Is the iTV Apple’s next mega-product?

Molly Wood Feb 9, 2012

A confession right up front: Apple has not confirmed that it is, in fact, working on an Apple-branded television. Maybe it’s not. Maybe all the rumors and reports we’ve heard are just hogwash. But on the other hand, when you see a whole ton of those reports coming in on top of the other over the course of many months, you begin to think there’s some fire underneath all that smoke. After all, according to the best-selling biography of Steve Jobs, an Apple television was one of the projects that most occupied Steve Jobs before he died.

Recently, there have been reports in a Canadian newspaper that a prototype of what’s being widely referred to as iTV was spotted in the labs at the Canadian communications company Rogers. Then there was the survey sent out by electronics retailer Best Buy, asking customers if they would buy an Apple set for $1,500 (Best Buy soon stepped back and said the question was purely theoretical). Analyst Peter Misek of Jeffries & Co. went so far as to predict that the device was on the way and that it would feature a YouTube-like system where users could upload video to their sets.

So what would this thing actually look like? “We don’t know for sure, but we suspect it’s a 42-inch to 60-inch television that includes all of your materials for your set-top box,” says Misek, “as well as gesture and voice control. So think of it as Microsoft Kinect meets Siri meets your television. The Internet meets TV content fully integrated into one user experience. And really a brand new user interface and a brand new guide.”

Misek says his company is guessing at between $1,200 and $1,500 for the TV, which he thinks should arrive in stores by Christmas of this year.

As for how it would run, well, you know how an iPhone is like a computer mixed with a telephone? Think of this as a computer mixed with a TV. Or, if you prefer, a computer that is just one giant monitor. “There are two sides to it,” says Laurie Baird of the Georgia Tech Institute for People and Technology. “One would be the enhanced features. People have long talked about whether you get Facebook updates or Twitter. That’s just the low-hanging fruit. More likely, if you’re watching a nightly news broadcast or watching a movie, you can opt in to get more information. Who is that actor? What other shows might I like? Or, for some complex stories, you might be able to say how are those characters related?”

The way all those shows actually get into your TV might be different too. No more mucking about with a black cable running from your TV into a jack in the wall, for instance.” The traditional way has either been over the air or through your cable and satellite and through a tight and restricted pipe to home, and very high quality,” Baird says. “What Apple has really revolutionized is getting content on demand. But that’s generally delivered over Internet. So your Internet service provider (ISP) would be carrying the signal. There’s concern among ISPs that that’s a really big file. You want high quality. So you really need to understand the load of what might be going through the internet connection.”

Which means if you want an iTV (and you know the hipster appeal will be there), you may need to upgrade to a much stronger Internet connection.

Add this all together and Apple might have a real game changer on its hands. “We think it’s hugely disruptive to TVs, to content owners, through to the telecommunications network to devices. We think it will significantly alter the landscape. It could go down as a year you’ll remember in technology, kind of like 2007 the year of the iPhone, this might be one of those years.”

Also on today’s program, Google has a new focus group program. The way it works is, you download a little extension to your Chrome browser and let Google record everywhere you go online. In exchange, the company will give you a $5 Amazon gift card. So essentially you’ll need to decide between your privacy and something you can buy on Amazon for $5. Will you choose the set of ice cube trays or your privacy? Your privacy or an MP3 of a Blind Melon album?

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