The rumor mill has gone full tilt the last few days that Apple is in the process of developing a smart TV. According to Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs told him that Apple had “finally cracked it” a way to make TV, that is simple and elegant. I have to admit I am not holding my breath. I have seen too many of these attempts to make the next TV, somewhere in the back of my closet is a Web-TV. I purchased and sold the older Apple TV and currently have the Apple TV 2 and a Roku on my desk. They all worked and yet none of them have replaced the TV for the average household. Some like the Web-TV were far too complicated and ahead of their time. Others like the Apple TV, the Roku, and even the Google TV are limited by the agreements they can make with media providers. Plus no one has been able to solve the issue of live sports or live events.
Before we can have the right answers we need to know what the problems are. That got me thinking what do we want from our television sets. The first thing we want is ease of use, anything that is too complicated will fail. Maybe the idea of channels need to be rethought, why not clearly group channels by providers or content. Why do we insist on using the same system we did fifty years ago when most people had less than 6 channels. Why can’t something like Netflix or Amazon video just be a part of the normal guide. The ability to switch from application to application needs to be quick and intuitive, the fewer buttons that need to be pushed the better. I know from personal experience if my husband has to push more than three buttons he is not going to use it. Which leads directly to how is the system going to be controlled, will it be by a remote control or will something like Siri be involved. At this time I don’t think a voice command has evolved far enough to work with a television set in a noisy living room. The remote control must have a keyboard and the fewer buttons the better. I believe that in today’s world social media integration must be available. Can a system be created that doesn’t force people to get content they don’t want? As long as that content is being controlled by the cable or satellite companies I am afraid the answer will be no. Unfortunately Apple may run into many of the same problems that Google has, the ability of the content providers and the cable companies to block content. The final problem is should the system be integrated into the TV or should it be a separate box that can be used with all modern televisions. If Apple chooses to go with an integrated system, will they integrate the system into a monitor they make themselves or will Apple work with other manufactures. Knowing that Apple likes to control things as much as they can I suspect they will want to make everything themselves.
I don’t have any answers to these questions and I am not sure Apple does either. I believe this involves rethinking the whole concept of television from the ground up. Perhaps even the name television is too limiting, perhaps video entertainment system is a better name for what we are talking about. From the iPod, through the iPhone and the iPad, the engineers and creative team at Apple have shown the ability to think outside the box. Maybe they can do the same thing with television, I certainly hope so, but I suspect the journey will be long and rough.