Next-Gen Apple TV Release Faces Tricky Timing
Jun 7, 2012 5:00 AM PT
We rearranged our family room with our 42-inch HDTV so that the couch is farther away from the screen than before. While the room is far more open and usable now, it's clear to me that my piddling little 42-incher is far too small, never mind the fact that it's only a migraine-inducing eyestrainer of a unit pumping out 720p.
Of course, I'd prefer a 1080p set, probably edging up into the 47-inch-and-above class. No need to get crazy and go five feet or anything. I'm a practical guy on a budget, right.
Then there's the fabled, mythical, and perhaps magical real Apple TV that Apple is supposedly working on deep inside the catacombs of the company's Cupertino headquarters.
There have been plenty of allusions to such a device, starting well before the Steve Jobs bio by Walter Isaacson. The most recent hint of iTV is a vague mention from freshly knighted Sir Jonathan Ive that he's working on something quite "important" right now, along with Apple CEO Tim Cook, at this year's All Things D conference.
But When? Tell Us When!
It's a given that Apple is working to create a real HDTV with the Apple TV name. It's possible that the company will quietly fail behind closed doors and delay a release, perhaps indefinitely, but I seriously doubt it. The TV -- in all sizes -- remains a critical component of the digital experience all the way into the future to the point of a zombie apocalypse.
With Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) right around the corner, there's a real chance that Apple could reveal the next-gen Apple TV at the conference. However, it's more likely the company will be smarter than that and just tip its hand, for two key reasons:
- Summertime is terrible time to be selling and buying big screen TVs
- WWDC is for developers, so why not give them a taste of what's to come -- the Apple TV operating system -- but save the slick hardware for a better consumer-oriented splash?
Apple Needs Apps or Content - Probably Both
When I consider the Apple TV -- especially as I look at my 42-inch TV far across the distance of my family room -- I realize Apple has to create something pretty amazing for me to actually buy it, and I'm a hardcore Apple fan.
For starters, while 42-inch screens are great for many homes, they're not for me. Right there out of the gate, I might be a non-buyer if Apple doesn't produce a bigger set. Then, of course, even if Apple does produce a bigger unit, the price has to be competitive, even if the entire set is made of shimmering crystal that lets you customize the color of the frame to match your decor or mood. The hardware design will take a back seat to the operating system and the ecosystem that could be delivered by an Apple TV. No way around that.
So if Apple is going to create a real TV set, the set has to play nice with satellite, cable and over-the-air TV service. More importantly, it has to offer more, and more is apps. Who makes apps? Developers. And apps take time. So maybe Apple will show off the potential at WWDC, giving us a clue as to the shipping time frame.
Meanwhile, if finally Apple comes right out and says that it's making something real, the company might have a better shot at figuring out the programming angle. Can it offer subscriptions to TV shows that are actually cost-effective? Can I get Animal Planet or the Discovery Channel without shelling out for the expensive satellite and cable plans that bundle in all the crappy channels too? Can Apple change the TV programming model? So far, it seems as if Apple has been unable to do that by leveraging its current Apple TV hobby alongside iTunes and the integration with iOS devices.
So what does this mean? I think it means that Apple has to make a more specific move so that it either becomes a threat to current TV programming models or it becomes a possible solution that some networks or shows or sporting organizations want to play with. And that takes time.
Wait Until ...
Can Apple introduce a real Apple TV right now? Probably not.
How about September or October, which is typically when we see new media devices and announcements around iTunes and music and such? It's before the holiday season, and it pretty much guarantees that Apple will be able to snag attention and get enough product into the supply chain to sell, feeding the likelihood of a great financial quarter and successful momentum.
If that's too soon, then when? The next open shot is early in 2013. If Apple can get a TV out before other key buying times, like before the Super Bowl or the NCAA basketball tournament, there's a chance it could pull off enough interest and heat to make the content producers pay attention and build momentum for the new TV.
Spring and Summer? Pretty risky. Anything later than early next year, and whatever Apple does will start off with a solid dose of derision and concern that a Steve Job-less Apple can't produce in a timely way. Hate to say it, but that's the soft underbelly at risk here.
Either way, I'll squint at my current HDTV every now and then this summer, waiting and wondering if Apple will actually deliver before I lose patience and hit a big-box store for some other brand.