If they did it, how Apple would make a TV
It's the fashionable thing to speculate on future Apple products. One idea that continues to get traction is the Apple TV, a complete TV set with integrated Apple-ly features. Supposedly to be announced this fall, after failing to appear at any event for the past three years, it will revolutionize up the TV market, cure global warming, and cause puppies and kittens to slide down rainbows in joy.
I don't buy it. I don't think Apple will make a TV. Televisions are low margin devices with high capital costs. Most of the current manufacturers barely break even.
Furthermore, the market is saturated. Pretty much anyone in the rich world who wants a TV has one. Apple needs growth opportunities. The last thing they need is a new product with an upgrade cycle at least twice as long as desktop computers. It doesn't make sense.
All that said, speculating about products is a useful mental exercise. It sharpens the mind and helps you focus when working on real products. So here we go:
If Apple Made a TV, How Would They Do It?
First let's take care of the exterior. In Apple fashion it would be pretty and slender. Either a nice brushed aluminum frame like the current iMac or a nearly invisible bezel. I suspect they will encourage wall mounting so the TV appears to just float. The current Apple set top box will be integrated, as will network connections, usb, etc. Nothing to plug in except the power cord.
Next, we can assume the current Apple TV will become the interface for the whole device. A single remote with on screen controls for everything. While I love my Roku, I hate having to use one remote for the interface and a second for power and volume.
Third, they will probably add a TV app store. I don't think it will feature much in the way of games and traditional apps. Rather, much like the Roku, there will be apps for each channel or service. The current Apple TV essentially has this now with the NetFlix and HBO apps. The only difference would be opening the store up to more 3rd party devs.
I think we can assume this will another client of your digital hub. Apple already wants us to put all of our music, videos, and photos into
So far everything I've described can be done with the current Apple TV set-top box. So why build a TV. Again, I don't think they will; but if they would need to add something to the experience beyond simply integrating
First, a camera for FaceTime. Better yet, four of them, one in each corner of the screen. Four cameras would give you a wide field of view (with 3D capture as a bonus) that can track fast moving toddler as they move around the living room. This is perfect for video chatting with the grandparents.
Furthermore, there are modern (read: CPU intensive) vision algorithms that can synthesize a single image from multiple cameras. Right now the camera is always off to the side of the screen, so your eyes never meet when you look at the person on the other end. With these algorithms the Apple TV could create a synthetic image of you as if the camera was right in the middle of the TV. Combined with the wide field of view and a few software tricks we could finally have video phones done right. It would feel like the other person is right on the other side of your living room. It could even create parallax effects if you move around the room.
Video calls are a clear differentiator between the Apple TV and regular TVs, and something that a set top box alone couldn't do. I'm not sure it's enough to make the sale, though. What else?
How about the WWDC announcement of HomeKit? An AppleTV sure sounds like a good home hub for smart automation accessories. If you outfit your house with smart locks, door cameras, security systems, and air conditioners, I can see the TV being a nice place to see the overview. Imagine someone comes to the door while you are watching a show. The show scales down to corner while a security camera view appears on the other screen. You can choose to respond or pretend you aren't home. If it's a UPS guy you can ask them to leave it on the front door.
I imagine the integration could go further. Apple also announced HealthKit. The Apple TV becomes a big screen interface into your cloud of Apple stuff, including your health data. What happens if you combine wearable sensors with an Apple TV. See a live map of people in the house, ala HP's Marauders Map. An exercise app can take you through a morning routine using both the cameras and a FitBit to measure your vitals.
A TV really could become another useful screen in your home, something more than just a video portal. I think the idea has a lot of potential. However, other than a camera and microphones almost everything I've detailed above could be done with a beefed up standalone Apple TV set top box. I still don't think a full TV makes sense.
Posted June 9th, 2014