Apple’s TV Won’t Be a TV

appletvelephant

The people who believe Apple will sell a TV set are right. And the people who believe Apple won’t sell a TV set are also right. Here’s why.

Apple’s TV Won’t Be a TV!

Apple’s rumored TV set has been in the news a lot lately.

Digitimes reported this week that Apple is looking to make a deal with either LG or Sharp to manufacture 55- and/or 65-inch Ultra HD TV panels for a future Apple TV set.

We also heard a rumor that Apple intends to offer a premium TV service that enables viewers to skip commercials, and that Apple will get around the cable-companies’ anxieties by actually paying them extra for commercial skipping.

Some are speculating that Apple will give each media company its own app.

We also learned that Apple’s existing Apple TV product has a whopping 56% of the market already.

The social media arguments over whether people believe or don’t believe Apple will ship an actual TV set tend to be limited by narrow thinking about what a TV is.

For example, one argument against the prediction that Apple will sell a TV says that TVs are commodity, low-margin consumer products.

Another says that people keep their TVs for too long for any of this to make sense.

Taken together, the problem with a TV for Apple is that the company wouldn’t make money on them because they’d make too little profit for each set and sell too few of them too infrequently to make a difference in Apple’s overall business.

Another line of thinking suggests that Apple is in the business of making “smart” devices, and that TVs are “dumb.”

I believe all these points of view are rooting in past-thinking rather than future-thinking.

What TVs Will Be In the Future

Whether Apple ever makes a TV or not, it’s clear that TVs are evolving into Internet-connected computers that run apps, do videoconferencing and do a number of jobs far beyond just showing TV shows.

Here’s another way to think about TV.

The two main things people do with phones, tablets, laptops and desktops these days are content consumption and communication. Because of the large screen size, smart TVs offer the best content consumption and communication experience for consumers.

And look at all the things people connect to TVs: Xbox and Playstation video game consoles; cable boxes; and increasingly home automation systems. Because of its fixed screen and centrality in the home (usually a living room or bedroom), smart TVs and their peripherals offer the most sophisticated computing applications most consumers use (gaming and home automation).

Looking at the Big Picture (pun intended) and dropping obsolete stereotypes about what a TV is, the TV really should have the most compute power of any other device you own, not the least.

In other words, a TV shouldn’t be less of a computer than your computer, it should be more.

Apple likes to think about “experiences.” Specifically, they historically find bad content consumption and communication experiences that many people are suffering through, and introduce products that create great experiences.

This is what they’ve done with music players, phones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers.

As the TV becomes the best, most important and most central content consumption and communication experience in the lives of consumers, does anyone really believe Apple is going to sit on the sidelines? Does anybody really believe that Apple is fine with letting Google, Microsoft, Samsung and Sony own the most important content consumption and communication experience?

I think it’s clear that the Apple television will actually be a really big iPad or a really big iMac.

The only problems to be solved, really, are two.

The first problem is distance. Each type of computing device is used at a different distance, from phones, tablets, laptops and desktops, the distance between screen and eyeball gets larger.

The TV distance is so great that new interfaces beyond touch have to be included. In Apple’s case, these are likely to be Siri, in-the-air gestures, remote controls and phone and tablet control.

The second challenge to be overcome is obsolescence. People aren’t going to buy a 4K TV every two years. They might buy one every four years. Some will wait longer.

I don’t believe that’s as big a challenge as some have described. A good model to consider is the console video games market. Microsoft is on an upgrade cycle for the Xbox that lies somewhere between 8 and 10 years. The PlayStation is similar.

Apple could probably do better than that. One could imagine a new version of the iTV coming out every six years, five years or even four years.

The cost for an iTV would be high. For example, Sony’s LED 4K Ultra HDTV runs about $7,000.

If you assume that Apple will have more powerful electronics inside, which would raise the price, but have it manufactured starting, say, a year from now and at vastly higher scale than Sony’s, which would lower the price, a $3,999 or $4,999 iTV isn’t inconceivable. And the price would consistently drop from there.

Note that just eight months ago, the cheapest 4K TV cost nearly $20,000. Prices are dropping very fast.

The bottom line is that, no, Apple will never ship a dumb TV. They’ll ship a very powerful, internet appliance computer and call it a TV.

More to the point, all the content consumption and communication features available on smaller Apple devices will be available on the iTV — iCloud, FaceTime, etc. And the iTV will do things smaller devices can’t do — distance user interfaces, console-quality video gaming, etc. And they’ll probably always have an Apple TV box that brings most of the functionality of their iTV to any TV.

In other words, the iTV will be just another beautiful, powerful, elegant Apple computer, and we’re all going to want one.

  • technochick

    I disagree. The Apple TV will always be the combo of the box and services. Not computer etc.

    If Apple is looking at panels it’s for the next iMac and the Cinema Display.

    Or rather it will be services which you can access equally on devices, TV via the box, iPads etc. and hopefully finally equitable ones where downloads and old school discs are the same and things like extras work everywhere and no longer just on the computer

  • bdkennedy

    Common sense says Apple will never release a TV. They want to control the box hooked up to it. The same goes for car stereos.

  • Steven Quan

    Interesting question posed by Elgan. What OS (operating system) will the Apple TV run on? iOS? OSX? Apple TV? Those are the only 3 popular OS’s I’m aware of. It’s probably gonna be one of those. I’d love to see it run on OSX. Oh my gosh, that would be the bomb. Being able to have a full on Mac on the tv to run Windows and everything. Not to mention tv shows and console gaming, wow. People would be able to run full productivity suites (MS Word, Excel, Adobe Photoshop, Final Cut Pro, etc) and watch tv at the same time maybe?

  • Jazz1925

    How about this thought… Apple will be/is building 4K 27 inch or larger Thunderbolt monitors to go along with the new Mac Pro, since it will have 4K output. Makes more sense than a big screen TV. Apple may even make it a 32 inch and call it not Ultra HD but maybe Ultra Retina or Retina Max.

  • MattGodfrey

    I think the iTV that is rumoured could just be an app, no new hardware. That runs on iOS, OSX and Apple TV. Another similar subscription model as iTunes Match, and the ability to stream every cable channel from any device and skip adverts, automatic recording of television shows…etc.

  • aardman

    Box has to be separate from the screen or the market becomes extremely limited. Few people want to spring for an expensive screen every 4-6 years.

  • Taojones_1

    the writing is already on the wall with the new os. it has the ability to create a multiple monitor experience across devices. this we already saw demoed at the tech conference . this does not mean you have a mirror of your desktop as you do with a projector hooked to a laptop but a true active and extended desktop. you don’t need Siri or hand gestures to make this work where ever your sitting in your home…
    a blue tooth mouse and keyboard will do fine. the apple tv box can add functionality to any already produced digital tv you hook up to it Cook all but said thats the way they are going . apple is not Electrolux we will not have apple stoves and refrigerators next either. apple has never seen itself as a commodity hardware producer and has no reason to compete for a share of some thin market where profits are squeezed out by making the cheapest hardware possible .

  • TheMartinDobson

    I’m not sure where you guys are getting your $$ from but I sure as hell can’t afford to replace a $7,000 TV set every 4 years. I CAN, however, afford to upgrade my $100 AppleTV every 1 year.

    And THAT is why Apple won’t make an iTV

  • Roleparadise

    If Apple takes a serious entry into the TV market (no, Apple TV is not a serious entry, it is a complement to their iPod line), it will be one that creates a new market that will dominate. That’s what Apple does: creates new markets that will dominate. So how can they do that in an industry that is already flooded?

    They will release two products: a UHD (4K) television and an HD (1080p) box. They both will feature a Kinect-like gesture recognition camera and a full app ecosystem. The box and the television will have the same content, operating system, and features; the only difference is that the box and its peripherals plug into any HDTV, while the television is an all in one UHD television with all the smart technology and peripherals built in (including the gesture-recognition camera). These two products will complement each other to revolutionize television.

    The box will target the current age of television and serve to revolutionize the way we navigate our existing high definition televisions. Instead of fumbling with a remote that always seems to be lost or having to get up to change the channel/volume, simply use motion gestures with your hands to navigate your television, or tell it what you want it to do with the help of Siri. The convenient and fun new way to control your television accompanied by internet television services and a full app ecosystem will create a new popular market for $200-$300 motion-controlled television boxes.

    The television (which I like to predict will be called the iPanel) will target the future age of television by establishing the market for UHD (4K) televisions (which Apple will no doubt call “Retina”). Apple will develop “Retina” content services (featuring movies, television channels, etc) exclusively for the iPanel, making it the first platform to offer UHD content on a television. Apple will not sell many of these initially because of the price. However, while UHD televisions remain a niche product, Apple will be the only purchase option because they will be the first to have a reasonable amount of UHD content (which will likely mostly consist of movies and ported retina iPad apps/games) and because it will have the newly popular motion controls built in. From there, the iPanel will usher the consumer market for UHD, and once UHD technology is cheap enough to be at a consumer price, Apple will have the foundation to lead the market the same way they lead the tablet and phone markets now.

  • smacsteve

    I don’t mean to sound disrespectful, but REALLY?! You just now have figured this out? I’ve been saying this exact thing (with the exception of the 4K) for nearly 6 years! I think it only makes sense that Apple combine the AppleTV the iMac/Mac Mini to a all in one iTV internet/computer. Apple will change TV forever and this is Steve Jobs last ingenious idea. When he was on stage at the All Things Digital many years back with Bill Gates and this came up, he had his usual game face on like he had no plans to tackle this. Oh not so fast! I think he’d already had the idea and was working towards this next BIG Apple product. Remember Apple only really comes out with something truly ground breaking every 5-6 years and that time is now upon us. I’d look for an announcement sometime early second quarter 2014 for this new product.

  • efforting

    On a regular TV, the screen is fragile, takes up a lot of shelf space and is costly to produce and not portable.

    The Apple TV will be projection based built into a soundbar. Mounted to the wall it is to be projected on or placed on a counter very close to the wall. By placing the projector at or near the surface it is to be projected upon solves most of the issues with projection TV’s and allows the unit to be compact and portable while incorporating a sound system.
    It will have all the functionality of the current Apple TV box and be able to run apps.
    Best of all it will be $500 and have a 55″ or more projection screen.
    Problem solved the Apple way.

  • tcbritt

    Mike,
    This article and every other article you have written for Cult of Mac all use the maximum number of words to convey the minimum amount of information. This article merely states that you believe Apple is working on an advanced TV with computer like capabilities. Really? Was the world waiting for this type of insight? Has everyones socks been blown off by the dropping of this bombshell? I think not. Many more interesting ideas can be found in the comments area of this article, specifically comments made by MattGodfrey and Jazz1925. I could totally see “Apple TV” being a platform, not a standalone product. Not a platform to rival iOS or OSX, but an app with apps inside similar to Newsstand or iBooks. It would function exactly like the Apple TV software is now, but with subscription based apps and an “Apple TV” app for iOS and the Mac. Launch the Apple TV app on iOS, OSX, or turn on your hockey puck Apple TV device and see recently watched movies, episodes, etc, or select certain “channels” (channels=subscription based apps) for on demand or live programing. Also, build the Apple TV internals into the new Retina thunderbolt display and you have a standalone product capable of functioning as a “TV”, as well as an external monitor.

  • csw

    Except it won’t be called an iTV…. It will be called iWatch.

    You heard it here third!

    cw

About the author

Mike ElganMike Elgan writes about technology and culture for a wide variety of publications. Follow Mike on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

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