Thoughts on the Apple TV
Here are some thoughts on the Apple TV (iTV) and whether we should hope for it to appear. This author does not. Disclosure: Apple convert, long AAPL. (Also: not a native speaker.)
An Apple Television is often named as a potential new killer-device for Apple. Shaking up the established TV-world is something many of us would like to see happening. The success of video-on-demand services is a clear indicator we grow tired of watching our favorite shows at a time set by someone else and interrupted by constant ads.
Also, the novelty of the iPhone and iPad has worn off, so it's about time Apple pulls a new rabbit out of the hat. Will it be a device to put broadcasters on the same leash the music industry found itself on after the rise of the iPod?
First of all: it's here. Famously referred to as a 'hobby', the Apple TV has existed in 2 versions so far. The first one had a hard disk, the second one (a black box, more or less the size of a hockey puck) has solid state memory used purely for buffering. These devices are controlled by Apple, who dictated what features they have (recently, a Wall Street Journal menu option has appeared on mine which I neither want nor can get rid of) and they connect to any HDMI-capable television. I own five of them, because they are very good media players, have built-in wifi and ethernet and can be controlled via both a small, elegant remote or whatever iDevice you happen to have on hand. They provide access to whatever media is on your 'big' Mac, as well as Youtube, Vimeo, Flicker, video on demand services Netflix and Hulu as well as specialty channels such as the NBA, NFL, WSJ and, finally, Podcasts. And more importantly: Vodcasts. On the same device you can choose from thousands upon thousands of rental movies (with access to a free preview or the trailer) and rent them for very reasonable prices. And to top it off, it is a gateway to your TV for any iDevice and it displays any recent pictures you may have taken on those devices. Honestly, it's here. The innards of the Apple TV already exist.
If Apple were to build an actual TV, they would have to add a display, speakers and a tuner. And I can't for the life of me think why they would want to do that.
There are several large manufacturers of TV's and their components: LG, Sony, Samsung, Sharp, to name a few. They've been in business for years, which means that margins on televisions are far from what Apple is used to, a variety in screen dimensions and their price points have more or less been fixed in our minds and product lines are updated several times per year. The rate of innovation is fierce, with even the silliest of technologies (Philips Ambilight springs to mind, as does the current obsession with UltraHD) being tested in the market. Now imagine Apple shows up with a TV that is (a) far pricier than anything on the market, (b) can't possibly display better quality video than is currently available and (c) has exactly the same bag of tricks up its sleeve as the hockeypuck they're now selling for 99 dollars. Those who would buy that extra expensive Apple Television (which I will refer to as iTV from now on, to differentiate between the as yet hypothetical device everybody is clamoring for and the hockeypuck now on sale actually called Apple TV) would scrutinize every pixel on the screen and either find no difference to much more attractively priced displays or find some sort of fault, real or perceived (remember antennagate?) and have an aneurysm.
Apple does in fact build displays that are just that: the Thunderbolt display, formerly the LED Cinema display, looks exactly like an iMac but is 'just' a monitor with speakers. It retails at $ 999 and measures 27 inches. I picked up an LG tv for $ 700 recently that is 42 inches, has network connectivity, gorgeous 3D, a mouse pointer remote and that can record to an external harddisk. It has a very thin bevel and though it's no Apple design, it is far from ugly. For $ 99 extra, I made it into an iTV.
If Apple charges $ 999 for a 27 inch monitor, imagine what it will charge for an iTV. This means many people will want to get as much extra value from their iTV as possible. You can bet there will be people trying to turn it into a cheap iMac. Apple will block their every move, which will cause resentment. Also, televisions have an expected economic life span far longer than 3 years, which is longer than Applecare currently covers for anything. If I pay over $ 1500 for a TV (which, admittedly, is a number I'm just making up now because it seems to me an iTV will easily cost that, if not much more) and it breaks down after 5 years, I'm going to have to want it fixed. And the last thing I want to hear is: 'Sorry, your Applecare ran out 2 years ago and besides, the screen is glued to the casing which in turn has been frictionwelded shut so nobody can fix it anyway.'
So Apple should stay away from televisions. It's just as silly an idea as saying Apple should be in printers. Anything they want to do, they can do by sending a firmware update to the current Apple TV. Let someone else worry about broken pixels...
For an encore, here's what I think Apple SHOULD be doing:
1. Stop this obsession with thinner and lighter. It makes some sort of sense for a phone, though I'd happily carry an iPhone that was 2 mm thicker and 50 grams heavier if it meant I could leave it on overnight without waking up to find it has died like an unattended Tamagotchi. For the iMac, it is just bizarre that something you exclusively see from the FRONT has been made thinner. I don't think anyone ever saw the 2010 iMac and said: 'You know, it's kinda nice but why is it so THICK?'
2. Stop using glue. Or in other words: give us a shot at fixing these things. We pay a premium for Apple devices and that is one more reason we should have the opportunity to use them for as long as we see fit. If Apple limits Applecare to 3 years, so be it. But if I hang on to my iPad for 4 years (and why not) it should be my decision to invest in a new battery or to have a button fixed. (Never mind the Retina Macbook Pro, which scored a 1 (out of 10) on the repairability scale from famous tinkerers iFixit. I drool every time I walk past the Apple Store, but this is a bridge I will never cross.)
3. Serve the professional market better. It has been ages since the Mac Pro, used by many an audiovisual company, has seen a decent upgrade. These people were your bread and butter once and they deserve continues support and the latest and greatest products. They shouldn't have to be relegated to using glued-up Macbook Pro's to run their businesses.
Disclosure: I am long AAPL.
Additional disclosure: This is my first article, it does not focus on financials and it represents nothing but my private thoughts on the subject.