Would you buy an Apple HDTV? Perhaps this will help you make up your mind …

We keep hearing rumours about an Apple HDTV that is not just yet another set-top box. That is more than the “hobby” that is AppleTV. And that embodies the awesomeness that a dying Steve Jobs promised biographer Walter Isaacson when saying “I’ve finally cracked it!”

In other words, a full-on flatscreen TV with Apple technology built-in. Theoretically, an Apple HDTV will be available later this year in time for the Christmas shopping season, or early next. This will be the biggest new hardware product for Apple since the iPad – and probably the most expensive.

Where there’s smoke, there’s probably fire. And there’s been a LOT of smoke about an Apple-branded HDTV. The 64-bit question is: would you buy it?

If this future product follows the pattern of the past, an Apple TV will be an interesting animal, with innovations others have introduced but Apple will have refined. And … a few features that other TV manufacturers don’t – and maybe can’t – have.

In the spirit of informed guessing, here’s what I think an Apple TV would include …

Hardware

The hardware will be spectacular in appearance but not in specifications. Apple will have what is widely recognized as close to best-in class performance and hardware, but you will be able to find HDTVs with better specs.

In other words, don’t expect a retina display for your new 50″ Apple flatscreen.

That said, it will be simple, beautiful, and functional. Think glass and aluminum, not tacky black plastic. Yes, there will be a iSight-style camera, a very simple remote (maybe your iPhone, iPod Touch, or similar), and not too many ports (more on that later).

Software

Here’s where it will get interesting. This is what will separate Apple TV from the pack, for good or bad.

  1. Visual interface
    Stunning, elegant, simple. Like the current AppleTV set-top box user interface, but further refined.
  2. Siri, Siri, Siri
    Say it, and Apple TV will find it, schedule it, record it, play it, buy it, tweet it, share it, send it. And that’s just the shows. Siri will also help you connect and configure and use all the other features and functionality. And manage your life, while taking dictation. Siri probably won’t make dinner, but it will order your pizza.
  3. PVR/DVR
    This is almost too simple and obvious to mention – nowhere near the level of Siri – but yes, Apple TV will be able to record, pause, rewind, and replay visual content. However, the PVR/DVR functionality will be not simply be based on the local recording of shows … it will integrate seamlessly and invisibly with iCloud (see below) so you never again run out of space on your TiVo.
  4. iOS … and apps
    The new Apple TV will almost certainly run iOS … ensuring that the 600,000 apps in the app store (one of Apple’s huge competitive advantages) can also run here. Think digital kids books on the big screen, Twitter running side-by-side with Jersey Shore, Facebook open while you co-watch the big game with your buddy deployed in Iran (oops, loose lips sink ships). And 550,000 other things that smart app designers dream up.

Content

The content will be near enough complete to not make choosing Apple TV a hardship.

Won't need this ...

  1. TV
    The major networks will be players, plus many of the movie studios. Giving away ad-supported TV will be like the loss leader for networks: people who like a show can immediately purchase complete and anytime access, including perhaps priority availability of new episodes.
  2. Movies
    Eventually this will enable new models. Imagine watching a movie for free … for the first 30 minutes. Access to the final 60 is available for a small fee of $4.99.
  3. Netflix, etc.
    Via the apps mentioned above you’ll also have access to content networks such as Netflix, but they’ll be less easy to access and less integrated than Apple’s own TV and movie service.
TV content in the Apple TV world starts to undergo a revolutionary shift: it becomes more internet-like. While there still is a place for live shows, most content is stored and accessible on-demand. We see this happening already in places, but Apple TV will accelerate the trend and force the major entertainment companies to buy in or become irrelevant.

Connections

Apple TV will connect some dots. But it won’t connect everything, especially not dozens of legacy devices.

  1. Hardware
    Apple has never shied away from bold hardware decisions. No floppy in the first iMac, no Ethernet in the MacBook Air, no million options for component connectivity in the Apple TV. Forget component, forget 5 HDMI ports, forget a USB stick or card reader. Think a couple of HDMI ports to connect your home theatre system, if you insist on being so gauche as to connect such an unwieldy mass of componentry. But expect a preference to wireless connections and fewer ports.
  2. Your devices
    Speaking of wireless connections, AirPlay and other innovations to tie your small screens and your big screens together will be extended. You’ll send your videos to the big screen from your phone without having to make sure your set-top box is on, configured, the active source in your TV setup.
  3. Your content
    Your content on your Mac will be accessible here, but not so much because you’re connection your Mac to your TV as both are connected to the cloud (yeah, see below). That doesn’t just mean your photos and videos, as the current AppleTV set-top box does somewhat clunkily today … that means all your content. Your documents, your mail, your web bookmarks, if you still use those. In short: everything.
  4. Your communications
    Want to phone? Why not use FaceTime on your Apple TV? Want to email? Why not shoot a quick email while you’re watching Seinfeld reruns? Want to chat on Facebook? Pull up the app next to your content.

Cloud

And finally, the biggest innovation, perhaps, besides Siri … which of course is empowered to do all it does via the capabilities of the cloud. Your Apple TV will be connected to iCloud. The cloud is the centre, and the attendant devices are simply peripherals, including your TV

And that, of course, is what will enable and undergird all the software and content and connectivity mentioned above.

So … the question remains … would you?

Image credits: Paz.ca, Biscuit SMLP

 


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