The market, the madness, and the Apple Television

It seems you can’t read about Apple these days without someone saying that they’re about to make a big splash into the television market. Apple, of course, hasn't and won't pre-announced anything. But that hasn't stopped Wall Street analysts claiming that the company’s TV strategy is flawed. That's right, Apple's unannounced, unreleased, entirely presumed by someone not-Apple, strategy is flawed. But I digress.

What I don’t quite understand is why so many industry pundits seem to think that Apple just has to make a TV set, or else they’re screwed.  Really people?  Really?

I can see why Apple would go ahead and make a large display for the living room.  But I definitely don’t see it as a requirement.  The actual display has become a commodity.  It’s an HDMI endpoint.  TV makers like Samsung are putting more computing power inside the displays to enable Netflix, Plex, or other media services.  But they’re largely just big screens and that’s it.  

Apple’s strength has been organizing content.  They tackled the music industry with more success than any other company on the planet.  They have essentially global distribution capabilities.  Now they’re starting to make progress with TV shows and movies by offering it up through the iTunes in the same a-la-carte manner. Their lead in these markets has to be mapped to be believed. The $99 Apple TV even has premium sports features like NLH and Major League Baseball.  I think what Apple really needs to do is bring more content into its platform and then make it easy to display it anywhere - from the iPhone to the iPad to the Macbook or big screen.

Apple already has AirPlay to bring any video from pretty much any other Apple device to a big screen.  It seems to me the cheap and cheerful Apple TV doesn’t need to turn into a huge display.  It just needs to get even better.  Guy English wrote a wonderful blog post discussing how he sees the ideal future Apple TV setup and I have to say I agree completely.  

For a while now I’ve been of the opinion that display technology is expensive and slow changing.  But the intelligence inside the displays changes quickly.  A few years ago TVs didn’t come standard with Wi-Fi, nor did they have USB ports that would play DivX files, for example.  Why should I need to buy a whole new TV when the part that needs updating could be in the form of a $99 box (like the current Apple TV)?  Exactly.

So Apple should beef up its current Apple TV set top box.  But then if they want to go ahead and make the most beautiful, well designed 1080p or even 4K display in the universe -- a larger version of the ThunderBolt displays they already make for the Mac -- I will welcome it.  And if they want to go one step better, I’d love to see an Apple living room display that can elegantly hold an upgradeable Apple TV module.  No need for extra cables and boxes, right?  

But one thing is clear to me.  Apple doesn’t “need” to be in the living room display business.  They won’t be reinventing the display, they’d just be capitalizing on their design strengths and brand value.  I’d be all for that as a shareholder.  But don’t try to tell me that Apple has no growth unless they explode onto the TV scene.  That’s just a bunch of nonsense.  They real money is going to come from content, billing, the beauty of their ecosystem, and customer stickiness.  

Building a giant screen is a nice to have, and nothing more.