Apple wants to sell you a television set, just not today

Image Credit: Martin Hajek

I’ve been an Apple TV user ever since the introduction of the small black box back in 2010. Up until today I never upgraded my Apple TV, yet it has been changed the way I consume media. Now, with the introduction of the new Apple TV with Siri and the App Store, Apple is taking this product to the next level. Tim Cook and Eddy Cue have both said that this is no longer a “hobby.”

Yet, despite it not being a hobby, it’s still going to be connected via HDMI 2 on most of our televisions, something even Eddy Cue admits. Of course, the major reason for this is because Apple has yet to announce their own television service to go along with their box. If and when they announce such a service, that’s when we can expect Apple TV to start utilizing HDMI 1.

I believe the new box, and the soon-to-be streaming service, is a setup to start selling a true Apple television in the coming years. What makes me feel this way? The iMac.

I’ve been a laptop user for the past five years. But just a few days ago I upgraded to a new 27-inch Retina 5K iMac. After using this iMac, I’m convinced Apple wants to make a TV set. How so? Let’s look back at one key advertisement.

Many years back, Apple had an ad that showcased the difference between an iMac and a Dell. Side-by-side it was incredibly obvious what Apple was pitching: The cluster of wires for accessories, video, cameras, and power caused a mess. Apple’s solution was simple. It was literally plug and play. Fast forward to today and you can remove two wires from the iMac, the mouse and the keyboard. Now all you truly need is one wire (unless you’re charging).

The television of today still looks very much like the Dell XPS on the right. Maybe not to the same extent, but it‘s still pretty bad. If you have an Apple TV or any streaming box, it’s likely using power and an HDMI cable. If you have cable television, you can muliply that by two. If you have a gaming system, you can multiply that by at least three. Add some good speakers and of course a router (to get much of that content to your television) and you’ve basically replicated what the Dell is like. It’s a mess.

If Apple were to build a television, one of its main goals would be to do exactly what they did with the iMac. Provide a great picture, with great sound and networking, in a simple, beautiful and cluster-free package.

I believe this new Apple TV box is step one. Step two will be the streaming service. Once those two elements are in place and working well, that’s when step three comes in: the real Apple TV.

When will this happen? My guess would be 2017 or 2018. I think that’s going to be when the adoption of 4K is widespread. Yes, you can buy a 4K television today, and yes many of them are becoming more affordable, but for Apple to succeed in selling a physical teleivsion, it needs to have leverage in those two areas first. Most people today are still using 1080P TVs. But in the next couple of years, I think 4K will start becoming the default choice for new TV buyers. We’re close, but not there yet.

I know what you’re thinking. “The TV business is horrible. There are no margins there!” That may be true, but guess what? There are no margins in the PC or smartphone business either. The margins only go to those who are making premium products with an OS they own and control. And guess who does that better than anyone? Apple.

If Apple is going to sell a television, it’s not going to be just a dumb screen with an Apple logo. It’s going to be what the iMac is to the Mac Mini. Everything about it will be so simple and state of the art that the Apple TV box will seem dumb. You may be able to get some of the features on the box, but it won’t be nearly as good. In fact, a report by Mark Gurman in 2013 suggests that Apple’s acqusition of Primesense, the technology used in Microsoft’s Kinect, would be in “future TV-related products.” If Apple is going to make a television set, not only is it going to have proprietary hardware technology, it’s also going to have proprietary software and services. That’s where tvOS and Apple’s television service comes in.

To me this is the long range goal of the Apple TV. In fact, it would probably benefit Apple to wait. While 4K OLED panels are just starting to emerge, Apple’s streaming service isn’t even out, and apps are literally just debuting in the App Store. If Apple wants to make a case for their own television, the best thing they can do is wait.

In the meantime, enjoy your cluttered mess for the next few years.

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