Week in Tech: Apple can conquer television without a TV set

OPINION: This week TrustedReviews’ man in the United States looks at Apple’s reported decision to ditch flatscreen plans, how Spotify reminded him of The Godfather and how a poorly-timed Samsung commercial gave him tech guilt.

Apple’s path to taking over television doesn’t involve a TV set
So Apple gave up on developing a TV set a year ago? As there’s been zero recent buzz, the news won’t come as a shock. Actually, it might be more surprising that Cupertino was ever planning one in the first place.

Manufacturing and marketing an expensive flatscreen television always seemed like an unnecessary and risky venture for Apple, especially when it already had a ready-made platform with tons of untapped potential ready to be exploited.

The apparent decision to focus on Apple TV development, with a souped-up set-top box expected at WWDC, still allows the company to achieve Steve Jobs’ fabled “grand vision” for television. Why? Because there’s nothing it could do with a fully fledged set that it can’t with a set-top box.

What matters for Apple, and what is going to make it money, isn’t the TV itself; it’s content distribution in this bold, new world order for the industry. Apple needs more streaming agreements with producers and providers, like the one it recently signed with HBO. It needs all the live sports, all of the hit dramas and everything in between. It needs flexible content packages, no-strings-attached subscriptions and a proposition to leave cable in the dark ages.

It needs to do what it does best: wrap that content in a beautiful, easy-to-use interface with a fully loaded ecosystem of content. It needs a flawless content guide with iTunes integration, it needs simple search, it needs 4K compatibility, it needs Siri voice integration. Need I go on?

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HBO Now Apple TV

We’re at the precipice of massive, generational change in the way we consume TV content, and Apple must convince consumers that its way forward is the way forward.

Apple doesn’t need its own set to achieve that; a new and improved, sub-£100 Apple TV box will do just fine. The little hockey puck can allow customers to enjoy Apple’s best efforts without the massive expense of upgrading their TV. Because unlike Apple’s staple iPhone line, buying a new telly happens once every 5-10 years for most households.

The TV landscape is too tumultuous. There’s a host of competing formats vying to become the standard, too many size preferences to cater for, and still no way to know how 4K is really going to pan out quite yet. Profit margins are so slim (again unlike the iPhone), that even TV innovator Sony is looking to sell off its millstone of a Bravia division that haemorrhages money year after year after year.

An Apple-branded flatscreen television would have cost hundreds of millions to develop and would likely have been priced too far beyond the reach of most consumers to sufficiently recoup the investment.

It’s clearly the wrong time to be diving head first into the flatscreen market. If it stays smart (and it usually does) Apple can let the likes of Sony, Samsung and LG deal with the headache of trying to turn a profit, while it cleans up with a must-buy Apple TV set-top box and a proposition to match.

READ MORE: Best 4K TVs for 2015
Samsung TV

Spotify is The Godfather of music. Is it starting to act like one?
I’m not sure whether Spotify’s expansion into podcasts, video and fitness is truly borne out of a desire to bring more intriguing content to its subscribers, or whether it’s just to cut rivals such as Tidal and YouTube off at the pass.

For me, the move is reminiscent of that scene in The Godfather where Tom Hagen floats the offer from Sollozo the heroin dealer.

The Consigliere says (abridged for convenience): “If we don’t get into it, somebody else will, maybe one of the Five Families, maybe all of them… And with the money they earn… Then they come after us…. If we don’t get a piece of that action we risk everything we have. Not now, but ten years from now.”

How much of that is playing into Spotify’s thinking right now? Of course Don Corleone declined the offer to enter the “dirty business,” but it didn’t work out too well for him.

Spotify does music really, really well. Better than anyone. There’s nothing wrong with branching out, broadening horizons and delivering a better content package to its users, but tech history is littered with cautionary tales from companies who spread themselves too thinly by deviating from their core offering.

Facebook is the biggest and least attractive example of a company that believes it must own the entire internet. It wants to be all things to all people and that’s such a huge turn-off. There’s plenty of internet for everyone, and there’s a fine line between becoming stagnant and diluting the offering.

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Spotify 15

Do we realise how lucky we are?
I was watching the first Red Nose Day in the US on Thursday night. As with the UK version, it was a combination of unfunny skits, awkward celebrity martyrs reading from Teleprompters, and heart-wrenching tales of children all over the world living in abject poverty.

Cutting to a break, the first commercial was for Samsung’s new range of smart home appliances. It featured totes adorbs real-life married couple Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard being totes adorbs.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jPgt7ot-8FU

It was quite an unfortunate pierce of juxtaposition. From a homeless 12-year-old orphan sleeping in garbage in Uganda, to the perfect Hollywood couple in the perfect home, surrounded by pristine appliances that make it easy for them to throw perfect dinner parties on the reg for their perfect friends. You’d think commercials of that ilk would be more tactfully placed, but capitalism!

Anyway, it hit me on a personal level. In our fraternity, we place so much focus on how tech makes our lives more enjoyable and convenient. Yet we throw a hissy fit when tech goes wrong, like it’s something resembling an actual problem. We’re surrounded by this stuff that makes life so much easier that it gives us time to play with our other stuff.

Within all this there seems to be little real comprehension of how fortunate we are to be living in a society where “The Next Big Thing” is some washing machine we don’t need rather than a meal or a home or a family.

I’m not really sure what I’m getting at here. Just food for thought, I guess. We’re pretty lucky to have tech as a hobby. Maybe the timing of the commercial was deliberate? It sure encouraged me to cough up a few bucks (but not on tech, obvs).

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