Revolutionizing the Smart TV, Apple-style
So here I am, following CES, and of course I see all these manufacturers showing off their "smart" TVs. The problem with these smart TVs is that, like old smartphones, they're far too convoluted. Sony is even placing an entire QWERTY keyboard on the back of their remote. They don't tackle any of the problems of current televisions, they just graft a bunch of smartphone features on them. Tweeting from your TV is not going to be the next revolution.
Here's an anecdote for you. I have a roommate who is a fairly hardcore gamer. He's in Honors College, he's majoring in applied math with a minor in computer science. Quite bright. But his Xbox 360 was hooked up to his 50" 1080p TV and running at 480p - not even in widescreen. This is not an uncommon occurrence. Setting up a TV and hooking everything up to it is too complicated for many people. Component cables with their five outputs (two of which are the same color) just give people headaches; so does trying to reach around behind their massive TV to reach the plugs. Remotes have a hundred buttons on them. Switching between sources is a hassle. Computers are often the same way. Plugging in your monitor, speakers, keyboard, mouse, it can be a pain in the ass.
You take an iMac out of the box. No monitor or speakers to plug in; it's all integrated in the machine. The mouse and keyboard are wireless and automatically pair to your computer. That's the magic of Apple. That's the kind of thing none of these other manufacturers understand, but Apple absolutely excels at. Expect them to push HDMI and Thunderbolt hard - hassle free, single-cable systems for audio and video. Internet will be wireless through WiFi, of course. Oh, and maybe even a DVD or Blu-ray drive will be built in; they don't want people to have to deal with hooking one up (maybe not - as with the Mac Mini, they may be pushing for movies and TV to go all digital).
A lot of people keep speculating about what kind of remote it's going to have. My guess? Something resembling this:
That's right. No touchscreen, no keyboard (although they may allow you to pair a Bluetooth keyboard separately). It's simple. It's clean. People understand it. If they do anything amazing with the remote, I don't think it will be touch. No, I think it will be similar to what another certain company with a famous remote control and a knack for white plastic did: the Wii Remote. Navigating through menus with arrow buttons on a remote is incredibly clumsy. Being able to point your remote at the TV would be a marked improvement, and be a close analogue to a touchscreen blown up to 50". I don't think they'll use a sensor bar set up, however - I imagine it would be gyroscope/accelerometer based. FaceTime support would likely prove to be a smart inclusion as well.
What about content delivery? I do think Apple would absolutely love to revolutionize television the way they changed music, but existing deals with cable providers likely stop that from happening anytime soon. Instead, expect content deals with the cable providers: no set top box needed, the Apple TV itself can act as a box for all the major players, as well as a DVR. On-demand options will be prominent, and Netflix support likely bundled in (like it is with everything these days). AirPlay will be built in. iTunes Store support will definitely be integrated, as well as iCloud for photos and maybe even iTunes Match to stream music through your TV. One obvious move would be to bring Genius playlists to TV, recommending shows to watch based on what you've said you liked, as well as a Shuffle function for good old-fashioned tube surfing.
In the long run, they'd certainly push for a la carte television service, and of course making all previously-aired content on-demand as soon as possible. Any other functionality, like Facebook or web browsing, will ultimately be a mere bulletpoint on the device, not the key selling point.