sorts of other boxes vying for the HDMI ports on your HDTV, the competition is fierce, and getting fiercer.

This is why the Apple TV is a “hobby.” It’s a launch pad, not a rocket ship, and like all launch pads, Apple knows the Apple TV will inevitably get left behind sooner or later.

For Apple to get serious, they need to do for the living room what they did with personal computing, mobile computing, mobile phones, and music. They need to make a device that changes everything. Nothing less than a TV will do, because while this might seem obvious, it’s worth stressing: a TV is the one thing that is absolutely essential to the television watching experience. It’s the nexus through which everything else in the living room must connect.

Building The Apple HDTV

Why I Believe In The Apple HDTV (And Why You Should Too)

Not that it will be easy. There are a lot of challenges ahead of Apple.

• Apple’s HDTV needs to be revolutionary and game changing, because the only way you’re going to get people to upgrade their TVs is if you show them something that makes the television experience both simpler and more empowering.

• More importantly, Apple makes the vast majority of its money through hardware sales, which means upgrade cycles. Apple needs to figure out a way to get consumers to want to regularly upgrade their TVs every couple of years.

• Apple needs to make partnerships and bring the cable companies who famously killed off the Google TV to heel. Apple needs to figure out a way to efficiently distribute devices as bulky as television sets.

• Finally, Apple needs to figure out how to keep prices low enough to be attractive while also improving the notoriously low profit margins of the television making business so that every set sold nets them a profit.

Those are some significant challenges, but looking them over, I’m struck by how similar the list is to the list of challenges Apple faced when releasing the first iPhone. Then, as now, mobile phones were a low margin business. People kept their phones for years and didn’t care about upgrading. The carriers dominated and controlled all the profit, and both users and phone makers were relatively powerless as a result.

Apple changed all of that with one phone. Now look where we are. Apple controls most of the profit of the smartphone industry, with the previously dominant competition fighting for the scraps. Customers chomp at the bit to upgrade their phones every two years (or even more often). Users are empowered, as are developers. Carriers have had their stranglehold on the mobile industry broken, so much so that the fortunes of a carrier can be made or broken simply by whether it can get the iPhone on its network.

The only way Apple can do the same thing in the living room is with a proper television set.

Why I Believe, And Why You Should Too

Why I Believe In The Apple HDTV (And Why You Should Too)

If you look at Apple in the late 80s and early 90s and compare it to the Apple that Steve Jobs rebuilt from the ground up starting in 1997, the biggest difference in philosophy is that Apple will no longer accept not being in control of its destiny. It’s written in Cupertino’s DNA: Apple must be in control of the experience, the tech, and the hardware, not its competitors.

This is the mission that drives everything Apple does. Cupertino must be in control. The way they gain control is by making themselves the one essential point of entry into every computing experience they decide to approach. The Mac. The iPod. The iPhone. The iPad. And soon, the Apple HDTV, because anything less means the competition is in control, and Apple’s destiny in the living room is at the whim of other companies.

This is why I believe in the Apple HDTV. I don’t know for sure what it’ll look like, or how it will feel to use it, but the only proof I need to know that it’s eventually coming is the $99 Apple TV sitting on my entertainment center and the HDMI cable snaking out of the back of it and coiling up… into my Samsung TV.

If you have any understanding of what it is that Apple does and why they are successful, you know that the company Steve Jobs built could never stand for that.

  • sharland

    I think even though you are right about the Apple TV lacking the ability to actually watch TV the simplest thing to do is build that functionality into the existing box rather than making full size panels.  I can’t see how they would provide anything new through the screen when the TV set top box provides enough of a platform to iterate.

  • The_Brolosopher

    you’ve laid out plenty of challenges, and gaps in functionality for AppleTV…

     

    however for an article titled “Why I believe in the Apple HDTV”, i was expecting more of an argument for….WHY you believe in the Apple HDTV….

  • Sin?

    I think building more functionality into the set top box is the way to go and staying out of an unwinable market. All an HDTV is currently is a dumb box that presents whatever media you plug into it. Just make what plugs into it better.

  • winnimac

    no mkv, no xvid, no avi…..
    forget it

  • taylerz

    I sold all my Apple shares because I didn’t believe in the iPad. Big mistake.

  • Tallest_Skil

    What can a $2,000 panel, whose quality I cannot choose and whose connectivity is in question, whose market does not exist to make money, and for which I would then have to deal with replacing any existing televisions, do that a $99 box already on the market and proven to be a profitable solution cannot?

    I’ve never actually gotten an answer to that question.
    An Apple HDTV is idiotic. 
  • Tallest_Skil

    no mkv, no xvid, no avi…..
    forget it

    If you want completely worthless formats from last decade, go buy something else. Apple isn’t into supporting crap.

    I sold all my Apple shares because I didn’t believe in the iPad. Big mistake.

    Yeah, that was pretty dang foolish, particularly since it was a brand new market. You’d be advised to do it again, though, if Apple actually makes a TV.

  • rogifan

    Building more functionality into Apple TV is not a game changer.    People are looking for that next big thing with Apple.  The current $99 Apple TV box is not it.

  • rogifan

    What can a $2,000 panel, whose quality I cannot choose and whose connectivity is in question, whose market does not exist to make money, and for which I would then have to deal with replacing any existing televisions, do that a $99 box already on the market and proven to be a profitable solution cannot?

    I’ve never actually gotten an answer to that question.
    An Apple HDTV is idiotic. 

    Where is it proven that the current Apple TV is or will be a profitable solution?  I don’t think Tim Cook would refer to the $99 box as a ‘hobby’ if that was their solution for TV.  And since Apple likes to be in control of both hardware and software, I can’t see Apple announcing they’ve “cracked” the TV but you have to buy someone else’s TV to experience it.

  • Tallest_Skil

    I don’t think Tim Cook would refer to the $99 box as a ‘hobby’ if that was their solution for TV.

    Not now it isn’t. No one would think that. But a software change is all that is needed.

    And since Apple likes to be in control of both hardware and software, I can’t see Apple announcing they’ve “cracked” the TV but you have to buy someone else’s TV to experience it.

    There is no money in televisions. It is the third most saturated market on the entire planet. No one that makes a television makes money.

    The hardware is already controlled. We know everything about it that we need to know. The UI is 1920×1080. That doesn’t change. Plug in a TV for video. Plug in your audio system for audio. It’s just like a Mac Mini.

  • aepxc

    Apple SHOULD do something to reinvent the living room. The question is whether the TV is the right thing to focus on. The TV is just a big screen and traditional, lean back (as Jobs once correctly identified) TV watching is rapidly becoming outmoded. I would be surprised, for instance, if the TV is not the LAST gadget that today’s teens and twenty-somethings buy for themselves.

    Shipping a Thunderbolt Display (or similar) in larger sizes would not be a terrible thing to do. But the important, revolutionary, logic part has to be something else, methinks. And it has to be useful even WITHOUT a TV. Merge the Time Capsule with the Apple TV and the Mac Mini, perhaps to create a router, media library, AirPlay node, and gaming console? Or something…. But NOT integrate it all into a large, expensive, rarely changed, increasingly irrelevant screen.
  • liquid_dynamiks

    Apple HDTV will embody all that is apple. We know that they are quality and built for lifestyle. In addition, a Siri like support baked in and voila! Cracked. No need for remote. Stay tuned to Cupertino folks.

  • Seraphiel
    My guess is that they will go the same way as with the iPad. A large screen with build in AppleTV functionality and off course a tuner. They must incorporate a card-reader as well as this will make them break the market. There are only a hand-full of digital-cable boxes that are usable the rest is the worst crap you’ll ever come across in your life. Apple can make a huge difference here with their knowledge on how to make complicated things easy and user-friendly. The first generation will lack obvious features just like with the iPad. For example a camera and the possibility to run third party apps or the possibility to record shows on disk. Then new features will be introduced with every new generation. A camera and mic, a few new standard apps, recording features, voice recognition. Then later on the possibility for third party apps, some hardware improvements etc. If the rumours are true about Apple making a TV then I’m sure they’ll do it again. They will again revolutionise a new market. We have already seen companies like Sony shit their pants right from the moment the rumour about the AppleTV began spreading. 
    My only question is, would they do the same as with the iPhone? Making the TV only available through cable-companies first? I hope not. We’ll see.
  • alexito_santos

    What Hulu app are your referring to in the article?

  • Sepehr Bakh

    you got some good points there

  • baby_Twitty

    I’m pretty sure what ever this ‘iTV’ is… If it’s ever launched… it will come with the slickest space-age, touchscreen wireless remote with a microphone (to communicate with Siri) and other cool features.

  • cocoiyeah

    Imagine, a TV with ipad apps (with retina supports), Siri, no remote (just wave your hand), iTunes support, online streaming, iChat (video call), Safari build in, Wifi support… Sure, i will buy it. Jailbreak Apple TV? hmm… 

    Sammy has smart tv.The UI is quite good, but the remote is UGLY! 
  • drblank

    I am just wondering if Apple would make a large panel HDTV that was 3D.  I don’t think people actually really use 3D on anything more than just to show that it does it when they first get because it is more of a novelty.  People don’t like wearing glasses to watch TV, there really isn’t that much decent content that is in 3D, it is more costly, iTunes and NetFlix don’t rent or sell 3D that i am aware of and I just think it has been forced down people’s throats and it adds mfg costs to these large panel HDTVs, and I think people would be better off it 3D was just shelved.

  • drblank

    Imagine, a TV with ipad apps (with retina supports), Siri, no remote (just wave your hand), iTunes support, online streaming, iChat (video call), Safari build in, Wifi support… Sure, i will buy it. Jailbreak Apple TV? hmm… 

    Sammy has smart tv.The UI is quite good, but the remote is UGLY! 

    You should look at the insides of some of these other brands of HDTVs out on the market place.  The power supplies and just the quality of components inside leave much to be desired.  In fact, if you do a little research, the D8000 Samsung, which was the model before the ES8000, had power supply problems whereby I’ve seen videos where they had to replace 5 capacitors that had blown. Now, to me, that shows a poor quality.  If a TV goes through a decent surge protector, these power supplies should not burn up like that.  Reliability of a product hinges on the quality of the components that are used, and if Apple builds the HDTV (if that is what they actually do) like the Thunderbolt monitor, that should yield a VERY reliable product.  But i am concerned with the cost since higher quality components, case, etc., does cost more to mfg. and in this highly competitive market, they have to be able to keep the price of a 60 inch HDTV down to where people will buy enough to warrant this product.  I feel that 3D is just a costly and not a useful feature, but unfortunately, people have been brainwashed into thinking that it is a MUST have, when in fact, I would bet that most either don’t use it at all, or would rather have other features instead. I certainly hope they can design one that would be compelling to purchase that is affordable enough.  What’s also interesting is how much 1080p content is really being purchased and rented.  Most TV programs are 720p, only a few are 1080p.  Now, there are discussions about 4K being the next big advance in film production that will be released to the consumer.  Arg. When will it stop?

  • drblank


    Apple SHOULD do something to reinvent the living room. The question is whether the TV is the right thing to focus on. The TV is just a big screen and traditional, lean back (as Jobs once correctly identified) TV watching is rapidly becoming outmoded. I would be surprised, for instance, if the TV is not the LAST gadget that today’s teens and twenty-somethings buy for themselves.
    Shipping a Thunderbolt Display (or similar) in larger sizes would not be a terrible thing to do. But the important, revolutionary, logic part has to be something else, methinks. And it has to be useful even WITHOUT a TV. Merge the Time Capsule with the Apple TV and the Mac Mini, perhaps to create a router, media library, AirPlay node, and gaming console? Or something…. But NOT integrate it all into a large, expensive, rarely changed, increasingly irrelevant screen.

    Irrelevant screen?  Well, if the resolution is high enough, people will do more computing using these systems and they can be connected via an iPad/iPhone as the source of content or computing environment.  People still buy Home Theater systems.  Restaurants and bars buy HDTVs all of the time. Because the prices have dropped.  Apple needs to get into the TV market because it will drive more movie sales and rentals. I don’t know how many they’ll sell or how much profit they’ll make, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they could yield another $5 Billion is net profit a year.  They are expecting around 92 Million Smart TV’s to be sold in 2012 and there were over 210 Million regular TV sets sold in 2011.  Now, with a Smart TV in the $2,000 to $6,000 (plus Delivery/Support contract)  and I am sure they’ll make at least $500 net profit on each one on average.  I am sure Apple could EVENTUALLY sell (for the right product offering) 10 million units in a year.  These are just pure guesstimates on my part.  That’s about 10% market share and that’s additional revenue for Apple.  Plus whatever content people buy or rent through iTunes Movie/TV show rentals.  What would happen if Apple came up with something compelling enough to capture 45% market share?  They do have a knack for commanding a substantial market share nowadays.  Time will tell.

  • Eaton Beaver

    the best way for apple to be successful in the tv market is to make a tv that has all the features of the dvr/tivo boxes built in, as well as the proprietary smart features found on apple tv adding in streaming the recorded content to ios devices…biggest issue with that though is how to make it universal so users can use it with any provider, and all while keeping it relatively affordable…in terms of the physical design, it would be tough to build all that into one component, but i’m sure apple could find a way to keep it thin, light, and stylish

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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