Ever since Steve Jobs’ biography came out people have been wondering what exactly Steve had figured out about television. What is the next revolution going to look like? I could not help asking myself the same question. In an early article I spoke about the struggle to maintain the status quo. I mentioned that it was vain to do so. A company needs to innovate to remain successful and it must be able to reinvent itself it wants to stay ahead of the competition. All of the great companies have been able to do this. Steve Jobs has a small monologue in his biography about the subject. I think the largest innovation to come will be in actually delivering what people want in a tv experience. I don’t think the companies involved right now get it. TV sales reflect that they are clueless. On CNBC an anchor mentioned how foolish it was to bank on 3d to push out more flat panels last year. He said all they had to do was ask him and he could have told them that it was an idiot move. People do not care about 3d.
I would say the situation right now stands very much like it did back at the turn of the millennium, with record companies and the music industry not getting why people wanted to download mp3s. The real surprise was that Sony was unable to beat Apple on the iPod and deliver a proper user experience given that they were better positioned at the time to do so. They had the walkman line and also were a “record company”. They were into recording. But the two sides of the company were like competitors, and were not able to work as one to deliver a seamless user experience. They could have done something like iTunes, and provided an ecosystem, but didn’t because of the inability of the two divisions to integrate their business models, for the better of the company as a whole.
Even now Sony is involved in making TVs and producing content, but it has not worked to integrate them into a single cohesive package. It’s as if no mechanism exists for the company to do so because it has grown so enormous and unwieldily. It is large and unfocused. There is no synergy, the parts are there certainly, but the whole is not greater than the sum. And so, it is about to depart from this particular industry. Actually the TV industry as a whole is not doing well. The content providers definitely are. People are still paying for quality content. But I think even here they could be doing better.
Another report came out about Movie Theaters. People are not going to the theaters anymore. What’s the deal? Again no one is listening to the consumer. Theaters are charging too much for 3d tickets. The price of going to the movies has gone up as well. Blah blah blah. Fill in the rest for yourself. So what is the point of this discussion? The point is that Apple is not going to be inventing anything new here. What they do for the television will be the same as what they did for the iPod. To be successful they need to provide the ecosystem and the device. Apple makes its money from hardware, compared to other companies, and it entices user to spend more on their products because of the end user experience that they provide. So although the services they provide are much more than just simple hardware, it is the hardware that makes them the money.
That means that what they will be selling will be an actual television, and not just a user top box. In addition they have done something to make the content more personalized to the user. This is actually what has been holding up this product. They have the software and hardware done. They have iCloud. Siri is in beta and is being perfected through the iPhone 4S, and hopefully will be ready to be released for the TV when it comes out sometime in the next year. I’m sure even the supply chain is worked out. Its the content that is the hang up. The companies providing the content have to keep the cable companies happy. So it has to do with politics. Who gets what. Where is my piece of the pie, meanwhile Apple may just come in and take the whole pie. The future of television definitely has nothing to do with the way we experience it today. The TV will be a full fledged computer just like the iPhone was when it was introduced.
The Apple TV will be an extension of the current iOS product ecosystem. It will be deeply integrated to every other product Apple has in its line up. That includes the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, MacBooks, etc. Yet it will be able to stand on its own. But it will add to the halo effect. People buying these machines will become more likely to own an iPad, iPhone, etc. That means part of the content puzzle will be in the apps. Apple TV will support apps already in the app store. In addition apps can be developed specifically for this device. Different networks could develop their own apps, like ABC and NBC. So that is solving part of the content problem. In addition the TV will have built in DVR functionality to help keep the Cable companies happy. That means even if the content side is being hung up by negotiations, the end user will still have a seamless experience. They’ll be able to watch what they want when they want, whether it be through apps or the DVR, without having to distinguish between the two. At the same time you’ll take pictures on your phone, they’ll already be on the TV. You are working on something for work on your MacBook or iPad and it’ll be there on your TV to review. You buy a movie on iTunes on your computer and can watch it immediately on the television.
The thing is that the user interface won’t rely exclusively on the other devices. The TV will have its own user interface which as Steve Jobs explained “Will be the simplest user interface imaginable”, he said that he had finally cracked it. I think part of that will have to do with voice. You just speak and it turns on for example. You tell it what you would like to watch and it plays it. If it’s not there it may ask if you’d like to purchase it. They’ll be a camera for FaceTime. One thing that is important though. This thing will not have a remote. “We hate remotes!”, Steve might have explained had he been alive to present this product. That’s just my hunch. I’d imagine whoever presenting it will explain how remotes always get lost etc. This thing will be a lot like the Xbox Kinect in that regard. A careful check on Apple’s patents from the last five years will probably show some customized gestures that this thing will recognize. Just as the iPhone had gestures to control it, this thing will have a few air gestures that will be super intuitive. Just imagine the TV specific apps that could be made for this device. I guess we’ll have to wait and see to be sure, but I would expect this to be at least as much as a paradigm shift as the iPhone was back in 2007. For them even to be releasing this product it’s gotta be, or it has no chance to even be profitable.
There is definitely a lot of potential here for this product to be a game changer. The market is definitely there for it, but because of the dichotomy between the industry and the user, this dissonance and disparity between the two… well someone who gets it right stands to make a lot of money. If Apple doesn’t get it on this round I hope they eventually do, or that Microsoft comes in and integrates their Xbox and kinect system into a Windows 8 TV. Definitely the future of TV belongs to one of these guys or Google, because the face of television is about to change, and the other guys just don’t get it.