On an Apple-branded TV

Walter Isaacson suggests that Steve Jobs and Apple had been working on an Apple-branded TV, and are close to acheiving their goal. From Isaacson’s bio of Steve Jobs:

“‘[Jobs] very much wanted to do for television sets what he had done for computers, music players, and phones: make them simple and elegant…’ Isaacson wrote. ‘I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use,’ [Jobs] told me. ‘It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud.’ No longer would users have to fiddle with complex remotes for DVD players and cable channels. ‘It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.’”

Of course, “I finally cracked it” doesn’t mean that a product is ready, but New York Times writer Nick Bilton lends further credence to the idea at the paper’s Bits Blog:

“I immediately began snooping around, asking Apple employees and people close to the company if a full fledged Apple Television was in the works. ‘Absolutely, it is a guaranteed product for Apple,’ I was told by one individual…It is coming though. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.”

Let’s assume that Apple will release a TV of some sort. Would it be an actual television set or a souped-up version of Apple TV that connects to a customer’s existing set? For now I’m leaning towards a set-top box, as the logistics of selling an actual television seem daunting.

  • Who will sell it? HDTVs are big, space-hogging things. Are the smaller Apple Stores equipped to stock and display several units? What about authorized resellers?
  • How does service work? Unlike an iPhone or even a Mac Pro, an HDTV isn’t something you can carry into a Genius Bar.
  • What about Apple’s refresh cycle? Many people keep their TVs for years, even decades. Apple typically refreshes their hardware product lines every two years or so.

How about a remote control? I talked about this on The Bro Show this afternoon. Bilton suggests that the Apple HDTV will use Siri, which makes Jobs’s cryptic “It will have the simplest user interface you can image” comment in Isaacson’s book even more tantalizing. There’s got to be a way to engage Siri. On the iPhone 4S, you simply press the home button, and it seems that a TV would require a similar trigger. You can’t just say “Siri.” What if someone has a cat named Siri or is talking about Siri? Also, many people sit several feet away from their television. You can’t be shouting at it. It’s simple to say, “Well, use your iOS device as the remote,” and I can see that happening. But what about those who don’t have one?

The idea is new and I’ve only just begun thinking about it. There is, however, one thing I’ll confidently add to the record. If Apple does sell its own TV, it will pull it off in a way that none of us have imagined. Meanwhile, I can only think of the project in terms that I already understand.

Guy Kawasaki described this very phenomenon while reflecting on the time he spent at Apple:

 “‘Apple market research’ is an oxymoron. The Apple focus group was the right hemisphere of Steve’s brain talking to the left one. If you ask customers what they want, they will tell you, ‘Better, faster, and cheaper’—that is, better sameness, not revolutionary change. They can describe their desires only in terms of what they are already using—around the time of the introduction of Macintosh, all that people said they wanted was a better, faster, and cheaper MS-DOS machine. The richest vein for tech startups is creating the product that you want to use—that’s what Steve and Woz did.”

For now, we wait.