The Apple TV: Good Idea, Bad Idea?

While rumours are firming around the next iPad, the speculation surrounding whether or not Apple will get into the flat panel market continues to circulate. It sounds like a good idea, but I'm not so sure. The title for this piece is taken, for those who care, from a long-running Animaniacs sketch, in which Mr Skullhead would present a good idea followed by its illogical bad alternative. Presuming the gods of YouTube are smiling on me, you should be able to see some examples below.

The reason why that sketch comes to mind when I think about the Apple TV is that for every time I think that an Apple TV might be a good idea, my mind counterbalances it with a reason why it's a shockingly bad idea. So, for example:

Good Idea: The Apple TV would probably look really nice The team headed up by Jonathan Ive (it's a fallacy to presume that it's only his work that matters) don't tend to produce truly ugly looking devices. Sure, in recent years it's tended towards a particular look and only that look, but they're still darned pretty. A lot of TVs are plastic piles of junk.

Bad Idea: It's already been done Apple doesn't play much in low end budget markets, which means they'd be going head to head with the premium models offered by vendors such as Panasonic, LG and Samsung. Hmm... Apple vs Samsung. I'm sure I've heard of that before. Anyway, some premium televisions are genuinely good looking devices, within the constraints of something that should logically be 95 per cent screen anyway

Good Idea: Apple Updates Legacy Hardware For Longer Any Apple TV would need to be (in essence) a 'Smart TV', and that means applications and net awareness. Based on the track record for its iOS devices, Apple does fairly well in keeping older devices up to date with later releases of the underlying operating system software. Yes, it does leave them by the wayside eventually -- I've got some earlier iPod Touch units and an iPhone 3G at home that are behind the times in iOS terms -- but compared to a lot of the industry, Apple keeps its products updated for a longer period of time.

Bad Idea: With TV, they'd need to Do you buy a TV every single year? I certainly don't, and the general expectation of the lifespan of a television set is that you'll get at least five years out of it. Admittedly, TV prices have tumbled in recent years such that it'd be more affordable to do so, but that doesn't make it a good idea. Apple's a company that's built its recent fortunes on annual updates, but in the realm of TV, nobody's likely to buy a new Apple TV each year.

Good Idea: Apple's almost insanely focused on the tiniest details. Want proof? All of Apple's iOS screen shots are at the same time, and deliberately so. That kind of dedication to details does reap rewards for Apple, and (leaving aside those with a near pathological hatred of the company) for its consumers as well, with streamlined products that are very good at a core series of tasks, as defined by Apple.

Bad idea: That usually translates to a single product. There's one iPhone 4S. One iPod Touch. One iPad, although those rumours about an eight inch iPad refuse to die. In TV land, though, there's a genuine need for multiple sizes in the showroom, which in this case means more floor and stock space for each and every Apple store. Not only does that have an effect on the generally spartan aesthetic of an Apple store, but it also means plenty of space that'll need to be put aside for storage, shipping, spares -- even longer Genius bars to accommodate TVs coming in for repair.

Good idea: Apple can leverage the existing iTunes architecture This is almost a given; there's no way that Apple would launch a TV that was just a TV; the hook would have to be in how easily it integrates into the existing iTunes movie and TV system.

Bad idea: iTunes isn't exactly a money-spinner for Apple. This is at least partly assumption, and partly based on a few things that Apple's made public regarding iTunes finances. Still, it's been clear from day one that iTunes was a mechanism originally to sell iPods, and later other iOS devices. In the TV arena, Apple doesn't own any production studios (even though the late Steve Jobs was on Disney's board), so all the content it serves through iTunes, it has to pay for at the rights level, as well as paying to deliver seamlessly to customers. Most analysts have come to the conclusion that iTunes is, in essence, a break-even proposition, and that means that Apple would have to make its money in its traditional manner; through sales of the hardware. Except TV prices are tumbling downwards, not upwards.

There's a secondary problem for Australian consumers here too, and that's the rights issue. What we get on iTunes now isn't terrible, but it's pretty ordinary in comparison to what's offered on the UK and US iTunes stores. It's not inconceivable that if Apple were to launch an Apple TV in the States with some wonderful new content offering, we may wait months or even years to get it.

Those are just my top-level thoughts, though. It also strikes me that for each and every one of them, there isn't really a case that isn't answered by simply updating the existing Apple TV set top box. It can be aesthetically reengineered to whatever Apple's current thinking actually is. They can change it every year, or update the software every year; in either case the cost of purchase is quite low anyway.

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    I can't see how it is possibly a good idea for them. Are they going to get down and dirty in the discount wars with the big boys, or try and flog a couple of high end only models, Loewe style?

    I don't see how they can apply their walled garden model to a device that people want to be able to do multiple things with (pay TV, consoles etc), and if all they are doing is building in suped up Apple TV, what's the point?

    There are just so many ways an Apple TV could be done. Maybe it's a low-powered iMac; maybe it's little more than an iTunes Match streaming box (that includes video); maybe it's actually just a big panel that comes with a separate Apple TV box, which itself can be upgraded/replaced.

    I really don't think that it would be a good idea for Apple to take on the existing TV market, especially when they really don't need to. Putting aside the fact that their competitors' designs and panels are easily as eye-pleasing as anything Apple's ever put together, your gorgeous Samsung panel will quite happily run an Apple TV box; my mate has his Mac Mini outputting to his scrumptious Panasonic plasma.

    There's absolutely no need for Apple to provide the panel as well in order to dominate the viewing experience. When 95% of the device is screen, and 100% of that has that distinctive Apple look and feel, it's practically an Apple TV anyway.

    A valid and balanced summary...

    Samsung is quoted somewhere on the www as saying that they don't fear Apples entry because it's all about picture panel quality.

    It would seem, Apples selling point as you say, would be about leveraging iTunes store and it's content, something Samsung is clueless about. There's nothing to say that Apple can't sign the deals it needs to, to bring great content to Aus.

    What about video games?
    You may laugh, given the cut throat competition of Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony but... Let's not forget the silent uprising of iOS devices into the portable gaming space.
    PSP, Nintendo DS et all don't have the edge they used to on the market.

    It's possible they could turn out a tv with apps, and social gaming would really give them an edge.

    Why the hell would people want to pay a premium price for a TV that is at best no better than the best TV's out there and then put up with Apple's draconian rules and propitiatory build. Not to mention it will probably only have one input dock. No thanks!

      it would fly off the shelves probably, apple fans are some of the most fiercely loyal around.

      wonder if apple would patent the tv design, then try and sue the pants of samsung.

    Interesting, if they tried to work with TV manufacturers to put an apple OS in a TV as an OEM are they not copying Google ?

    They will start by suing Samsung because they are shaped like an iTV, which they will have patents for because Apple invented the television set in 1926 and everyone has been copying them since.

    HAHA can you imagine the type of A/V inputs this thing will have. One.

      Do you know how many of my TV's AV inputs are currently in use? One.

    What doesn't seem to have been considered here is the potential of the iTunes store. At present, the store has TV and movies available to rent. To watch this content on a TV you either need to plug a computer into your TV or have an iOS device and an Apple TV. I suspect that only a tiny fraction of Apple's customer base have this setup.
    Given a choice, I suspect many people would use services integrated into their TV rather than switch to a connected device with its own remote. Working on this assumption, and adding in the volume of people who have an iTunes account with a positive balance, you have a potentially large customer base.
    I'd also challenge the assertion that Apple only deal in the premium market. The iPad undercut the Windows tablets that preceded it (and continues to do so today). They offer premium products at affordable prices.
    An Apple TV priced at under $2000 and loaded with access to iTunes would sell well. I suspect that Apple would also have an App store that would be open to content providers: they already resell BBC content in the iTunes store and the BBC iPlayer Global app is also an interesting subscription option. Give the BBC a more direct channel into people's living rooms and they'll begin to stop selling to the ABC and start profiting from direct sales.

    An Apple TV would include Facetime and access to relevant iCloud services.

    Above all, the interface would be slick. Current Smart TV interfaces are fine, but you never see the interface at the centre of a marketing campaign. Apple would sell the interface first and foremost. You would be in no doubt about how to operate an Apple TV way before you see one in the metal: can you say the same about an LG or Sony TV?

    The variety of TV sizes on the market won't bother Apple; just like the variety of tablet screen sizes doesn't seem to be of concern. Let's say it's only available in 32", 42" and 55" sizes: if a customer wants a 60" Apple TV do you think they'll go for another brand's 60" or the smaller Apple version?

    I'm no Apple Fanboy, owning just a 4 year old iPod Nano which connects to my Windows 7 PC and shares a pocket with an Android phone. I'm not sure I'd want an Apple TV either, but the Smart TV market is nascent and Apple have the opportunity to own a sizeable chunk of it.

    I can imagine the Thunderbolt to HDMI, MiniDisplay Port, VGA, Component and AV adaptors now.... $45/pop.

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