So my last time around, I was pretty “pro” on the debate of Apple building a television set device product thing. I actually was following the topic fairly heavily, and bullishly, through CES last year, when the topic just kinda sorta disappeared. For a bit I had a hunch they had intended to launch one in the Winter of 2012, then something fell apart with it, as the rumor mill simply hasn’t been the same since.
The two reasons I surmise why they may have planned, then pulled, a set are: (1) they weren’t happy with the physical product, possibly as a direct result of LG/Samsung demoing OLED TVs at CES this year, or (2) couldn’t pull together the content/partnerships they needed to make it the success they demand. Then again, maybe they never had a plan to do one and finally the tech media moved on to another topic.
But here I am just shy of a year since my last post, and with some new thoughts. In no particular order…
1) Apple makes “small” stuff. Every current product they make can be easily carried out of a store. In fact, you can almost sense it by comparing sales rates of iPhones/iPads to iMacs. TVs are even bigger, and while Apple has magic, you just can’t shrink the physical requirements of shipping around 55″ flat panels. While they could certainly have a white glove level of service, it doesn’t “feel” Apple to me if I can’t get it in the store, and bring it home – now. Apple is amazing at satisfying the on-demand lifestyle, and a big bulky box shipped to your door isn’t quite the same.
2) Apple makes “frequently replaced” stuff. Every current consumer product Apple makes has replacement cycles under 4 years, some 1-2. TV is 7+ and I don’t see that changing. There’s a certain point at which the inconvenience and hassle of mounting (and unmounting) big things to walls trumps the sexiness of any product. It’s one thing to decide on a whim you’ll replace your phone or laptop, it’s another to deal with TVs and inputs. And even if there’s a magical solution for wall-mounting and a magical solution for cable management and a magical solution for set-top boxes, game consoles, and other equipment, consumers are used to this cycle, and that’s a much much harder thing to change.
3) Apple makes “clean” stuff. Of all my Apple products, my iMac has the most potential cables to connect, most of which aren’t used, and comes with wireless peripherals. My iPad has but one. Clean, simple, elegant – Apple. TVs, on the other hand, must be connected to other stuff. Unless they can actually solve A/V Receivers, Set-Top Boxes, Game Consoles, and DVD/Blu-Ray Players in a single product, this mess continues to exist. The living room TV world is practically defined by gozintas, so unless this is a TV set just for my bedroom, or Apple can convince consumers to replace a whole lot of other boxes, it’s putting an Apple product inside a big mess. Doesn’t feel like their style as I see it.
4) Apple makes “transformative” stuff. Smartphones before Apple, with the exception of Palm products (early days) and a few other rarities, were ugly clunky awful things that came with plastic pens. Then the iPhone came, and most smartphones are better as a result. The iPad too, transformed the entire concept of a tablet, one so good nobody else is even realistically in the market right now (and probably won’t be for a while). They did it before with the original iMacs. In each case, there was an experience to transform. But TV isn’t broken in nearly the same way – yes, there are issues, but for the most part, most consumers utterly love the way TV works today. Further, in order to transform a TV experience, Apple would need to go leaps and bounds beyond current offerings. I’ll never count the company out on anything, but the entrenched TV ecosystem is a bigger badder monster than anyone’s taken on before. I have a very, very hard time seeing a transformation happening here.
5) Apple makes “well-distributed” stuff. Every Apple product is available anywhere in the US, as well as Canada and oodles of other countries. Even when the iPhone was only on AT&T you could buy it – you might have to switch carriers, but you could buy it. Many rumors put Apple partnering with cable companies (eg buy an Apple Television from Comcast with a 2-year contract, at a steep discount), but this limits distribution regionally in a major way. This would force them to deal only with satellite companies, but that brings an entirely different set of hurdles. This effectively rules out distribution partners as a deployment vehicle, which then in turn limits the product to being a “dumb set” – something that seems even less likely for the company.
I may be wrong. Heck, it’s Apple, they know how to solve problems others can’t even begin to figure out. Let’s also be real and notice that their little “hobby” is already the #1 Internet streamer on the market, in a single year! But something about the magic needed to make a TV might be out of reach for a little while longer here. Seems like until OLEDs become affordable (or some other equivalent step up) and until there’s a viable MVPD with full Internet distribution, we are going to have to wait a little longer for a glowing bezel to show up in our houses.