It's been rumoured for years that Apple has been planning to launch a television - and indeed a report in 2015 confirmed that the company had a team working on this some years ago. But it appears that the idea has since been put on hold.
Or has it? A blurry photo has popped up on Chinese social media and appears to show a large flatscreen television with an Apple logo being tested. And analysts have talked up the "profit potential" that the product offers. Is it possible that Apple has changed its mind again?
In this article we round up all the rumours and leaks about an Apple television (or iTV), and the evidence for and against this product being launched in the future.
Why we don't think there will be an Apple television
A report in the Wall Street Journal on 18 May 2015 suggests there will be no Apple television. According to that report, "people familiar with the matter" have confirmed that Apple did have a small team working on an Apple TV set a few years ago, but the team was disbanded more than a year ago.
Apparently the issue was the lack of innovative features to distinguish Apple's television set from the competition. The team is said to have looked into manufacturing a television screen that when turned off would look like a clear pane of glass, for example.
Following the publication of the report, Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster, who has been an advocate for the Apple television rumour for many years, confirmed that he no longer believes Apple will release a TV set. Munster issued a note to investors entitled Facing the reality of no Apple television, in which he admits he was "wrong" about Apple's plans to launch a TV set.
Munster wrote: "Envisioning the next 10 years, it seems less likely that the television will be the centerpiece of the living room with the evolution of virtual reality and augmented reality. We believe Apple is actively working on early virtual and augmented reality products, although we may be 5+ years away from seeing these products launched."
Munster added: "We have been talking about an Apple television for the better part of the last decade. While it is a small consolation that the article affirms that Apple was actually working on a television during that period, in the end we were wrong in our constant expectation of the product.
"Originally we had expected that content was the reason for the delay; however, we misidentified the true reason for delay, which was a lack of perceived killer features as reported by the WSJ. We incorrectly assumed that a combination of Siri, FaceTime, a TV app store, and PrimeSense based motion control could be compelling enough as a unique feature set for the device," via MacRumors.
Carl Icahn on the other hand still thinks that Apple will make a TV set and he has even written a letter (dated 18 May) to Tim Cook in which he reiterates his belief that a TV set and a electric car will be launched by Apple (the TV in 2016, the car in 2020).
And this got a surprising boost in August 2017 when the following pictures were leaked on social media and tweeted by the prolific leaker Benjamin Geskin:
Daring Fireball's John Gruber speculates that Apple leaked the information to the WSJ's Wakabayashi in order to pour cold water over Icahn's claims.
Icahn's letter details his belief that "Apple will soon enter two new markets (Television and the Automobile) with a combined addressable market size of $2.2 trillion."
He writes: "While we respect and admire Apple's predilection for secrecy, the company's aggressive increases in R&D spending (and some of the more well-supported rumors) have bolstered our confidence that Apple will enter two new product categories: television and cars. Combined, these two new markets represent $2.2 trillion, three times the size of Apple's existing markets (if we exclude Apple Watch).
"Excluding advertising, the addressable market for television is approximately $575 billion, which is larger than the smartphone market. Given that people spend an average of 12% of the day watching TV (equating to 25% of their free time), we view television's role in the living room as a strategically compelling bolt-on to the Apple ecosystem."
Speaking on CNBC following the Wall Street Journal report, Icahn said: "The whole thing is ridiculous … I'm not backtracking in any way. I believe they will do a TV. That's my belief." Although he concluded that whether Apple does launch a television set or not is completely their decision.
[One thing to remember about the predictions Carl Icahn makes: as a big Apple investor he can benefit greatly from driving up Apple's share price, and also make a difference to the share price if he withdraws his investment.]
What Tim Cook has said about an Apple television
There is no doubt that the Apple TV has become a big product for the company in recent years, now amounting to a billion dollar business for Apple. It is fair to say TV is no longer a hobby for Apple.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has also spoken about television on a number of occasions, leading to expection that the company intends to launch a television set. I
In an televised interview with Charlie Rose in September Cook said: "Think how much your life has changed, and all the things around you that have changed, and yet TV, when you go into the living room to watch TV or wherever it may be, it almost feels like you're rewinding the clock and you've entered a time capsule and you're going backwards. The interface is terrible, I mean it's awful. You watch things when they come on unless you remember to record them."
In February 2014, Cook spent a big chunk of time at Apple's yearly shareholder meeting discussing the Apple TV, telling shareholders that the company had sold more than $1 billion worth of the set-top boxes (and related content) in the last year. This means, according to Asymco analyst Horace Dediu, that Apple has sold around 28 million of the devices since its 2007 launch.
"It's a little more difficult to call it a hobby these days," he told the crowd of shareholders.
In an interview at D11 back in May 2013 the Apple CEO said the following about TV: "I think many of us would agree that there's lots of things about the TV experience that can be better, we answered some of those, clearly not all of those, with Apple TV, and we're going to continue to make that better," promised Cook.
He added: "When you look at the TV experience it's not an experience that I think may people love, it's not an experience that you would say has been brought up to date for this decade. It's still an experience that is still too much like it was ten years ago and in many cases 20 years ago. "
Cook hinted that Apple is testing the television market through the Apple TV set-top box, saying during the D11 conference that: "We're still playing in TV through Apple TV. I don't remember where we were last year, but let me give you a little bit of an update here, for several years we've been selling a few hundred thousand, we've now sold over 13 million, and about half of those in the last year."
Cook continued: "That business has found many, many more customers that love the Apple TV experience. That has been great for customers but also very good from a learning point of view for Apple."
This wasn't the first time Tim Cook had made a broad hint about a forthcoming Apple TV.
During a February 2012 keynote at Goldman Sachs he said: "I wouldn't want to go into detail about future stuff, obviously… Apple doesn't do hobbies, as a general rule. We believe in focus and only working on a few things. With Apple TV, however, despite the barriers in that market, for those of us who use it, we've always thought there was something there. And that if we kept following our intuition and kept pulling the string, then we might find something that was larger.
"For those people that have it right now, the customer satisfaction is off the charts. But we need something that could go more main market for it to be a serious category."
Cook also revealed details about Apple and television in a couple of interviews in December 2012. He refused to outline any specific details, but did talk in length about the general design process at Apple, claiming that there is 'intense interest' in designing a good Apple Television. This 10 Apple Television facts that Tim Cook revealed article covers much of Cook's interview and how it relates to the Apple Television.
Cook also revealed that Apple has "some incredible things coming out", and spent some time talking about the television business at D10 last year. Cook referred to the existing Apple TV set top box, described for years as a 'hobby product' for Apple, and hinting that there may be more potential. He also noted that, for many people, television is "an area in their life that they're not pleased with" and suggested that Apple will "keep pulling this string and see where it takes us."
And if they do keep pulling the strings, Apple will aim to make "a significant contribution far beyond what others have done in this area," Cook said.
So Apple is going to launch something amazing in the television market, but the question is when, and what?
What Steve Jobs said about an Apple television
The firmest evidence that Apple is working on a television came from Apple's late co-founder Steve Jobs himself. Jobs told his biographer Walter Isaacson that: "He very much wanted to do for television what he had done for computers, music players, and phones: make them simple and elegant."
"'I'd like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use,' Jobs told Isaacson. 'It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud.' No longer would users have to fiddle with complex remotes for DVD players and cable channels. 'It will have the simplest use interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.'"
A recent loss of confidence in the idea that Apple might be working on a television has lead to suggestions that when Jobs said he had "cracked" what was wrong with television, and masterminded a way to make it a better user experience, he wasn't referring to an actual television, but rather a software update to the Apple TV.
It should be noted that Steve Jobs died the day after the iPhone 4s launched with the Siri voice controlled assistant, and that it is entirely probable that he was referring to Siri as the means by which he would rescue TV. Obviously he wouldn't have thought that Siri would be in beta for the next two years.
The latest rumours about the new Apple TV suggest that the set top box will include motion control, suggests that Apple has looked away from Siri for a method to control the interface of the Apple TV.
However, claims in a recently published book that Apple's late CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs had ruled out making a television, have lead to some falling-off of the claims that Apple is working on a television set. The revelation appears in Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs by former Wall Street Journal reporter Yukari Iwatani Kane. Kane claims that on one occasion at a company retreat Jobs was asked whether Apple intended to release a television set and his response was: "no". Jobs went on to describe TV as a "terrible business," stating that "they don't turn over and the margins suck".
It looks like Steve Jobs caution was well placed. The global television market is in decline, according to a new report from IHS Technology. IHS Technology analyst Jusy Hong stated that: "The global TV market continues to be in transition following a golden period of tremendous growth from 2009 to 2011."
"Television shipments were down again in 2013 just like in 2012, but an unusual development was the slow market last year in China, Asia-Pacific and Eastern Europe - until recently among the brighter spots for the industry
Last year HDTV sales fell by around 10%. Rather than focus on building a television, Apple could be wise to stick with a market that is experiencing growth," added Hong, according to Broadband TV News.
"Overall TV shipments in 2013 for North America fell 9% on the year, while Western Europe showed an annual loss of 4%," claims the report.
However, worldwide television shipment totals will start climbing this year due to the new active-matrix organic light-emitting diode (AMOLED) sets entering the market. These TV sets will feature thinner profiles and higher contrast ratios and shipments of these OLED TVs will grow to some 8.1 million units by 2018, according to IHS.
What will Apple call its television?
There has been no solid conclusion about what Apple will call its television. There is already an Apple TV, the set-top box that bridges the gap between the internet and a standard television set.
One theory is that 'iWatch' - the name once given to the product that eventually turned out to be called Apple Watch - could actually be the name of the Apple television.
What will the Apple Television cost?
Gene Munster's estimation in January 2015 was that the price will be around the $1,500 mark, which he describes as "about double a comparable sized TV". Jaffray reckons that should the company manage to grab just 10% of the TV market, if could sell 22 million TVs a year. We think that grabbing 10% of that market might be tough at the high price predicted, though.
Earlier in 2014 Munster found that if the price tag is more than $1,500 (around £900), as many experts have estimated, then more than 75 per cent of US consumers may not be willing to part with their cash.
Analysts say, and history suggests, that Apple's iTV will sell at the high end of the market. It will use the best components - the best screen, the best materials, and the best microphones (for voice recognition).
By comparison, most Smart TVs on sale now average at less than £2,009, but Samsung's recently launched 55in Curved TV is on the market for £6,999.99. We expect that the Apple Television will have a price tag higher than £900.
What others say about Apple Television
A number of people have made comments about the Apple TV, from ex Apple employees to key technology websites.
In May 2018 the analyst firm RBC Capital Management discussed the potential of the rumoured product, arguing that it could be a major money spinner for the company.
"We believe new products (such as an iTV) could further expand Apple's revenue opportunity and profit potential," the analysts wrote.
In September 2011, Jean-Louis Gassée, a former president of Apple's products division, said that an Apple television has "got to happen".
Also in 2011, Bloomberg reported that three insiders with "knowledge of the project" confirmed that Jeff Robbin, the software engineer who built iTunes, is guiding development of the Apple television.
During the summer of 2011, a former Apple executive, who spoke only on the condition that he remain anonymous, confirmed that "the company's biggest upcoming product launch" would be its entry into the flat-screen television market, and would "blow Netflix and all those other guys away."
In August 2012, ex-Apple CEO John Sculley said that the television market is 'Apple's game to lose,' and that the success of the iPhone, iPad and Mac will give the company an edge in trying to take over the living room.
Also in August 2012, the Wall Street Journal suggested that Apple has changed its mind about making a television set, and is instead focusing on taking over the living room with an advanced set-top-box that will 'erase the distinction between live and on-demand TV'.
This theory has since been widely adopted by many Apple watchers, and seems like a more realistic option for the company, at least to begin with. Find out more about what to expect from future iterations of the Apple TV in our Apple TV rumour round-up.
However, in December 2012 the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple was "in the early stages of testing" an Apple Television set, citing unnamed sources (presumed to be working for Foxconn).
Hires & acquisitions
Other evidence that indicates that TV is, as Apple CEO Tim Cook said: "An area of intense interest for Apple" comes in the form of various hires and acquisitions by the company.
In July 2013 it emerged that Apple hired Hulu senior VP of Marketing and Distribution Pete Distad. Distad's role is be to negotiate future media deals, according to Bloomberg. That report claims that Distard led Hulu's push to make its app available on web-connected devices, including Apple TV. The Hulu Plus service is available to Apple TV owners in the US, it is a subscription TV service that provides content from ABC, NBC, Fox, the CW and Univision and costs $7.99 a month.
Back in February 2013 news that Apple had hired LG's OLED expert, who just happened to work for Samsung once-upon-a-time, emerged. James (Jueng-jil) Lee was a senior researcher at LG who had been working on creating a printed AMOLED TV (organic light-emitting diode) based television display, according to The OLED Association. Lee is "no doubt more knowledgeable about OLEDs that any of Apple's current staff, which is known to be quite strong," the Association suggests.
The acquisition of video discovery start-up Matcha.tv by Apple in August 2013 stirred up further speculation about Apple's TV plans. Matcha.tv was an iOS app that aimed to help users discover content by providing an overview of everything that is available to watch across a variety of services including Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Prime and more.
Matcha.tv also had a social aspect, which would let you see what your friends have been watching, a recommendation service and the ability to manage the content you've been watching from a universal queue.
Matcha's service could provide a valuable addition to the current Apple TV set-top box and/or a future Apple Television.
Another exciting Apple acquisition is PrimeSense, the Israeli company behind the 3D sensor technology in Microsoft's Kinect. The acquisition of PrimeSense could open up new possibilities for future Apple devices. The company's 3D sensor technology could be used in an updated version of the Apple TV or an Apple Television, for example, to enable users to interact using gestures.
Apple Television images
While there are no leaked images of an Apple Television yet, there are some concept images that have emerged on the web, as shown below.
(Image credit: Martin Hajek)