An actual Apple television. More than a few people believe it's on the way. And more than just offering hardware without good content deals in place (BOXEE, GOOGLE... I'M LOOKING AT YOU), it's rumoured that such a device would either run iOS apps, play host to a revamped iTunes video subscription service, or both.
How likely this is, we can't say for sure. Steve Jobs has made an off-hand mentions during conference calls that nobody wants extra set-top boxes (then again, they also announced the latest iteration of the Apple TV after that). Analysts have made speculations. And ever since, rumours have steadily trickled in, regarding both hardware, software and the much ballyhooed data centre in North Carolina (streaming video service!).
But there is certainly a need for a killer IPTV device/infrastructure that can free us from cable once and for all.
On-demand television is bigger than ever, and mainstream consumers are catching on at a rapid pace. However, the vast majority of "smart" televisions have been poorly conceived and executed when it comes to user experience. Which is to say, they're almost all shit. And it doesn't help that companies Hulu and Netflix have been facing non-stop resistance from the old television guard and ISPs when it comes to comprehensive on-demand programming. If one company could manage to pull all this off its Apple. But it definitely needs a few things.
Obviously user experience is important, but most important is the content at the end of the tunnel. Financially speaking, Apple could produce an above-average panel, sell it at a loss, and make it up in content revenue. In terms of consumer adoption, it will help them avoid the fate of Google TV, which had an attractive UI, but nothing to actually watch. Content can be approached from two different sides: apps and distribution deals.
If they allow people to download apps, content from Netflix, Hulu, Adult Swim, YouTube, Vimeo PBS and many other sources would be immediately available. For those who want sports, there are also apps for MLB, NBA and NHL.
However, if Apple goes after television like they did music in the early 2000s (by negotiating their own deals for selling content), they could radically change the way we consume television. The main challenge for Apple is convincing the networks and studios that this new way of consuming television is a good idea, and getting them to agree in a way more favourable to consumers (the whole "available in the browser only" thing on Hulu is the worst). If they can negotiate a deal with ESPN (even if it's just an ESPN 3 app), people would feel much more comfortable getting rid of their cable.
The most exciting thing here is that TV could become customisable. Maybe you get a certain number of shows or networks for a monthly fee, which isn't all that different from how cable works now. But you would have far more control over what you watch and don't watch. And it would all be on-demand! Consumers may not like the idea of having less selection; but they're choosing from stuff they actually want to watch, how much of a difference would it really make?
More than anything, Apple just needs to find a way to convince everyone that more viewing freedom is a good thing.