Will Apple's iTV transform home entertainment?

Nov 03, 2011

Dubbed "iTV" by the tech press, the late Jobs' final project appears to be the creation of Apple's own TV product and content solutions to compete with cable.

Chat with Darrell Etherington about the Apple iTV, including what features it might have and how it might change home entertainment.

Ask questions, speculate, and submit your opinions about the Apple iTV now.

Related: Apple's iTV, Steve Jobs's last project, may transform home entertainment

Hi, I'm happy to be here today to help answer questions you may have about Apple's television plans. Nothing's been officially announced about the company's ambitions regarding an Apple television set, but many signs, including Steve Jobs' own words from his best-selling biography, strongly suggest one is in the works.

Apple will have to face some major challenges to make a dedicated TV set a realistic possiblity, but the potential reward for it and for users is also considerable. Let me know what questions you have about those challenges and rewards and I'll do my best to answer them.

What's your best guess as to features? AirPlay and iTunes Store streaming, obviously, but what about Netflix and other services like Amazon? Hulu/YouTube? Native Safari and/or Mail? A tuner, a la the existing iTV, that would allow live OTA tv viewing? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Of the ones you mention, the most likely are Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and Safari. That's because there are clear precedents in place with those providers that would most easily allow them to be ported to a new platform.

Netflix is the most obvious of the bunch, since Apple already has a very successful relationship with the service on the existing Apple TV. I'd also guess that Apple would be keen to offer users access to Safari, at least, if not Mail and other basic iOS apps.

As for a bult-in tuner, that might be less likely. Apple is probably going to want to do its best to control the ecosystem on a new television product, just like it does currently. Revenue will depend on content sales, and an OTA tuner could take away from that, and disappoint any content partners Apple brings on board.

The problem is that content is king. The content creators are all keeping their collective piece of the pie close to the vest. They are business minded and won't let anyone take their stuff on the cheap unless they are compelled to by overwhelming numbers of people adopting something like an apple tv. I may be a fool to go against a visionary (Topolsky surely is placing his bet already), but I think that the way into the home is via the cable box and not by selling a rather expensive TV. 

You make some really good points about Apple's hurdles in creating a TV product users want to buy.

TV content creators aren't in as much of a bind as previous media entities have been when entering into distribution deals with Apple. Music, movie and magazine publishers all had to face dwindling physical media sales and a dire situation in terms of losing the interest of the general public.

TV isn't there yet. Cable subscriptions are actually rebounding for a lot of companies recently, so Apple might not have as much leverage when it comes to presenting an alternative for content producers.

That doesn't mean Apple is without options, but it definitely makes striking content deals more complicated.

I'll believe it when I see it. The content and bandwidth providers and won't allow this. The on-demand high definition service of the cable providers, though expensive is tough to beat.

Just as the previous question regarding content deals struck gold, this one does for rasising the bandwidth problem.

In many cases, internet providers are also cable and satellite TV operators, so there's a bit of a sweetheart deal going on when it comes to delivering content, and delivering it in a high-quality format. 

Apple has a few options, which I briefly touched on above. First, it has to convince companies that its model is better than the alternative. That could be harder to do because, as mentioned, there really isn't a crisis of audience loss yet. But Apple can still make a very convincing argument that it represents the mode of distribution of the future; it has App Store revenue and the success of initiatives like Newsstand to back it up.

Also, through apps, Apple can actually initially partner with cable and satellite companies, like it has done on the iPad. Those arrangements have proved beneficial for all parties involved, and could be a way to make sure the door is open to a relationship that more heavily favors Apple in the future. 

I read what I'm sure was just a rumor about plans for Apple to possibly incorporate their existing devices into a plan to use them for controlling video games made available over Apple TV. Have you heard anything about this? This is Kevin Burke.

Hi Kevin. I've heard the rumor you're reffering to, and it's actually already partly true, albeit via third-party developers with the help of recently introduced Apple tech.

Using Apple's AirPlay Mirroring, you can already play some games, like Real Racing 2 HD on your Apple TV-connected television, while controlling it on your iPad or iPhone 4S.

In this case, the games don't reside on the Apple TV, but it's easy to see how a similar system would work if Apple created an Apple television and opened it up to third-party apps.

Also, there's an app called Joypad that works with other third-party games to turn your iPhone or iPad touch into a controller for your iPad, which again, would translate nicely to an Apple televsion experience.

It would be awesome if Apple could integrate your entire entertainment system into apps? Like being able to control your audio receiver through an app, or play new video games through a PS3 app. .... Live streaming games?

This does indeed sound awesome, but I think what you're asking for here is a tall order. Especially when it comes to collaboration with gaming giants like Sony.

The fact is that Sony and Nintendo don't seem all that interested in making Apple a partner, and in fact probably aren't eager to give what's become one of their biggest competitors another leg up.

The idea of an app that controls your home theater receiver is a definite possibility, though. Already, Apple provides APIs to developers for use with third-party harware. And Logitech recently introduced something along those lines, with its Harmony Link device and the iOS app that goes with it.

I think if an Apple television uses a more open version of iOS, like the one found on iPhones and iPads, instead of the closed version on the current Apple TV, we'll definitely see third-party hardware hit the market that ties in via software and connectivity options like Bluetooth or maybe even USB.

I currently have the latest generation Apple TV and love it. I use it all the time. While it has its limitations, most new functionalities are only a software update away.  
What I am not convinced of though, is despite all this talk about a new iTV, what's the justification for building a whole new TV set around it? Why not just stick with the box itself?

That's an excellent question, and one I hear a lot about this device. Apple TV as it stands is very capable, as you say, and could gain a lot from a simple software update, in the same way it's already gained MLB, NBA and NHL live streaming.

But to continue developing just the box goes against Apple's desire to control the whole product experience, from end to end.

Apple would likely want to make its own TV because, as it has shown with the iPhone 4S, the iPad, its Mac computers, and its Cinema Displays themselves, the screen is a hugely important element when it comes to audio/visual products.

Developing its own television lets it control that very important aspect of the product, which actually, for a television, is the primary component. If Apple can create a screen for its television that is as good or better as the ones it uses in other devices, that alone will be a major draw for potential customers.

Thanks everyone, those were great questions about a product that, while exciting is still largely a mystery.

In closing, I'd just like to point out a few more considerations Apple likely needs to take into account when delivering a successful and appealing Apple TV.

Such a product has to live up to the vision Joshua Topolsky described to be truly distruptive in the industry, by providing a la carte content via apps, but it also needs to not be too different, and allow users access to live broadcasts, too.

Apple has shown that it can bring content partners on board with apps that show TV content on mobile devices, and then even on existing television sets through AirPlay and the current Apple TV. Those are all good steps towards making the idea of apps as channels palatable to content providers, but it doesn't mean they'll play nice just yet.

Content deals are the key to Apple's success. And it has shown that it can swing those deals even when they seem unlikely with other industries, so there's a good chance that'll happen here, too, but don't expect it to happen overnight.

In This Chat
Darrell Etherington
Darrell is a professional blogger, writer and editor, with an M.A. in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Windsor. He has covered Apple and remote work technologies for GigaOM for the past three years. Before that, he worked at SBR Global in Toronto as a consultant, primarily advising clients on web-based technical projects. He is currently based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
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