In one way, the start of 2013 is similar to 2012, with reports from the Far East of a fully- fledged Apple television already in production. In 2011, Bloomberg reported that Jeff Robbin, the software engineer behind iTunes, was guiding development of the device. With new reports throughout the past year, it’s one rumour that simply won’t go away.
This speculation was fuelled in part by Steve Jobs’ own authorised biography. Author Walter Isaacson noted that Jobs: “Very much wanted to do for television what he had done for computers, music players and phones: make them simple and elegant.” The move would again put Apple at the forefront of innovation, creating a device that is both familiar yet revolutionary, changing the way we watch and interact with TV.
Apple’s device, apparently named iTV, which could lead to conflict and confusion with ITV in the UK, would need to rely on generating interest from third-party content providers outside the US to ensure global demand and success.
Here, Apple faces strong competition, not only from TV manufacturers selling big screens at relatively small prices, but from broadcasters and established platforms for free TV. Both Freeview and Freesat only require compatible TVs or set-top boxes, and all major providers offer free content to catch-up online or via mobile devices and games consoles.
So-called Smart TVs and catch-up TV service YouView, backed by Sir Alan Sugar, are also available to viewers, along with pay TV platforms from Sky and Virgin, and on-demand services such as Netflix, LoveFilm and Now TV.
Another feature it would need to offer on its television sets is 3D, now a mainstay of sets in the price range that Apple is likely to place itself. To date, the company doesn’t even offer 3D movies for download via iTunes.
Also look out for 4K – a kind of Retina display HDTV that offers almost four times as many pixels as today’s best sets.
Clearly, Apple would need to offer a TV that stood out from the pack and show clear value for what is likely to be a premium-priced product in a market that relies on big discounts to attract customers. Analysts suggest a price point of between $1,000 to $2,000, ambitiously predicting that Apple could generate TV sales close to 20 million by 2018.
Reports say Apple is working on a TV that would include many of the features that have become familiar to iPhone and Mac users. The interface would include Siri voice control, which could see users changing channels, searching listings and setting up recordings without the need to seek out the remote from the back of the sofa. Apple could utilise its iOS devices as both handy remotes, and a way of playing back content around the home and further afield.
Additionally, reports claim Apple’s TV could have a ‘gesture control module,’ made by JDSU, like the one found in Microsoft’s Kinect. JDSU reportedly makes the high-performance diode (light source) and optical coatings technologies that allow Kinect users to interact with games via gestures. JDSU has revealed it has a new non-gaming, “living room” based customer, which analysts have claimed is likely Apple.
There are already some games you can play on an Apple TV using your iPad as a controller.
JDSU’s technology could widen the appeal of any Apple-branded TV further by adding gaming to the mix. Apple has been linked to a games console for years and those rumours resurfaced in 2012 with reports that its CEO Tim Cook had visited the headquarters of Valve, best known for its social-distribution gaming network Steam.
Around the same time, Valve advertised for new staff, including an electronics engineer to join its hardware team, promising: “Whole new gaming experiences.” JDSU could provide the technology and Valve the content, to significantly add value to the TV’s appeal.
Gamers could find themselves enjoying the same experience at home on a big screen that they already love on iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. The joys of gaming online could be further enhanced by Apple incorporating FaceTime, allowing users to see and hear competitors battle it out.
Apple may not launch a television set but rather improve the functionality of the Apple TV set-top box.
There’s also been speculation that the Apple television will be a set-top box, with an iOS-like interface and the addition of cloud-based DVR recording functionality. The Wall Street Journal claimed the box would: “Simplify accessing and viewing programming, and erase the distinction between live and on-demand content,” offering hours of TV series on demand, potentially running back years.
Broadcasting rights permitting, this could mean the end of arguments about which TV shows get wiped to free up hard drive space. Apple could potentially offer unlimited storage, including HD content, for TV and use-generated content, including home movies recorded on Apple devices and third-party cameras. That content could be shared with other set-top box users worldwide, with Apple emphasising the ability to keep in touch with family and friends via a shared home folder in the cloud. Users may also be able to share TV show choices through Twitter and Facebook, with integrated social network features built in.
Before Apple’s TV becomes a reality though, several issues would need to be addressed. To start, the company wouldn’t release a device that didn’t generate income over its lifetime, so the company would need to link the television to an iTunes-type store to generate sales and rentals. It would also face stiff competition here from on-demand services that already provide content on a monthly subscription basis, which is seen by many as offering better value for money than individual film and TV rentals, such as Apple offers from its iTunes Store.
Apple Stores and Apple Premium Resellers would also need to find space to properly showcase any large screen television, and budget for larger and potentially heavier logistics and shipping costs. Reports have so far differed widely on the size of Apple’s proposed TV, ranging from 15 to a whopping 55 inches.
Ultimately in 2013, as ex-Apple CEO John Sculley noted, the TV market is “Apple’s game to lose,” with the success of the iPhone, iPad and Mac opening the door at the very least to Apple playing a major role in the living room.”