The big news earlier this week was that Apple had reportedly punted its plans to make a television set. The report suggested that the company had worked on it for over a decade: Comments Steve Jobs made to biographer Walter Isaacson have helped stir that pot for years, but the bottom line is that it isn't happening. Between this and the mythical Apple car, we spend an almost idiotic amount of time speculating on what Apple might do, instead of what they're already doing that could be improved.
"Innovation is saying no to 1000 things." - Steve Jobs
For some years, financial analyst Gene Munster has had an almost Quixotic fascination with an Apple TV: Not the Apple TV, that little black box which Apple sells for $69; his dream was a real, bona fide, flat-screen television. Munster has insisted, quarter after quarter, that we were on the verge of seeing Apple enter the television market alongside Samsung, LG, Sony, and other big electronic firms.
Obviously, it hasn't happened. Apple's built a watch. Apple's made a bigger iPhone. Apple's made a 5K iMac. But the Apple television has remained a unicorn. A chimera. A mythical creature that while rumored, has never seen the light of day.
Steve Jobs' comments to the author of his biography, Walter Isaacson, would have seemed to suggest that Jobs, at least, thought Apple was on the cusp of something in the television space. "I finally cracked it," is the Jobs money quote.
Are we living in a post-TV world? Of course not. But the way we consume media is changing.
An article published earlier this week by the Wall Street Journal suggests that Apple indeed has worked on a television. Apple gave up on it more than a year ago, says the report. The company couldn't make the product compelling enough actually to bring it to market.
I have no reason to dismiss the veracity of Daisuke Wakabayashi's WSJ report; it sounds plausible. But here's the thing that keeps sticking in my craw whenever I read it, or the countless tech blog regurgitations of it: Apple prototypes shit that never comes to market all the damn time.
Many of us — myself included — scoffed at the idea of an Apple television from the start. The television market is famously cutthroat: It's a commodity market driven by high volume and low margin, where competitors are quick to imitate or just rip off features from each other, and where true innovation is very difficult. That's not to say that market isn't ripe for disruption, but it's a big challenge, and it just doesn't seem like the right match for Apple's particular set of skills.
What's more, an entire generation of technology users relies on the television less and less, instead using their Macs and portable devices like iPhones and iPads to watch the content they want. Even cable television companies like Comcast have acquiesced: Comcast's Xfinity TV app lets you watch content from your DVR on whatever device you want, rather than forcing you to sit in front of a set. Are we living in a post-TV world? Of course not. But the way we consume media is changing.
There's one point this story underscores: Just because Apple may have prototyped or patented something doesn't mean by necessity that Apple is on the verge of entering any market. Apple spends billions of dollars in R&D every year. Not all of that money goes to making your iPhone thinner or your stainless steel Apple Watch more space black.
Apple has to, by necessity, explore how it can make technology work better and differently, to keep pace with and excel over its competitors. Apple would violate its core principles, not to mention its obligation to shareholders, if it weren't.
This inside baseball is utterly meaningless bullshit.
Munster finally acquiesced this week after the WSJ article posted, admitting he was wrong. But belief in the
unicorn Apple television continues. Investor Carl Icahn, who holds more than 50 million shares of Apple stock, insists that Apple is going to introduce a television in 2016. He also thinks the rumors of an Apple car are true.
For most of us who don't make our living on Wall Street, this inside baseball is utterly meaningless bullshit. We can, and should, base our perception and our opinion of Apple on what they're doing today, not what they might do based on some skunkworks project in Cupertino.
To that end, Apple has plenty of challenges ahead of it. Apple has to make OS X and iOS work better. It needs to produce new iPhones, iPads, Macs and watches that surprise and delight. It must shepherd and develop an ecosystem that enables developers and hundreds of millions of customers around the world to enjoy its products.
Back in 1997 Steve Jobs told developers at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference that focus "means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1000 things."
Jobs may be gone, but that belief certainly hasn't changed at Apple. And we shouldn't expect any less.