The Challenge Facing An Apple Television [Updated]

While Apple has sold various iterations of it’s AppleTV set top box, it has always considered the product a “hobby,” and the product has likewise had negligible sales.  Recently though, the rumor mill has been ripe recently about the possibilities of Apple getting closer to releasing a true entry to the television market.  Some of these rumors include:

If these rumors are true, what would an Apple Television look like?  What problem(s) would it be trying to solve? How would it integrate with the rest of the living room? And possibly most importantly, how would Apple deal with fractured and diffuse content providers?

The Apple Television Solution

Steve Jobs said in his biography that he had ‘cracked’ making an integrated television set that is completely easy to use.  Content would sync automatically between devices and iCloud; complicated remotes would be a thing of the past.  Various companies including Apple have solved parts of these issues but have yet to provide a single magic bullet. Logitech makes easy to use remotes, but no content synchronization; Apple does content synchronization, but doesn’t do remotes.  Now, Apple would be able to market a single product that not only simplifies a traditionally cumbersome home theater setup, but also allows users to access their content anywhere.

Say you begin watching a movie at home, but can’t finish it before it’s time to catch the morning carpool into work.  Simply pause it on your Apple TV, Apple will sync playback status to iCloud, and you can keep watching exactly where you left off on your iPhone on your way to work.

Integrating With Your Living Room

Steve said he didn’t want the user to have to deal with complicated remotes.  This heavily implies that Apple’s “remote” would replace all other remotes for other home theater components, but there is more than one way to skin this cat.

Would Apple follow Logitech’s lead and make a macro-remote?  It would work, but that doesn’t feel like Apple’s style.  When Apple does something, everyone else follows, and to make a macro remote would be Apple following the industry.  In addition, macro remotes have their drawbacks.  Macro remotes require the user to keep holding the remote steady for several seconds after they have entered the command so the command can be sent to all of the devices.  If the user doesn’t do so, the remote can become “out of sync” with the devices, requiring the user to intervene and “re-sync” the remote.

The most likely option is for Apple to use a protocol like Airplay to control other devices.  Airplay already allows for volume control, and the protocol could conceivably be extended to add support for other remote control features such as power/standby and the like.  However, this would require users to buy Airplay compatible devices for use with the Apple Television, and I’m not aware of any set top boxes (other than AppleTV) that are compatible with Airplay. Update: HDMI control could also serve as a more standard way of controlling other living room devices (thanks Dagless).

One more thing… What if Apple eliminated other home theater components by integrating them into their product?  This intriguing possibility would mean Apple would include components such as an amplifier into the product somehow (either integrated into the display or as a second piece that works with the primary display).  Apple has experience making audio products in the recent past, having made the short lived iPod Hi-Fi between 2006-2007.  I’m not sure it’s a very likely option, but it’s a possibility…


In my opinion, content will be Apple’s biggest obstacle in introducing an Apple Television.  While Apple doesn’t need to tackle this issue to introduce a television, doing so would make the product much more appealing.

Currently, most consumers get their content either freely over the air or paid for on a subscription basis to cable/satellite/fiber providers.  Meanwhile, Apple only offers content for purchase via iTunes – a model that is extremely pricy for most consumers.  While Apple briefly flirted with a rental model for television shows, it still has yet to introduce what most consumers expect – a subscription model.  If Apple really wants to tackle the living room, it needs to provide a content subscription model for TV that consumers are more familiar with.

  1. I really think that last part…Content is key. If they can workout deals with all the major cable networks and sports leagues (especially the NFL), that’s what will make it a success.

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