OPINION: AppleTV is technology, TV is a utility

There’s a lot of rumors going around right now about whatever Apple decides to make the next apple TV.  Most of them center around a physical TV with built-in Apple TV technology powering it.  I wrote about my own thoughts a while back (Part 3: AppleTV is the New Apple TV), but thought with all the “news” it was worth giving this a second look.

There’s just a problem with a physical “Apple” TV.  I can’t see many actually buying a utility product that’s trying to keep up with cutting edge technology.  

Let’s first mention what people are saying this current line of rumors are.  The current rumors are coming from a post over at Smarthouse.  This seems in line with some other rumors that have come from “credible sources” that Apple is planing on releasing a range of physical TVs with built-in Apple TV intergration.  It would run with hardware comparable to whatever the next iPad would be running (the new A6 dual core chip) along with giving all the features of the current AppleTV.  Currently it’s thought Apple would release 3 models ranging from 32 to 55 inches.

I have a problem with all of this.  3 of them actually.  It doesn’t seem to fit with Apple’s ideology when making products, nor does it fit with how people treat getting a TV.  TVs have long been a low margin product.  Most family’s have only 1 “big” TV in the house.  Then there’s the 300 pound gorilla: How long did you have your last primary TV?

It’s true recently TV buying cycles have been a bit disrupted from the old 10-20 year habits that was apparent while CRTs where the norm.  Plasma and LCD don’t seem to last as long as their CRT counter parts.  With that the cycle seemed to drop to no longer than 10 years.  Add to that the recent emergence of HD and 3D, and you see recently a lot more people upgrading their TVs.  however, if i had to guess, this is a short-term bump.  Once everyone has upgraded to  a high def TV (and almost all of them have some form of 3D in it at this point), I’m guessing that it will go back to a matter of “when it breaks I’ll get a new one” thinking.

So that leads me to my first issue.  Why would Apple invest all this money on a “smart TV” that people would buy once a decade.  It’s already a low profit situation, only becoming more unprofitable as people wouldn’t buy a new one for quite a while.  I’m sure whatever Apple would make would definitely be very good in comparison to other comparable TVs, but would brand loyalty be enough for people to switch?  Couple that with all the other smart TVs on the market and you have a low profit product in an already crowded market  (one which most people already seem quite happy with what they have) and you have what I would think would be an undesirable market.

And what about all those of us who are just at the beginning of our TV cycle (like myself)?  Would Apple be content to wait that long time to actually catch us when our TVs break?  Every time they have entered a market it’s in a situation where consumers don’t have something that fits their needs or whatever the product is something that they can easily replace.  With iPods there was no real use case other than us geeks how might have had a Rio or something.  iPhones came into a market where people would replace their TVs every 2 years or so (thanks to contracts).  Heck even the high cost computer only took 2-5 years for people to start looking for an upgrade.  A TV fits none of these categories.

This is my second problem with Apple selling a physical TV.  In order for Apple to reach the larger 80% that they seem to be targeting these days, they’d need to address the majority of us that aren’t looking for a new TV.  True having another box to plug into the TV might be cumbersome, but it’s accessible.  I can see Apple coming up with some revolutionary way to get around this (perhaps Airplay function available to TV manufactures?) but having this new technology only available to people who want to spend a lot of money on such a large purchase as a TV once a decade doesn’t make sense.

And then their is the guts of the TV.  Regardless what technology they put into the TV, within 2 years it’s going to be sorely antiquated.  As a culture we started experiencing this back in the 90s with our cars.  Originally we had “new” 8 track players, which then gave way to Cassettes, then CDs, and finally MP3, GPS and in dash entertainment in our cars.  But how many people actually went out of their way to replace their Audio equipment in their cars?  Other than some car geeks, most typically waited until they bought a new car before getting the upgrade.  AS as technology sped up, it quickly became obvious that anything you bought for you car would be outdated shortly after you got it.

Ford saw this issue and actually addressed it with their Ford Sync technology.  Ford’s CEO Alan Mullaly has said that car technology was being outpaced by even simple smart phones and other smaller devices and looked for a way to integrate those things into your car.  That way you’d always have the latest tech at your disposal without having to constantly replace your cars systems.  So they partnered with Microsoft to create technology that would pair with and take advantage of the cell phones and whatever might come out in the future.  And it’s worked.  Ford is now seen as one of the tech companies in the car industry.  If you have Ford Sync, your car’s tech is not that behind whatever device you happen t have on hand.

Which brings me to my third problem: TVs have the same issue.  My TV was bought only last year and yet it can’t take advantage of most of Samsung’s smart TV apps, or the new networking features available in this years model.  True it has a selection of apps and limited network ability, but the constant changing technology means that whatever is in my TV will always be far behind whatever is “hot” now.  If Apple is to been seen as the technology driving TVs, they will have to deal with this ever-changing technology.  A static TV won’t be that answer.

My personal thought is perhaps Apple will come out with a larger form factor monitor (they already have made 30″ display’s, no reason not to have a 40″ high-end monitor), but it makes much more sense to partner up with TV manufactures to integrate their AirPlay into the TVs.  Having a way to connect to TVs externally (whether wired or wireless) would give them the flexibility to adapt to the changing hardware market.  This would allow consumers the ability to purchase new devices on a much more frequent schedule, much akin to smart phones, and keep up with whatever “hot new” tech is out at the time.

TVs have become just another medium in which we can experience our technology. They are a view for whatever we send to it.  It’s a device that function as more as a utility than an actual starting point.  No need to be locked down to something that within a few years we’d see as antiquated.  How un-Apple is that?

Categories: Opinion, Tech with TaselTags: , , , ,

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