Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Apple was pitching a set-top box to cable operators, and today the publication's anonymous sources have alleged details about how such a device might work. Functionally, it sounds a bit like a DVR, except viewers wouldn't actually be recording their own shows: Apple's set-top would store entire episodes in the cloud as they're being broadcast live, allowing viewers to start watching programs from the beginning even if they're late to the broadcast. Since the Apple device would also allegedly have access (through other content deals) to the current and previous seasons of any given show, too, the box could theoretically give users access to any episode of a show on-demand, including a live episode, in a single interface.
Visually, the Journal says that Apple is considering an iPad-like user interface for the set-top, but the iPad (and iPhone) itself may be part of the party too, as Apple also reportedly wants to allow its other products to access the same content.
That system recalls the smart TV vision Steve Jobs described to his biographer before he passed away:
"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."
Needless to say, there are plenty of negotiation and rights hurdles in the way of creating such a system today, and the Journal's sources don't say that Apple is any closer to a deal with content owners or cable companies.