TV and Apple: The case for un-disruption

So, Apple and TV. Let’s see what everyone seems to think will happen…

  • A physical television set
  • A fancy and unknown new control mechanism (mysterious)
  • Apps on AppleTV
  • Apple delivering TV content

If Apple manufactured a television set, they would be competing directly with TV manufacturers. If Apple bought TV content to deliver to viewers, they would compete directly with tv distributors – cable companies, broadcasters, etc.

TV sets are a low margin business, and Apple hardware has high margins. Would Apple choose to compete in this market? If they did, they would have to (somehow) completely disrupt the market like they did with the iPhone and iPad.

What is actually being delivered in the space at the moment?

  • Lots and lots of boxes with HDMI
  • … each of these boxes has its own remote, so lots and lots of remotes
  • Universal infrared remotes or infrared blaster solutions. (note – an infrared blaster is a device that emulates a remote control handset – used to allow one device to control another, or to extend the range of an infrared remote)
  • lots of streaming video services
  • lots and lots of separate tablet and phone apps to control all those boxes and TVs
  • Airplay for some iOS apps
  • Boxes with video passthrough, overlay, IR blaster and kitchen sink (Hello Xbox One!)
  • TV with 3D glasses
  • TV with voice, hand, body controls
  • TV with face recognition
  • 4K resolution TV in the near future

So… there’s no sign of a simple, unified TV system (beyond geeky rig-ups and feature stuffed demos)

What the consumer very likely wants…

The user wants to easily control, find, watch and record their TV content (and all their media) in one place. The picture quality has to be great, which means HD. 3D doesn’t matter as much as TV firms would like to think, and I’d say 4K isn’t necessary (or a disruptive force), at least not right now.

The user wants to deal with only one remote at most. Regular folk complain about the number of remotes they accrue just from owning a TV, a cable or satellite box and a DVD player. Regular folk complain about having to switch the TV from the Sky box channel to the DVD box channel to the TV’s built-in digital tuner channels. “How do I change channel on this thing?”

The user doesn’t really want social media on the main TV screen.  TV manufacturers offer this kind of thing in their top of the range products, but it just feels gimmicky and misguided. People watch the TV, often in family groups, and do their social media on handheld devices. Nobody wants to sit on the sofa and watch someone else faffing about on Facebook.

Some other rumours for good measure

  • Recording TV and video in the cloud rather than locally
  • An Apple internet radio service which we’re calling iRadio for now, expected to be unveiled next week at WWDC 2013.

Apple are going to do SOMETHING with TV, of that we can be sure

Steve Jobs, in an interview with his biographer  Walter Isaacson said, re TV “I finally cracked it” and “it will have the simplest user interface you could imagine”.

Tim Cook said in a December 2012 interview with NBC with that Apple had an “intense interest” in the TV space.

“When I go into my living room and turn on the TV, I feel like I have gone backwards in time by 20 to 30 years,” Cook told Williams. “It’s an area of intense interest. I can’t say more than that.”

At the May 2013 D11 conference, Tim Cook kept reiterating that TV as it is today feels outdated, but wouldn’t give many hints as to what Apple might do beyond the current Apple TV product

I don’t want to go any further on this because I don’t want to give anybody any ideas. There is a very grand vision.

This time, Cook said TV was an “incredible”  area of interest for Apple.

What Apple COULD do…

I couldn’t for the life of me see how Apple could unify the tangled mess of TV, media companies and their bespoke delivery systems and boxes… in a new box or TV.

But then I thought, “I already control the TV, Sky+ box and iTunes library from a single device. The iPad!”

The coming of age of the second screen

apple-tvSo why not expand the ability of the iPad (or iPhone or iPod touch) with an “Apple TV” app for controlling as many devices and services as it can? An App that controls your wifi enabled home entertainment equipment… and adds search, discovery and loads more to the equation?

It would have to be good – it’d have to blow the socks off every competing box, app and smart TV solution by thinking “outside the box” quite literally. Yes there would be APIs to create Apps for the Apple TV box, but the main push would be to unite TV selection and discovery in a single place where you could seamlessly control your existing TV sets, decoder boxes and streaming services. The user interface would, of course, be incredibly simple and would integrate future proofed cloud services (for streaming and storing content) with the cable and satellite TV experience we have at the moment (and for a few years to come).

Apple would need to strike a lot of deals… it would take a lot of time and a lot of cajoling. But the deals would be only to get an app to control your box, work with your existing TV service and search your programs. NOT take over the living room with an über box, and not to steal the whole value chain of TV distribution and broadcasting!

Hmm. That sounds more plausible.

More about what this hypothetical app (or app grouping) might entail; how it would affect (but NOT disrupt, per se) the TV market; and why, if it is going to happen, it’s taken a while to get here; in the next post.