This Is What Apple's New TV Will Be All About
In the Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs biography, we were told how Steve Jobs claimed to have cracked the TV dilemma.
In a recent interview with Brian Williams, Tim Cook talked about how TV is stuck in the past and how he loves the Jetsons.
It's no big secret that Apple (AAPL) has a TV project on a shelf somewhere in Cupertino. The mystery is about how it will differ from current TV. Here's my theory:
Before we talk about TV, let's look at how radio, our second most popular form of "streaming media," has changed over the years. In the past, you'd turn on the radio and listen to whatever happened to be playing on the radio station you happened to be tuned to.
That was supplemented by purchases of records, then CDs and then online downloading of music which allowed us to listen to whatever we decided to play whenever we felt like it.
Our audio streaming remained pretty much restricted to vertical silos called radio stations who decided the type of programming we would be listening to (albeit slightly random to please the widest range of listeners to whom they were catering). If you were in the mood for a significant change in your music, you would tune to a different channel, i.e. a different vertical silo of entertainment.
We were prisoners of whatever that silo had to offer, taking the bad with the good.
However, over the past few years, our method of receiving our streamed audio entertainment has been revolutionized. A different way of getting our streamed audio media appeared when Pandora (P) came onto the scene.
Today, we launch Pandora. Type in the name of an artist or the type of music we feel like listening to and we spend the next few hours listening to a horizontal variety of music that we enjoy.
Not only do we listen to the artists we know, but we are introduced to the artists that we don't know as Pandora offers up an artist with a style that it thinks we will like, based on its understanding of our preferences. An occasional thumbs-up or thumbs-down and Pandora fine tunes its appreciation of our musical tastes.
Television is Stuck in the Past
Meanwhile, television, our most popular form of streamed entertainment has remained much the same as in its early days: multiple vertical silos of entertainment.
The biggest change to content access on TV was the move from strictly over-the-air television to cable or satellite. This "evolution" simply increased the number of silos of entertainment that were offered to us. A wider range of general silos were added, as well as specialty silos, such as movies, news, shopping, sports, etc.
VCRs, the arrival of Netflix (NFLX) and other on-demand video added additional options. However, there was no revolution. Aside from some recommendations based on previous viewing, as in the early days, we are still restricted to flipping from one vertical silo to another. Although the quantity of available content has increased, it has only made navigating through our options even tougher.
We've gone from newspaper listings to TV Guide to onscreen guides, but to a large extent, the method of selection of television content is stuck in the past. Television is serving us not much differently than in the days of I Love Lucy.
Apple is About Improving The Way Humans Interface with Their Devices
Let's remember that Apple focus isn't just about hardware and software. Apple is all about interface and the human interaction with our devices.
Apple didn't invent the first MP3 player, but it dramatically changed the way people interacted with their MP3 device (scroll wheel and menu system) and how they got the content onto their device (iTunes).
As per Apple's Human Interface Guidelines: "A great user interface follows human interface design principles that are based on the way people -users- think and work, not on the capabilities of the device."
Interaction as Simple as a Conversation
In his introduction of the iPhone, Steve Jobs re-introduced us to the world's best pointing device. It wasn't a mouse or a stylus. It was something that we were born with and use naturally: our finger.
The iPhone and later the iPad have simplified our interaction with our computing devices. Everyone from two-year old children to 95 year old grandmothers use their natural pointing device to interact with their iPads.
Interaction with the countless options offered by a video streaming service is more complex. What is the best device available for communicating complex commands? It's not a handheld television remote or an iPad or a finger, but something else we were born with: our voice.
This is where the soon to be released Apple TV set joined by a newcomer to the scene, our new friend Siri, will shine. The hardware won't be significantly different (that is except for Apple's attention to the minutest detail and stunning design). Siri will be the interface element that will make our interaction with the television as simple as a conversation.
Siri Meets Pandora
Forget about the onscreen guides, countless remotes, flipping channels or complicated menu systems (I can hear my wife, Denise, cheering already).
That same level of simplicity that came to phones and tablets will be brought to our interaction with our televisions. The TV will no longer be the dumb one-way terminals they are today. All the data from your cable company's online guide will be downloaded to Apple's data center.
You'll ask for your favorite show or simply tell Siri you want to watch a comedy. Of course, it will all be on-demand, even the news. No more missing the 10 o'clock news by 5 minutes. Siri will learn your viewing preferences and you'll always have your favorite shows and the latest news buffered in Apple's data centers.
Manually clicking through endless screens of current and future programming data ( television's version of MS-DOS) will be a thing of the past.
Just the Beginning
But it won't end there. This will be your iPad on steroids. The front facing cam will not only be for FaceTime with Mom, it will be for "Siri, how do I look?" Of course, Siri will tell you that you look great but maybe Philips' VitalSigns app will tell you that your heart rate seems a bit high this morning.
As for home automation, your iPad already controls your lights with Philips Hue and your A/C and heating with the Nest or 3M thermostat. But why bother with a touchscreen when you can tell your teleputer to turn up the heat or turn down the lights. (Or is it a teleportal?)
But with all of this increased interaction with our TV what happens when you leave the room? The fact that televisions are no longer enormous pieces of furniture whose footprints take up a significant portion of a room means that you can hang one in practically every major room in the house. The proximity sensor will help Siri follow us from room to room. Just as iCloud brings our photos and data from device to device, our conversations will follow us from room to room.
We're talking about a screen in the bedroom, living room and a smaller one on the fridge. (ka-ching, ka-ching, AAPL shareholders).
OK. I'm getting carried away, but am I way off base?
After writing the above "theory," I did a little bit of research and came across U.S. Patent No. 8,249,497 awarded to Apple on August 21, 2012 for "Seamless switching between radio and local media."
At the time this patent became public, almost everyone assumed this was for a Pandora type radio experience. (Pandora stock took a major dip when the story hit the news wires).
An article that appeared in an August 23, 2012 on audio4cast.com describes the patent this way:
"By using information available from RDS data, broadcast listings or published programming schedules, the device would determine in advance what programming might not be of interest to the user and then switch to songs or podcasts stored on the device or streamed from a cloud based library. The system reportedly uses the device owner's content consumption habits, as well as "like" and "dislike" interactive features to determine preferences."
However, as pointed out in an August 21, 2012 Apple Insider article:
Apple Insider also goes on to say: "Seemingly, Apple is proposing a way to not only transform radio listening, but also television broadcasts."
"Insiders say the cloud-based device is meant to blur the line between live and on-demand television."
Apple isn't interested in getting into the radio market. Pandora-like video is the target of this patent.
The Final Countdown
Television is coming back to be a significant part of our life again. But this time, as an active participant.
Just as the iPad sat on a shelf until everything was ready to fall in place, Apple has been getting ready for this for years. It's just been waiting for all the components to be flight-tested, fall in the right pricing range and be ready to go:
- AppleTV, "the hobby" - Siri, "the beta" - Reasonably priced screens - and a slew of data-centers.
It's only a question of time before all systems are ready for launch. And, the countdown has started.
Disclosure: I am long AAPL.