Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Apple TV - My Predictions

For almost a year now, rumors of an impending Apple TV have been hitting the various news & technology sites.  More recently it's even factored into many financial analysts' views on the future of Apple stock.  But in all this time, I've not seen a detailed description of what such a TV might be able to do that is different from today's existing hardware.  Many people think that it's main feature (aside from Apple's vaunted ease-of-use) will be the ability to subscribe to individual cable channels - a feature that will depend entirely on Apple being able to strike a deal with the cable companies.  So I thought to myself: hey, you're into technology and are using most of Apple's existing gadgets and various existing media/streaming sites - why not use that knowledge to describe what you think an Apple TV might look like.  So here I go :-)

First, the obvious: physical design & price.  I think Apple will continue its existing design language and make the TV look like a larger iMac or Cinema Display.  The new iMacs are razor thin at the edges and clad in aluminum like all Apple devices are these days.  I expect a minimum or non-existent bezel around the screen - i.e. the front will be all black with the back enclosure aluminum.  The stand will likely also be an aluminum contraption similar to the Cinema Displays.  There will probably be two or three sizes (42", 55", and maybe something even larger, to accommodate its more affluent customers who have gargantuan rooms).  Price-wise, I expect the 55" version to be around $2500-$3500 (based on the fact that the top-of-the-line Samsung LED TVs cost that much).

Next, the user interface.  Apple already has an "Apple TV" product that might give a hint as to how one might interact with the actual TV: basically a grid of icons that get you to the content you want.  Since the remote on the existing Apple TV product, while sexy, is somewhat lacking in basic usability (if you ever tried to enter a search keyword using its onscreen alphabetic keyboard, you'll understand what I mean), the TV will come with an iPodTouch-like remote control that duplicates what you see on the TV.   Essentially "mirroring" (a feature that newer Apple devices already support) in reverse.  There will be an app for existing iDevices that can do the same thing - so any existing iPod, iPhone, or iPad can become an additional remote control for the TV!

What about content?  Well, some of the content will be exactly what you already get with the existing Apple TV box: access to iTunes content, Netflix, Pandora, etc.  But, no doubt, there will also be real-time TV channels to choose from.  How these channels get into the Apple TV is an interesting bit to conjecture on.  It could be that there will be the traditional coax connector in the back of the TV and either software or a hardware "module" from your local Cable provider that will emulate the cable box (sort of like the failed CableCARD standard of yesteryear).  But I don't see Apple allowing something as retro as a coax cable to come into its beautiful devices - Apple is renowned for simplifying the cabling to its devices - why would they want to propagate such an antiquated connection?   I think Apple will do all the work in its data centers and simply stream the content to your TV.  The channels you "see" will depend on what deals Apple can strike with which content providers and what you subscribe to.  So if Apple strikes a deal only with Comcast and your current cable company is Cablevision, the programming you'd see on your Apple TV will be Comcast's rather than Cablevision's (so you'd use Cablevision only for your Internet).  If Apple strikes a deal with both cable companies, you might even get a choice on which cable company gets to bill you!  Although, either way, you'd simply be paying through your iTunes account :-)  Finally, depending on what deals Apple can strike with these cable companies, you'd either continue to have to buy "packages" of channels or you might get to pick individual channels.  I hope it's the latter - I only really watch a couple channels - why am I subsidizing all the other crap that's in my "package"?
The channel guide will be on a "time line", initially centered around the current time.  But you can slide backwards in time and access TV programs that have already happened (i.e. no more DVR needed).  Maybe those shows will even have advertising automatically (or, more likely, for a price) stripped.

What am I missing?  Oh yeah, since it's an iOS device, it'll have all the existing benefits of being part of the Apple ecosystem: any Apple device can stream content to the TV (AirPlay, Mirroring).  Apple might also figure out a way for multiple iOS devices to share the same Apple TV - thus allowing for multiple player games on the same big screen!

Well, that about does it.  What do you think?