What could Apple contribute in 2013? Pulling the strings on the intensely interesting future of Apple TV and iTV

During Apple's Q1 2013 conference call, the Apple Television Rumors That Will Not Die were once again raised with Tim Cook, who smacked them back down hard. However, Cook did announce that they sold 2 million of the current Apple TV, up 60% year-over-year. Cook also dropped all the talking points, including "area of intense interest", "a lot Apple can contribute", and "continue to pull the string".

The Apple TV originally launched in 2007, same year as the iPhone, as a Mac OSX Tiger-based, hard drive-based buy and download box. In late 2010 Apple re-designed and relaunched it as an iOS-based, flash storage-based rent and stream box. In early 2012, Apple bumped up the processor so it could play 1080p video and do AirPlay mirroring.

Given the last, roughly 18-month refresh cycle, it's possible we'll see another update in 2013. Given how long it took Apple to go 1080p, however, and the realities of content and bandwidth, Super HD (4K/2160p) support doesn't seem likely any time soon. Siri support is always a possibility, as is tighter integration with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, but that might perform well enough on existing hardware. FaceTime video would require new hardware, or at least a new iSight peripheral. Anything else, especially anything more than just another TiVo -- anything that interfaces with, records, replays, or touches cable, satellite, or broadcast signals in a new, compelling way, would require deals with media companies, which have historically been onerous, contentious, and otherwise difficult to secure.

An Apple TV SDK and App Store is always technically possible, but Apple has thus far been content with a partnership strategy, where they strike deals with YouTube, Vimeo, Hulu, major league sports, etc. on a channel-by-channel basis. Releasing an SDK probably wouldn't help strike additional deals with traditionally myopic media companies, but would likely kill any value in the partner strategy, so it's hard to see happening.

As to an Apple iTV, or television panel proper, whether or not Apple has prototypes in the lab, the go-to-market conditions this year don't appear any different than when Steve Jobs discussed how tough it was at D8 back in 2010. The real advantage of a panel is that you get "input zero", or complete control of the boot up/turn on experience. No one has to plug you in or switch to you to get your interface. They start with you. By contrast, right now an Apple TV is typically input 2+, after the television manufacturer, cable or satellite box, and maybe an Xbox, Nintendo, or Playstation box.

I'm sure people at Apple, and those of us who enjoy Apple user experience, would much rather turn on our televisions as see an Apple interface than a Samsung, Sony, LG, ViewSonic, etc. interface, but that want does not a business make.

The same basic questions that face an updated Apple TV also face an iTV. It's still really early in the market for 2160p support, and potentially awkward at 1080p. ("I'm not buying a non-Retina TV from Apple just to have to buy a Retina one next year!") Plugging cable or satellite boxes into input 1, and switching to them for traditional and local programming removes all the advantages of an Apple user experience, or again requires onerous, contentious deals that have proven difficult to obtain.

Putting an Apple TV in an actual iTV panel also makes hardware upgrades less realistic. At $99 a pop, a new Apple TV with a new processor (or whatever) is a no-brainer. When you're talking thousands of dollars, it's a non-starter. (Which is what makes Guy English's decoupled model still so interesting.)

The original Apple television rumors were probably a misread of Apple's prep for the original 27-inch iMac by people more in love with the idea than in touch with the market. Little has changed since then. A much larger, re-purposed version of a Thunderbolt display -- a true Jony Ive crafted panel -- controlled by Siri, set up for FaceTime, connected to all our devices and apps, sounds like fantastic technology, but there doesn't seem to be anything to suggest it's any closer to a product reality.

Hence Tim Cook's "area of intense interest", "a lot Apple can contribute", and "continue to pull the string". Would late 2013 or 2014 be different? Things can and do change quickly in consumer electronics.

What would you like to see in an updated Apple TV or iTV proper? What could Apple do to make one or both a reality in 2013?

Have something to say about this story? Share your comments below! Need help with something else? Submit your question!

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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What could Apple contribute in 2013? Pulling the strings on the intensely interesting future of Apple TV and iTV

10 Comments

My wife and I use two ATVs (living room + bedroom), and we love them for AirPlay, iTunes, iPhoto, Netflix and Hulu+, which somewhat nicely replace cable, but until there is more (and live) content available, all this talk of an iTV needs to stop. The Roku has better content (hello Pandora, HBOGo, and Spotify) than the ATV for crying out loud! Why do have TVs? To view CONTENT.

I don't like the idea of an iTV I like the Apple TV the way it is, but I would like to see them up the processor and allow rentals of 3D movies, allow the USB port to accept a web cam so we can use FaceTime and Siri integration via iPhone and iPad or by microphone built in (would have to use remote to activate).

I would like to see them add app to the ATV, which would create an all in one experience. I think it would be a really great idea for them to add gaming as well and use your iOS device as the controller.

I think it is quite simplistic to call media companies myopic. The only company that stands to benefit from this deal is Apple, no one else. Media companies are in control of their deals with cable operators. If they get in bed with Apple, they lose control, and Apple will take 30% of their profit without raising a finger. Ask the Music Industry how do they feel now about iTunes.

I'm not saying that customers don't stand to benefit from this deal, but if I was a content producer, I would resist Apple with all my strength. I think there will be a point where smaller studios will cave in and Apple will build enough momentum and strength to force a deal, but we have not reached that point yet, and that is what is stopping Apple to launch the fabled iTV.

On another topic, I would HATE to se Siri-like interfaces creeping on TVs and computers. The thought of having to speak to the TV to get things done turns me completely off from the enjoyment of watching anything.

iTV proper proper. I'm in the camp who wants one remote control and the ultimate simplicity. They should continue to sell the same Apple TV as they have now and release an iTV proper with an App Store and exquisite hardware alongside it.

First, make it simpler for me to use airplay – make the TV switch to the atv when I enable airplay and switch back when I disable it. If the TV is not on, turn it on for airplay, then turn it off when I'm done.

Second, a remote that I don't have to swipe every time it's gone to sleep. Put a fingerprint recognizer in the home button so it knows who is holding it and can detect up/down/left/right movement or directional pressure on the button so I can change the volume, pause/resume without swiping the remote's screen, without looking, just by feel. And don't require using two hands, one to hold, the other to swipe.

Third, forget using Siri to control TV watching. My wife might be asleep while I'm watching.

Fourth, an iCloud caching device that holds a copy of my favorite media files so I can play them instantly, with a battery so I can take it with me, that's also a personal hotspot that I and my family can use in the car or on a trip to watch movies, etc.

Fifth, a unified TV experience. Both on the atv and in an app on my other iOS devices.

I do think that some sort of i-TV will eventually come.
However, not for the massmarket. It's gonna be a premium product à la Top End Retina MacBook Pro. Actually even beyond that. The cheap Apple-TV Box will remain the massmarket product in that segment, obviously.
With 4K Panels on the horizon, I don't think Apple would realease just a 1080p TV. They have to go for a 4K-Panel. Yet price will be critical no matter the high end premium approach.
I think an Apple-made "i-TV" or "i-Panel" or whatever they're gonna call it will have to be priced below 5000 Bucks.
Therefore prices of 4K panels need to go down drastically enough to hit that magic number with decent margins.
That makes me believe we won't see an Apple-made TV-Screen before 2015 at the earliest.