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Op-Ed: An Apple Television Would Be A Horrible Idea

Op-Ed: An Apple Television Would Be A Horrible Idea

December 8, 2012
Besides the iPad mini, the most talked about would-be Apple product this year has been the so-called iTV. Once rumored to launch before the end of 2012, Apple’s first television may now arrive at the end of next year, at least according to one prominent analyst. Tim Cook added some weight to the iTV discussion during his recent appearance on NBC’s “Rock Center.” During the two-part interview, the Apple CEO told Brian Williams that “television watching” was “an area of intense interest” within the company. As AppleSlut later suggested, "Cook is dead serious to see his predecessor’s dream become a ubiquitous part of our lives." In his official biography by Walter Isaccson, Steve Jobs, the late Apple co-founder concluded that he had “cracked” the Apple television concept. Is Cook really channeling Jobs, or are "The Jetsons,” a cartoon set in a future, his real inspiration? Consider this exchange between Cook and Williams:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: What can Apple do for television watching? What do you know that is gonna change the game, that we don't know yet? TIM COOK: It's a market that we see, that has been left behind. You know, I used to watch “The Jetsons” as a kid. BRIAN WILLIAMS: Absolutely. COOK: I love “The Jetsons.” BRIAN WILLIAMS: I was right there with Elroy. TIM COOK: We're living “The Jetsons” with this. {SOT “The Jetsons:” George, you'll never guess what happened.} BRIAN WILLIAMS: FaceTime is “The Jetsons,” but television is still television. COOK: It's an area of intense interest.  I can't say more than that. But …
What the transcript doesn’t show is the excitement on each man’s face. Both men clearly loved “The Jetsons” growing up, as did millions of other children of the 1960’s. (Note: Williams, 53, was born in May 1959; Cook, 52, in November 1960.) There is nothing wrong with reminiscing about a half-century old television show. However, when you use its fictional premise even a little bit as the basis to enter a new industry, you could have a problem or two on your hands. When the iTV rumors started in 2010, I was one of those that thought the idea was a brilliant one. Following the successful launch of the first iPad that spring, I felt that tackling television was a reasonable next step for Apple to take. Since then, my support for an iTV has largely waned precisely because of the iPad, and other factors.

Television sets are not cool

Apple products have long been known for their functionality, as well as their beauty. I’ve often said to would-be iPhone buyers, for example, that Apple’s handset is a piece of art. The same goes for the iPad, and iPad mini. A television set inherently lacks a coolness factor. No matter the television model, at the end of the day, the bulky hardware remains a stationary device that collects dust. It is only after the set is turned on that its true potential is known. Beyond offering better graphics, resolution, or sound, however, a television is still at the mercy of content providers. In other words, no matter how beautiful a television Apple could create, it would mean nothing if there was nothing to watch.

Where to buy?

You can’t buy an iPad at your local budget store. The same goes for the iPhone, which is available only through Apple, and official carriers and resellers. Were Apple to join the television market, they would almost certainly have to open up their supply chain. This would mean Apple-branded televisions not just at Best Buy or Target, but also at regional big box locations. Call me an Apple snub, but I don’t want to see heavily discounted Apple televisions at the local Kmart. I also don’t want to see Apple have to mass-produce numerous television models each year, which they would almost certainly have to do to compete with the likes of Samsung, LG, and others.

iPad has changed where we watch entertainment

Finally, the iPad is yet another reason Cupertino shouldn't produce a television. The tablet has helped shift video entertainment away from the living room to anywhere that a user wants. With Google, Samsung, and Amazon also now in the tablet business, this shift is likely to continue.

What Apple should do

I agree with Mark Cuban: Apple does deserve a place in our living rooms. However, that place should be inside of existing televisions. As such, I suggest that Apple forget about producing an actual television and instead create a set-top box that can be used on any HDTV. This way, they could forgo the low profit margins that come with producing televisions, yet still have a larger say in the entertainment industry going forward. Sure, a set-top box might not be as cool as something out of "The Jetsons," but so what? After all, the show debuted 50 years ago, and we still don't have flying cars. Besides, isn't content king?

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