Unless you live in a cave, you’ve probably heard the rumors that Apple is planning on releasing a television in 2013. It’s quite bewildering as to why they would – unlike portable devices, TVs have an upgrade cycle of once every 3-5 years, and boxes (like Apple TV, Roku, Slingbox, etc.) are a cheap, nifty way to give your antiquated panel immense functionality. Read my take on why releasing a television set, as opposed to another set-top box is key for Apple to revolutionize the TV industry.
The Many Box Syndrome
Just taking a look at my own set-up at home exemplifies the problem with television today: there are just too many god-damn boxes! To stream my iTunes library – Apple TV. To watch live TV on mobile – Slingbox. Video games – Xbox 360. And for each device comes many wires, many remotes, and many frustrations. You might even buy one of those all-in-one remotes, which in reality means it’ll suck really hard at controlling three devices rather than just one. Here’s a quote from Steve Jobs at D8 2010:
The problem with innovation in the TV industry is the go to market strategy. The TV industry has a subsidized model that gives everyone a set top box for free. So no one wants to buy a box. Ask TiVo, ask Roku, ask us… ask Google in a few months.
So all you can do is ADD a box to the TV. You just end up with a table full of remotes, a cluster of boxes… and that’s what we have today. The TV is going to lose in our eyes until there is a better go to market strategy… otherwise you’re just making another TiVo.
So a better “go to market strategy”. Hmm…
Apple’s Specialty: Hardware and Software
Apple is notorious for the combination of hardware and software. Think Mac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad. Each product shines because of how well the software and hardware complements one another. Here’s the infamous quote from Alan Kay, the brain-child of object-oriented programming:
People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.
If you want to make something really great, you have to wet your beak in all aspects of the product. Making just a box means you are confined to what you can change. But when you make the entire set, you can truly innovate in aspects you couldn’t before. Why else does the executive team at Apple currently refer to it as a “hobby”?
Revolutionary Input Device
During the iPhone keynote address (Moscone West, 2007), Steve mentioned that for every breakthrough product was a breakthrough way of interacting with it. With the launch of the Macintosh it was the mouse. With the iPod, it was the click wheel. For iPhone and iPad – multi-touch.
Samsung has tried and failed with motion control input for some time now, and I do not even remotely (no pun intended) think it’s a good method of interaction for a TV. When I watch TV, it’s usually when I just want to turn my brain off for a little bit. You want something that requires the least bit of effort possible. Apple has had a lot of success with multi-touch trackpads, and the Click Wheel is really great for scrolling through long menus. Perhaps they could integrate both together into a remote?
Video chatting is pretty popular amongst families (especially mine), so I can see how an AppleTV equipped with an HD iSight camera for Facetime (or third party apps like Skype) would really “wow” my parents over. The ability to use Siri to turn-on/turn-off my TV set via my iPhone would be a convenience that could only be achieved by making the entire set.[divider] Profit Margins & Manufacturing [/divider]
It’s no secret that Apple makes some crazy-good margins on their products. But it’s more than margins. Making 50% margins on a $99 box isn’t cool. You know what is? Making 50% margins on a $1,000 set with additional cash through iTunes purchases on the device. Cha-ching.
Apple also manufactures millions of displays every quarter for their portable (and desktop) devices. They also order a lot of A5/6/X chips. They use their own speaker tech in their retina MacBook Pro line and iMacs, and HD iSight cameras in all of their products. Using economies of scale, they could probably make a spec’d out television cheaper than their competitors.
Bottom Line: Apple needs to either go big, or go home. A television set is game changing, another dusty set-top box isn’t.