Thoughts About the Future of Apple TV
I'm currently reading Steve Jobs' biography, and it's got me thinking about the parallels that can be drawn between how iPhone started out and the place Apple TV is in right now. I don't claim any of these thoughts to be 'original', per se, but merely my take on the rumours and speculation that has been going round recently.
iPhone started it's life as a revolutionary phone, for sure, but with basic phone features and no App Store. It handled everything in a elegant and easy-to-use way, but offered very little additional functionality over a standard cell phone.
A year later, the App Store was launched and soon thereafter completely changed the way people think of phones and mobile devices. Apps have been created for almost any purpose you could imagine, and I believe it was the main driving force behind the iPhone's success.
Right now, Apple TV is in the middling stages of its 'life'. There have been several iterations over the years, and right now we're at a stage where the device has got a (in my opinion) relatively elegant, easy-to-use interface that handles core 'Smart TV' functionality well. There are a few third-party 'apps' installed, but it's quite restricted, much like the iPhone was during it's first year.
The majority of people aren't aware of the Apple TV. Some don't know that it exists, and most of those that do don't really know what function it serves (we in the tech community do, obviously, but I'm talking about consumers in general).
I predict that the next major steps Apple will take are to 1) introduce a SDK for Apple TV, and 2) market the device as something everyone wants to own. Their goal will be for it to have the same mindshare as iPhone and iPad. There will be TV commercials showing how it can be used, and a general buzz about it (much like the iPhone 3G started to garner when it was launched alongside the App Store). Within a couple of months of Apple TV's new image being revealed to the public, people will understand how it works, and will want to own one. They will see practical ways in which they can integrate into their lives. In conjunction with other iOS devices, Apple TV will boost the television's 'image' as a whole to much more than a throwaway product.
With the device on people's minds, Apple could then consider moving into the hardware side of televisions. I'm still unsure as to whether Apple will create a physical TV set, or if they will just stick to selling a set-top box. Sticking with a set-top box will be cheaper, and allow more people to experience how Apple TV can change the way they use their television, but Apple like to control the entire experience, from software to hardware, and selling a dedicated TV set would allow them to do that.
It's possible that they will continue to sell the set-top box exclusively for the first year or so of launching Apple TV's new image, and then migrate to a physical TV set once people are hooked into the ecosystem. However, unless an Apple branded television truly offered additional functionality over simply looking sexy, I'm not sure whether there would be enough of a justification (outside of the Cult of Apple) for people to buy one.
If Apple did launch a TV set, I would expect it to push the boundaries of what it currently available on the market. I'd like to see it be the first consumer-available 'Retina' display TV; some would argue that from a distance of 8-feet, a 1080p television could be considered Retina anyway, but imagine having a 2160p screen in your living room! Apps made to utilise the display would look fantastic, and it would potentially push forward the TV industry as a whole. I'd also like to see the TV be almost entirely wireless. By pushing content via apps and iCloud, almost everything could be handled over Wi-Fi. They could no more than two cables running from the device: the power cable, and the aerial/satellite cable. If you wanted to have a superior sound experience, you could AirPlay audio to AirPlay compatible speakers, rather than having wires connected to the TV itself.
If any company has the power to change the industry, to make on-demand television the standard and revolutionise the way the television is used and viewed by the general consumer, it's Apple.