Apple TV: Fascinating Speculation about the Future of TV

At the time of his death, Apple founder Steve Jobs was reportedly working on an "integrated" TV.

According to biographer Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs “very much wanted to do for television sets what he had done for computers, music players, and phones: make them simple and elegant."

While Apple under Steve Jobs was notoriously secretive about products under development, what Steve Jobs told Walter Isaacson about Apple TV suggests that some significant breakthroughs had already been made:

“‘I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use,’ [Jobs] told [Isaacson]. ‘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.’”

That last line (the Jobs "I finally cracked it" quote) has lead to feverish rumors that Apple is about to launch a miraculously elegant branded TV set: A sleek new must-have Apple device - perhaps one that uses Siri to change the channels or find shows you might like.

Rumors of a to-die-for big-screen (brushed aluminum?) TV from Apple with intelligent voice-activation instead of a remote may be true, but there is also another (less gadget-specific) way to look at Steve Jobs' comments about the future of TV.

After all, when Apple reinvented the music business, it wasn't only the sleek iPod devices that were new. Apple invented a whole new kind of music store - betting that consumers were ready for digital downloads after a century of physical copies.

Is TV delivery also due for a fundamental rethinking?

What sorts of changes might a visionary like Steve Jobs imagine for TV?

No one outside Apple knows for sure, but Jeremy Allaire (founder and CEO of Brightcove, a global provider of cloud-based software) has made some predictions about Apple TV - focusing on how the user experience of TV might change - in a fascinating June 4th, 2012 blogpost.

In that thought-provoking article, Jeremy Allaire focuses on what Steve Jobs might have "cracked" before his death. In Jeremy Allaire's view, it's unlikely that Steve Jobs was merely focused on a better design for a TV set. Instead, Jeremy Allaire predicts that Apple is working on a fundamental reimagining of how users will choose to interact with their TVs in the 21st Century.

Allaire sees signs of how Steve Jobs and Apple may have begun reconceptualizing TV in AirPlay, an application that Apple is currently offering on iOS devices.

AirPlay "essentially turns your iPad into a powerful TV Apps platform that can render any application on the TV while enabling the user to use their touch-based device to browse, select, navigate, etc."

Jeremy Allaire thinks this functionality - bringing apps seamlessly from the internet and onto existing big screen TVs (as long as your existing TV is equipped with a $99 generation 2 or 3 Apple TV box, you already have access to an early version of AirPlay) - is the likely future for Apple TV: "Apple sees that TV monitors are just that — high-quality audio/video rendering devices — and that the real power lies in application platforms and user interaction devices that can be easily brought to bear on those monitors."

In Jeremy Allaire's words: "If my analysis is correct, I believe that this will likely mean that the core focus for Apple will not be on their own TV monitor product, but on continuing to advance a device platform for extending iOS onto TV sets easily, while dipping their toe into the actual TV monitor business as well."

Here then are Jeremy Allaire's 3 best guesses for the future of Apple TV:

"First, Apple will release a new Apple TV add-on product... Like the existing Apple TV, it will have HDMI and power jacks on the back, but it will also include a high-def camera built into its face, as well as an embedded iOS environment that provides motion sensing and speech processing."

"Second, Apple will also release a TV monitor product... it will be gorgeous and include the latest innovations in display technology, and will sell at a premium price that ensures a reasonable gross margin for Apple."

"Third, Apple will provide updates to iOS that include significantly enhanced and improved AirPlay functionality, and where AirPlay capabilities become a more front and center aspect of the iOS experience. Additionally, they will release new iOS APIs for dealing with second screen device capabilities such as the new camera and microphone, motion detection and speech recognition. Developers will be encouraged to build iOS apps that are Apple TV ready, using dual-screen features and motion user interaction, among other things."

UPDATE: On August 16th, 2012, Jessica E. Vascellaro and Sam Schechner, writing for the Wall Street Journal, posted an article that updates the latest about Apple TV. For those who don't subscribe to the Wall Street Journal, Jay Yarow summarized the WSJ piece in Business Insider: "You would be able to start any show at any time using a DVR that stores TV shows on the Internet. The TV interface would look like an iPhone or iPad, with icons that users navigate. (Perhaps it looks like the current Apple TV interface with a few more icons?) The new interface is supposed to be better and easier to use than the current cable box interfaces. (A pretty low hurdle to clear.) There would be a way for people to share on Twitter or Facebook what they're watching on TV. Users would be able to get the entire season of a show on demand, as opposed to a few episodes the way cable companies offer now."

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