Rumours have been building in recent months that Apple is set to move in a big way into television. There’s been talk of some sort of partnership with Samsung, Steve Jobs wanting to “revolutionise television” before the publication of an authorised biography next year (and before he moves beyond this mortal coil), and then there’s Apple’s recent investment in “the cloud”.

It makes sense to me that television would be the next area the company tries to involve itself heavily. The TV is the one screen in our lives for which Apple doesn’t yet offer a product for (“Apple TV” as it exists as a product has always been said just to be an experiment, rather than a core aspect of the Apple product suite). It’s not a matter of whether Apple will release a TV set, but rather it’s a matter of when.

What could the launch of an Apple TV (note: It’s unlikely such a device would be called the iTV due to the existence of, well, ITV) mean to the home-viewing experience? Much like their previous devices, one would assume an Apple TV would be very app-centric. While many TV distributors/content aggregators/content creators have offered apps in the past to access their content, how many of them would be able to risk not offering a dedicated service directly to a TV audience?

There are obviously no answers yet as to how audiences relationship with television will change and how content providers will respond in kind. What we can assume is that current modes of delivery will change and, with that, established TV brands will evolve. It’s easy to imagine a scenario where a cable TV channel establishes a direct to consumer product that enables a viewer to subscribe directly to their service, bypassing a cable TV platform provider. No longer is that infrastructure a necessary part of the equation.

To provide a local example, would MTV necessarily find any value delivering its service through Foxtel when it could provide the same access to music videos and original programming via an app? Could we instead see new brands be developed for an Apple TV? Using that same MTV example, instead of offering a linear stream of music videos, could they instead offer a more personalised service for the viewer tailored to their specific tastes? Much like with iPad content, we’ll likely see a lot of experimentation by content providers until they find the most profitable avenue for their product.

The television itself poses several questions. One would expect a Bluetooth remote control, possibly something along the lines of the innovative remote that the Boxee Box offers. But what else? Could it also offer similar engagement as a device such as Kinect or the Wii? Sure, the device will likely mimic the iPhone/iPad in offering a touch screen, but will it be similar in connectivity? Would Apple TV consumers be willing to buy a TV that doesn’t offer inputs like USB, S-Video, HDMI, etc? An entirely cloud-based device seems unlikely with televisions so dependent on integration with other devices such as sound systems, DVD/BD players, gaming consoles, etc. I’d suggest few people would be willing to purchase a device such as this that renders their DVD collection completely worthless.

The big question surrounding an Apple TV is whether the device would have a TV tuner built in. While I’m not convinced TV viewers would be prepared to pay so much for a TV-like device that doesn’t offer broadcast TV access, Apple will no doubt tie an Apple TV to iTunes TV and movie purchases, along with potential cloud-based content portals that may be yet to launch. A TV tuner may be all it takes to make or break this device.

One of the more unexpected successes of the iPhone/iPad was the boom in casual gaming. Instead of being content just to play Snake while waiting for a train, smart phone users have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on games to play on the phone. Depending on what form an Apple TV could take, this could just as easily revolutionise the console gaming industry. While dedicated game machines may not be threatened, consider casual gaming machines such as the Wii. If designed with games in mind, the Apple TV could seriously impact this space. The key for Apple is ensuring that the remote control is adaptable for browsing and for interaction. Just imagine how popular something such as a Zynga game like Farmville may be on the television? Is Farmville potentially a stronger brand in 2011 than Super Mario?

While it’s unlikely Apple TV would attract many productivity applications — entertainment is the main thrust behind a large screen in the living room — such a product could open up the television to all manner of interesting mixed-purpose use. It’s a given that Apple would likely be keen to bring FaceTime to the television, bringing family and friends together in the lounge room.

It should be stated that an Apple TV isn’t going to directly influence every TV viewer across the world. But Apple is a dominant market influencer and will be able to shift the industry towards such change. Consider mobile phones: Apple owned the smart phone space for several years until Google Android emerged; we now have two dominant mobile operating systems that control smart phones and tablet computing. I’d expect something similar to happen in the TV space. Perhaps Google-led?

Regardless, an Apple TV signifies a change in the way that consumers interact with their television in a scope that current connected TV’s simply cannot achieve.

Peter Fray

Save up to 50% on a year of Crikey.

This extraordinary year is almost at an end. But we know that time waits for no one, and we won’t either. This is the time to get on board with Crikey.

For a limited time only, choose what you pay for a year of Crikey.

Save up to 50% or dig deeper so we can dig deeper.

See you in 2021.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

SAVE 50%