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How Apple Can Clean Up in the Living Room

By Chris Maxcer MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Oct 27, 2011 5:00 AM PT

Like the super-duper Apple-focused analyst Gene Munster at Piper Jaffray, I've long believed that Apple has been planning to create a new television set. Apple's largest iMac and the Apple Thunderbolt Display already boast a wicked-sharp 27-inch screen. With a current Apple TV set-top box glued to the side of an HDTV, it's not hard to imagine an all-in-one unit.

How Apple Can Clean Up in the Living Room

Of course, that's thinking small, and Apple usually thinks much bigger. In fact, former CEO Steve Jobs was quoted about a mythical Apple TV in Walter Isaacson's recently released biography, Steve Jobs. Isaacson wrote, "'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.'"

His words and a recent BusinessWeek report have reignited the longstanding rumors, of course, and they now give us real hope that we might be getting a full-on Apple HDTV sooner rather than later. After all, Jobs said he "cracked it."

Voice-Activated With Siri?

Right now, navigating most televisions is a mess. A downright shame, actually. TV has been around far longer than I've been alive, and still, I have to waste my life navigating a nightmare grid of shows, movies and pay-per-view. Heck, I've got to scroll through a list of porn shows just to get to the regular movies, and while that's not terrible, it is a bit embarrassing when the relatives are over for the holidays and we're trying to rent a movie together via Dish Network's service. Of course, I know I can block those channels somehow, but again, by the time I plant my butt in the couch, the last thing I want to do is navigate Dish Network's settings system just to make some rompy titles go away.

Ah, but Siri, on the other hand, promises a very interesting new way of navigation: voice-activated search, find and direction. If Siri was half as successful at targeted media-related searching and doing as she is on the iPhone 4S with everything, we'd have a winner right now. If I could simply say, "Record all new episodes of 'South Park,'" and boom, get them recorded for me -- on a built-in hard drive DVR, or via iCloud, I don't really care -- I would likely spend more time watching "South Park" and the commercials that surround it. Sure, I could fast-forward through the commercials, but the point remains -- the more I watch TV, the more I get exposed to advertising. Irritate me enough, and I walk away entirely. A new Apple television would likely delight me a heckuva lot more than the current pieced-together state of living room TV.

Oh, and here's another thing: Right now, I have to scroll through my big list of DVR-recorded TV shows just to find the one I want to watch. By the time I find it, I've already burned up two minutes. With Siri, I could simply say, "Show me the last five episodes of South Park," and then pick the one I want.

This is all just imagination right now, but oh baby, who wouldn't appreciate that level of ease of use? (At the very least, we'd get a remote with a lot fewer buttons to fumble with in the middle of the night.)

Too Expensive, for Sure

While I'm all excited about a real Apple-built television set, maybe one that includes the ability to use iOS-based apps like the iPad and iPhone with a Magic Trackpad as the remote, I am slowed down by one big concern: cost. I would be pleasantly surprised if Apple could produce a readily affordable HDTV for the masses. But no, Apple's first move would likely be the higher-end market, and if that was the case, I'd have a hard time shelling out hundreds of dollars for something I didn't really need. Then again, with the price of gas these days, I could probably save some money if I just spent more quality time at home in my living room, maybe watching Discovery Channel shows in vibrant, show-off-the-Earth color.

Nah.

But I wouldn't be surprised if people continue to spend more time at home. There's less chance of picking up nasty cold viruses, and if Apple were able to make home stereo/theater systems a breeze to set up, I could see a few tailgating NFL fans opt for Sunday football parties instead.

Right now, I can use a Slingbox add-on to control and watch TV shows and related broadcast content on my iPhone and iPad with my Dish Network service. But to get it, I have to pay for the Slingbox or upgrade my DVR unit. While I would like to watch TV on my iPad while out and about -- or while the relatives are watching some really stupid movie in the living room -- I just haven't been able to make that leap to purchase it yet. But Apple, on the other hand, tends to deliver a well-designed experience, plus it would be integrated with iCloud and all my other iTunes content, so I'd be more willing to make such a leap of faith.

So yeah, there's a heckuva lot of areas of integration available to Apple to exploit in the Apple-related universe of products, services, content and apps.

Spreading the Apple Love?

Here's an interesting thing about modern HD television sets: They are like giant computer displays. The brains don't actually have to reside in the TV. A beefed-up Apple TV -- I'm referring to the little black box here -- could easily act as the brains. Sure, the aesthetics of an Apple-produced television set would be much preferred, but while I might be convinced to shell out for a 50-inch living room Apple TV in the future, I'm sure as heck not going to toss out my nifty 42-inch Panasonic HDTV. Nah, I'd put that in the bedroom -- or oooh, the garage -- and it would be nice to add a smart "Apple TV" brain to it to replicate the goodness I would get from entirely integrated Apple television unit. I'm just saying. I can't imagine that Apple would want to ignore all the perfectly good HDTVs out there.

According to Munster, the earliest we might see a real full-on Apple HDTV would be late 2012 or early 2013. So we've got plenty of time to see how iCloud, Siri and an iPhone 5 and iPad 3 all shake out together. All put together, it would give Apple an unprecedented glimpse into how people consume media content, potentially giving the broadcast TV and movie industries some incentives to change the status quo -- if they could worry less about DVD sales and locking down content and instead focus on delighting viewers no matter how they are accessing, viewing or interacting with content. Might Jobs ultimately be able to transform the broadcast television industry, posthumously? Nielsen's ratings system would seem a little quaint, yes?

Last of all, while my imagination is sparked by a few lines in a biography, I've got to wonder: Will Apple, given Jobs' penchant for brilliant design inside and out, put a glowing Apple logo on the back of the television set? No one would really see it, of course, but we'd know it was there, if only because of the soft light it would reflect off our walls at night. It's the kind of thing that cements Apple brand loyalty. So yeah, I'm hoping.


MacNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at Gmail.com.


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