The latest log in the rumor mill comes courtesy of analyst Brian White. He's predicting an Apple Smart TV, to launch as early as this year. This isn't new speculation, and it didn't need much of a jump-start to rise up with renewed vigor. Chris Dixon has as good a take on the issue as you're likely to find. He brings up an interesting interview with Steve Jobs, which I'll repost here:
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"The television industry fundamentally has a subsidized business model that gives everyone a set-top box, and that pretty much undermines innovation in the sector. The only way this is going to change is if you start from scratch, tear up the box, redesign and get it to the consumer in a way that they want to buy it. But right now, there’s no way to do that….The TV is going to lose until there’s a viable go-to-market strategy."
The bolded passage struck me as particularly noteworthy. It brought up memories of John Gruber's iPad 2 article, in which he outlines the development philosophy of the Apple Corporation.
"They take something small, simple, and painstakingly well considered. They ruthlessly cut features to derive the absolute minimum core product they can start with. They polish those features to a shiny intensity."
So, when we're thinking about an Apple TV, we need to consider the minimum core product a television needs to offer. Well, when you boil a TV down to its basic nature, you have a device designed to deliver video content and commercials whenever it is turned on. Giving the operator a wide choice of content is crucial- but the ability to 'channel surf' is equally important. So, keeping all this in mind, here's how I see the 'Apple TV'.
Price Point(s): Maybe I'm crazy, but I'd look at the iPad's pricing scheme if you want a good idea of what the 'Apple TV' will cost. Apple is a premium device maker, which means their products are usually among the most expensive available. But Apple won't launch a 'Smart' TV that requires a minimum-$1000 investment to own. The 3D TV sales slump is evidence that consumers are very wary of spending that much to 'upgrade' their television experience.
My current 42" HDTV cost $499. I can't imagine why Apple couldn't launch a 32" 'smart' TV for the same price. We could jump $100-$150 for each 8" upgrade (32", 40", 48", etc?). We might also see different storage size options, but I think Apple will take a different route.
AirPlay: Imagine being able to stream your entire media library to your television, wirelessly. Apple has the ability to make this happen. Thanks to iTunes, they have a platform to connect both Mac and PC users to the Apple TV in a way that works like 'magic'. With iTunes handling your stored media, we're left with a few interesting possibilities for how Apple will handle broadcast media.
Shuffle + Genius for TV?: Imagine if your television had perfect knowledge of your viewing habits. Now imagine it was capable of making predictions about what current broadcast content you'd enjoy, based upon all that data. It sounds like a great way to induce terminal couch-lock. And Apple could always add in a 'Shuffle' option, for those of you who want to enjoy a bit of TV roulette.
Form Factor: Will the iTV be a thin black body sandwiched between two gigantic slabs of glass, a gigantic iPad, or something completely different? Most importantly...will it have ports? These are questions for a better hardware man than myself. I think any design Apple approves will be focused on making the TV blend into your living room, rather than stand out. The iPad is a 'pure browsing experience', and the Apple Smart TV will be a 'pure viewing experience'. The focus is on submerging you in a river of content. Not drawing your attention with window dressings.
I'll close the article with another dash of Gruber:
"That’s how Apple builds its platforms. It’s a slow and steady process of continuous iterative improvement — so slow, in fact, that the process is easy to overlook if you’re observing it in real time. Only in hindsight is it obvious just how remarkable Apple’s platform development process is."
If an Apple Television is on the horizon, it's in the earliest stage of development. We can expect the first model to lack features many pundits consider 'essential'. It'll be compared, unfavorably, with other 'theoretical' smart TV products. Then it will launch, break sales records, and send the industry scrambling back to their drawing boards to drum up some competition.