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Apple Doesn't Need a Television

Gordon Kelly


Apple Doesn't Need a Television

meWe shouldn't blame Walter Isaacson. 13 months ago his official biography of Steve Jobs revealed the recently-deceased Apple CEO had his mind set on revolutionising television. "He very much wanted to do for television sets what he had done for computers, music players, and phones," Isaacson wrote. More too Jobs reportedly told him: "I finally cracked it."

The tech press went nuts and a product was expected before the end of the year. Quickly expectations were redefined and an Apple television would instead launch before the end of 2012. In September reports leaked that it may skip 2012 altogether. And now we hear Microsoft wants to get in on the act and Xbox TV will take on Apple's TV in 2013.


Stop. Stop. Stop! It's time for some perspective because both Apple and Microsoft would be mad to make televisions.

For a start let's look at the financial aspect. According to The Economist "none of the companies that make large liquid crystal display panels earn money from it" and between 2004 and 2010 the industry lost a combined $13bn. This sector not only includes televisions, but screens for monitors, laptops and explosive growth areas like mobile phones and tablets. Prices for LCD panels have fallen by 80 per cent since 2004. Costs for their manufacturing have fallen 50 per cent.

Volume doesn't help. Panasonic's television division has been unprofitable for the last four years, Sony for the last eight years. In fact just three weeks after Isaacson's revelations about Jobs' supposed master plan emerged former Sony CEO Howard Stringer (below) was publicly admitting "every TV set we all make loses money". In Sony's case The Economist clocks that at $45 per set. Even the mighty Samsung, the world's biggest producer, found its division has so consistently turned in losses the division was spun off as "Samsung Display" in April. Long term the solution for Microsoft and Apple could be OLED, but for now it remains prohibitively expensive.


Of course the counter point is no Apple or Microsoft TV would just be a TV. Instead both companies will find profitability through integration of 'smart' functionality. Except they won't.

What we have seen this year alone in receiving two generations of iPad eight months apart (the iPad 4 having twice the performance of the iPad 3) is that truly smart devices are constantly evolving and their lifecycles are getting ever shorter. Time flies in the 'smart' world. The original iPad has already been cut adrift both in terms of performance and software support and it was only released in mid 2010. It's almost a relic.


Would you think the same way about the television you bought 2 1/2 years ago? If not do you want to be locked into an upgrade cycle that pressures you to replace yet another electronic item every few years... and one that is more expensive than the rest? It all makes about as much sense as those integrated TV/DVD players. And even if Apple and Microsoft ignored all these factors they would find the television market is already saturated with annual growth having dropped into the single digits.

So enough criticisms, what about solutions? Arguably they are staring us in the face. With the launch of the Wii U Nintendo has bet the future of the company on the success of second screens. This equates to a controller with an integrated display which lets you control the main action on the TV while it simultaneously displays complimentary information. It's brilliant, except it will fail. Why? The concept is superb, it is simply Apple, Microsoft and indeed Google are far better positioned to capitalise on it.


In Apple, Microsoft and Google land the second screen is a tablet or smartphone. Their flagship devices are already catching up to the speed of current generation consoles and they are far more regularly upgraded, all the while packing in premium TV channels and gaming in the shape of apps. Sure the dedicated games console and set top box may have another generation in them, but after that it is time to knock out the middle man and let TV and handheld devices communicate directly. The TV will be focused purely on being a brilliant TV with the phone or tablet being the brains behind your media and how you interact with it.

To this end Apple already has AirPlay while Miracast looks to be the weapon of choice for the rest. With this approach every time you upgrade your phone or tablet you upgrade the ability of every TV in the house and you don't need dedicated TV remote controllers. It's a much nicer thought.


All of which takes us back to the quotes Isaacson attributes to Jobs. The full segment from the biography reads: "'I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use,’ he 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.’”

Jobs never said he wanted to build a revolutionary television, he said he wanted to revolutionise TV... and you don't need to sell a television to do that.

Mike B

November 25, 2012, 9:58 pm

It is a shame Apple can't just get the current TV manufactures to build the functions provided by the Apple TV into their sets, but then again Apple does not seem to like to licence their ideas for others to use!

Maybe they need to licence an iInterface so all IOS devices can control and interact with the TV? A bit like the licence for AirPlay.


November 26, 2012, 1:42 am

I told Steve Jobs that the solution to the TV problem is a console gaming box. Microsoft's X-Box, Sony's Playstation, and Nintendo's Wii and their previous iterations have sold hundreds of millions of console gaming boxes through the years - with many people buying two or more.

People are interested in purchasing console gaming boxes independently of their cable company's box. And gaming has been a huge industry - bigger than the film industry, itself.

Steve's solution would be as follows:

1. AppleTV Gaming Console - with iOS, high-end custom quad-processor ARM CPU with high-end GPU, 2 GB+ RAM, 16 to 128+ GB Flash Storage (which can be higher powered and faster than for the iPhone), content manageable through iTunes on a Mac or PC. There are 3 models - each with progressively larger storage. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capability build in.

2. iTunes on a Mac or PC to manage the media and apps not needed to be store on the gaming console. Buy apps once, and use on ALL your AppleTV consoles.

3. iTunes Store to stream/download content and to download apps.

4. Content providers can provide their own apps to steam their own content. For example, Comcast customers can pay $5 a month to get XFinity Streaming content, NetFlix and Hulu customers can get their content, NBA and MLBaseball can stream their content.

5. iPhones, iPod Touches, and iPads can be the controllers for games on the AppleTV. They can collaborate or be used in groups such as in multiplayer racing games.

6. The AppleTV can have a Lightning connector(s) for other peripherals such as Kinect from Microsoft, or wired or wireless gaming controllers, or flash card readers, etc.

7. Multiple AppleTVs can be used in a network to play multiplayer games.

8. COST: $150 to $199 for 16 GB entry model. Everyone will one one or several for their family.

Martin Daler

November 28, 2012, 2:05 am

TV is still the family device in a household, notwithstanding that many households also harbour additional sets in individual bedrooms. Whereas mobile phones are defacto personal. So I don't see a future where the clever TV stuff is done via an iPhone, or any other phone. The TV's companion smart device will be as public as the TV itself, left on the side table in the lounge. Maybe an iPad type thing. But the WiiU (isn't he a Chinese dissident?) looks good too. And don't forget all the moneyed pensionners - large physical tactile controls and a large clear display will go down great. And those of us with children of any age will appreciate a robust device that can survive like a regular TV remote - not some iBijou thing of beauty.


November 29, 2012, 5:57 am

I wonder if Jobs was partly referring to the then state of Smart TVs and their cluttered, unintuitive interfaces when he made that remark? My two-year old Televison's Smart TV section is already obsolete with the latest and greatest Apps reserved for current generation TVs, which means an upgrade is in order if I want to access them.

So having an ecosystem built around the TV , dedicated to controlling and pushing programming to it (as Gordon's article suggests) makes perfect sense to me - much more sense than adding Smart functionality to TVs; if the solution was platform agnostic that'd be even better.

Sky & Virgin seem to be going down this route with their TiVo and Sky+ apps. Xbox has Smartglass. So It'll be interesting to see how this market develops and whether Apple will release a product that defines the market - whether they've still got it in them - and thereby making Job's words a reality.


November 29, 2012, 6:55 am

Won't happen otherwise we'd have Dell selling Macs and Motorola iPhones.

Apple just needs a video-capable AirPort Express adaptor we can all plug into our TVs and off we go.


November 29, 2012, 7:09 am

It's a brave idea James, but goes against just about every principle Apple has used to date to make itself the largest tech company in the world.

1. Apple isn't going to go about blowing billions on hardware that has to be sold initially at a loss just to get the console into peoples' hands - what you describe is not a $150 device and Apple runs on 30% minimum profit margins.

2. Even if it did enter it has to convince all the developers to code Call of Duty X with a new API. The market for consoles is shrinking not growing. I doubt you'll see much interest in a PlayStation 5.

3. Apple already has a console and a way of distributing games. They're called the iPad and App Store and tablets have performance inching towards that of current generation consoles, a spec that doubles in performance every year. If the Xbox 720 is around in 10 years time I'm sure it will be well behind the power tablets have long before then.

4. Apple already has entertainment covered as there are NetFlix, Sky, Hulu, etc apps for iOS devices - they simply need to allow Apple to project them to a TV over AirPlay. The content is already in HD.

5. iDevices are the controllers for the content on the TV, but they are also the horsepower behind them. Mobile game is fast catching console gaming in revenue, typically far more innovative with the greater number of sensors in them (an iPhone is far more advanced that a Wii controller or even Wii U controller). The two sectors will also merge before too long as the hardware catches up to consoles.

6. Apple is not going to licence the likes of Kinect from Microsoft and Microsoft would never license it to them. Apple has all the sensors it needs in iDevice products.

7. Multiplayer again already exists for Apple devices it happens through Game Center.

In sum you're overcomplicating a market Apple is already well into. iOS dominates mobile gaming and as devices get more and more powerful the distinction between mobile and console will dissolve.


November 29, 2012, 7:16 am

Tablets will likely be the weapon of choice Martin and with the likes of the Nexus 7 costing from £150 (and likely to keep falling further) they will be the defacto controller, guide, etc.

The flip side to your argument is whether you really think using a social network or web surfing is fun on a TV or the multi-button remotes we currently use are the answer. I want my TV screens to show the programme, the interactive elements I want in my lap (pun not intended!). Given touchscreens can easily adapt their layout as well they can even have profiles to suit the user - these 'moneyed pensioners' you mention can have a simplified layout if needs be just by tapping their profile.

That said the point of the article is not which specific device we use to control our televisions, but that the 'smart' element of it should not be in the TV itself. This technology dates TVs very quickly and adds greatly to their cost. They're a horrible idea and I'll have a sportsman's bet with you that they'll be dying a death within 5 years.


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