In an article at AppleInsider today, Josh Ong discusses reports that Apple may be working on a “Smart TV” prototype in a bid for the digital living room. Ong reported that “analyst Katy Huberty of Morgan Stanley wrote that the firm’s ‘checks in Asia suggest Apple is working on a Smart TV prototype.’ Though further details remained scarce, Huberty speculated that an Apple Smart TV could be an opportunity for the Cupertino, Calif., company to consolidate ‘TV/Video content, gaming, DVR, as well as other features like apps and FaceTime into one product,’ much like the company did with its strategy for the iPad.
Ong’s article is interesting, but I’m still not sure I buy Huberty’s thesis about Apple’s prototype, or Gene Munster’s similar long-held belief in an Apple-branded TV coming “real soon now”. I can’t make myself believe that Apple would enter such an already-glutted market of internet-enhanced TVs unless they can do two things:
1. Apple must bring a product to the table with a mix of features and potentialities that are so far beyond what the current market leaders offer that it disrupts that market and immediately establishes a new baseline for the category. As Apple did with the iPod, iPhone and iPad, Apple must produce a product which so fully outperforms the category that it demands attention.
2. Apple must do so in a way that establishes a clear and continuing profit center, with customers driven to upgrade equipment on a regular basis and supplement Apple’s income by supporting an Apple-dominated income stream tied to the device category. For the iPod, there is iTunes, for the iPhone there is the App Store, for the iPad it only starts with both of these — there will be more.
The first release of such a product does not have to be a total world-beater. Apple often takes time to refine a product’s focus over time. But from the first product it must show an exciting new direction that forces everyone else to play catchup from that moment on.
The iPod was not the first MP3 player, but it offered an ease of use and music capacity that made the category more than a high-tech toy. It offered a music player alternative that was so far beyond portable tape and disc players that it was not long before even casual music fans equated “iPod” with “music”. The companies already in the market never recovered their lead, and Apple owned the category before even much larger firms could gain any toehold.
The iPhone entered a market long grown stagnant in the hands of companies who thought of their consumers as captives. The market had abandoned innovation and customer-focus entirely. Apple offered a phone that was more than a phone — one that spoke to a long-suppressed consumer desire for an integrated portable information device. It was pricey, and it tied to a carrier not exactly known for flexibility and innovation, but it didn’t matter. The core concept was just right. Even a company like Google that was also known for innovation, dominating moves, and cutting-edge technology savvy — and running as hard as they can they still can barely stay within sight of Apple and the iPhone.
The iPad didn’t even have a market to enter, but it used the concept of a tablet computer to sneak under the radar. Some people thought of it as a big iPad Touch, some thought of it as a substitute for a netbook, and some saw a book reading device or a movie viewer. Most of the competition still pursues each of these goals and has no idea what the iPad is at all. The iPad 2 is the first refinement of what the iPad is becoming — a whole new device with its own set of capabilities that have yet to be explored.
The only way Apple will enter the TV market is with a device that is a quantum leap beyond where everyone else is right now. The original Apple TV was not such a device. It was a test to see what directions such a device would need to take. Apple TV 2 is a further refinement, testing other directions. But neither is a major diversion of Apple’s resources in the same way that the iPod, iPhone and iPad all were created.
I have no doubt that Apple can— and almost certainly will — dominate our living room media consumption as part of an ever-growing master plan. But I think they know already that an Apple-branded TV set won’t do it.
Apple must be able to offer a necessary package of category-dominating features and services effectively and in a way that brings maximum profits by providing the entire television package. And it is here where I think the concept of an Apple-branded television set fails. For the life of me, I can’t figure out how offering the whole TV package makes a stronger product, nor can I see it playing into Apple’s continual-upgrade or software strategies.
Apple might well build a prototype television set, but not as a serious product line. It would be more in the line of a proof-of-concept product like the existing Apple TV, or a showcase for an attempt to license a package of Apple technologies to tie third-party TVs to Apple’s ecosystem and services. This may be Apple’s next step, but it isn’t the goal.
If I knew the goal, I’d be helping to create it instead of just talking about it. But I do think it is bigger than an Apple television set. If I were in Steve Jobs’ shoes and had his position and abilities, I’d be aiming higher. The ultimate goal must be something that disrupts the whole cable/satellite/DVD/digital entertainment miasma and bypasses it to bring media consumers what they want in a clear, direct, and painless manner so that they separate themselves from their money without thinking about it. People will not replace large-screen TVs on a yearly basis, nor does owning the display screen offer Apple significant advantage over supplying a third-party display through a wire or a wireless connection.
The Apple TV 2 (and each further incremental advance on it) provides a way for Apple to send anything it wants to a third-party TV set without taking on the enormous manufacturing, marketing and support costs of making television sets. But these are peripherals, which need to be kept inexpensive so they can be frequently replaced with the latest model. The real breakthrough product will be a device that brings together everything you want to send to a screen and controls it all. Google wanted that from the Google TV concept, but (like so many Google concepts) it fails in ease of use. flexibility of execution, and consistency. Apple’s eventual solution will have all of that, in a way that leaves Apple holding the reins.
But it doesn’t need to be built into your display screen, and I just can’t convince myself that it will be.
Yet strong sales are backing up the hype — at least for now — suggesting something about the devices has caught on with consumers. What is that mysterious “something”? Purely marketing, I believe. Apple is nothing if not master of the glitzy sales pitch, and there’s never been better proof of that than the iPad’s current success.
Mark my words: The device — and all the others of its ilk that have sprung up for a piece of the action — are nothing more than a passing fad, at least in the mainstream.” —
Katherine Noyes of PCWorld, as quoted by Daring Fireball
Oh, brother! I hope Ms. Noyes seasoned those words well. She’s going to be eating them eventually.
Well, if my iPad wasn’t already earning it’s keep, it certainly is now. I’ve been laid up since Friday night with an injured left foot. It appears I have torn the tendon that goes under the arch to the heel. I’ll know more once my doctor sees me and they do some imaging this week.
Menwhile, I can’t put full weight on the left foot. (This is an improvement from Friday night when I could put no weight on it at all.) I can now make short treks (to the bathroom, thank goodness) with a walker and determination, and I otherwise live in a lift chair temporarily. But I can’t easily make the U-turn necessary to get behind my desk.
This leaves me using my iPad as my primary connection to the world. I spent a good deal of the weekend sleeping off my pain pills, but with the iPad I have an endless supply of books, articles, video, news, music, and instant communication.
Thank you, Apple. Thank you, Twitter and Tumblr. Thank you, Flipbook and Zite. Thank you, Netflix and Air Video. Thank you, Angry Birds and Plamts vs Zombies. Thank you, Google Reader and Amazon Kindle Store. Thank you, NPR and TWiT.tv.
I occasionally suffer from plantar fasciitis — an inflammation of the tendons in the arch of the foot that manifests itself as severe heel pain. Normally, it goes away by itself after a period of weeks —or months. I’ve been limping around for several weeks, and switching the shoes I normally wear to work seemed to help me today.
…or it did right up until this evening when my left arch suddenly tore through.
I didn’t know what I’d done at first. Fortunately, I didn’t fall when it happened but I soon discovered that I could bear no weight on my left foot at all without excruciating pain. A cane wouldn’t cut it. I’m a big CouchGuy, and it eventually took two paramedics, a couple of firefighters, and an ambulance to get me to the ER.
X-rays revealed no broken bones. Instead, I tore through the inflamed tendons. (The ER doc called it “self-surgery”. Essentially I did basically the same thing they do for advanced cases of plantar fasciitis. I just did it all at once with no anesthesia. I also went directly from “limping fat guy” to “mostly immobile” in about a second.
I’m told this will probably heal up on its own now, but in the meantime I’m using a walker when I absolutely must move, and am mostly confined to my recliner otherwise. This will give me lots of time to watch Netflix on Apple TV 2, play with GarageBand on my iPad, read the Kindle edition of Up Against It by @MorganJLocke… and maybe blog