Apple television, the next great unicorn chase

Now that we have the iPhone and iPad, the next great unicorn to chase seems to be an Apple television. Not the Apple TV set top box, mind you, but a full on elegant glass and aluminium object de panel art from Jony Ive and co. Something to hang on our wall and banish cables and crummy cable boxes from our living rooms once and for all.

When last we got analyst-fueled Apple television rumors, it turned out to be the 27-inch iMac. This time, however, we have a nebulous passage from the just-released Steve Jobs biography to properly set the chase in motion:

“He very much wanted to do for television sets what he had done for computers, music players, and phones: make them simple and elegant. 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."

Interface is only one of the things Apple will have to crack, however. Content is called king for a reason. A gorgeously designed, cunningly coded TV set only goes so far if you can't get your sports, your specialty channels and special events, and everything else cable and satellite currently has an locked up in their oligopoly.

Bloomberg, however, has added another face to the chase:

Apple Inc. (AAPL) is turning to the software engineer who built iTunes to help lead its development of a television set, according to three people with knowledge of the project. Jeff Robbin, who helped create the iPod in addition to the iTunes media store, is now guiding Apple’s internal development of the new TV effort, said the people, who declined to be identified because his role isn’t public.

Now don't get me wrong -- from 2007 to 2010 I went from a Treo 650 to an iPhone 4S yet my TV has pretty much the same crappy Scientific Atlanta PVR. If any dinosaur of an industry needs to get hit by the Apple meteorite and turned into the fossil fuel of the future, it's television. The idea of an Apple engineered and programmed television is enticing -- though my wallet threatens to punch me in the nose at the mere thought of lining up every year for that multi-thousand dollar product launch. It's just trickier to see what an Apple television would be to a current Sony or Samsung set, as opposed to what an iPhone was to Treo or iPad to Tablet PC. It's tricky to see what it would do that an Apple TV box couldn't, aside from being neater and tidier.

Of course Apple probably has all sorts of products in the lab. Their success, however, has come from not shipping something until they knew how to go to market with it. The Apple TV is called a hobby for a reason, and at $100 it or carefully calling it a hobby in the meantime. iPhone took them years. iPad years more. Conceivably Apple could pull the trigger on a television as soon as 2012, but until Tim Cook and co. show it off on stage, just like chasing unicorns, it's just flights of fun and fancy.

Source: Bloomberg