In which we consider the oft-rumored Apple HDTV

The fundamental question Apple always wants an answer for before entering a new market is “Why would someone buy this instead of what’s already out there?” I don’t think there’s a good answer for that if an Apple-branded HDTV is just a big screen with built-in Apple TV functionality.

John Gruber

For years, there have been rumors of the imminent release of an Apple-made HDTV. The topic came up again last week when AppleInsder published a report speculating on the launch of this device in the next year:

Such a product could be paired with a subscription service to iTunes, allowing users to access content and services at a flat subscription rate that would negate the need for a cable box and digital video recorder. However, [Brian] White’s note gave no indication of potential features of such a product. Apple also has a great deal of experience with high-definition displays on its iMac desktop, including its big-screen 27-inch iMac, first released in 2009.

In the ensuing discussion over the weekend, the case for Apple making a big screen TV by Harry McCracken, and to a lesser degree, Chris Dixon, came down to the following argument:

  1. There are rumors of an Apple HDTV
  2. When there were rumors of X before Apple announced X, some analysts said Apple would never make X (where X = the iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch)
  3. Apple made X
  4. Therefore, Apple will make an HDTV

I have no doubt that Apple could make a beautifully designed television if they set out to do it and that a nontrival number of people would buy it. Still, there isn’t a good reason for them to make one.

Yes, that big piece of glass is important, in that it’s what we stare at once we’re on the couch – much like the LCD monitor sitting on your desk. Because that’s what an HDTV is – a big computer monitor for your living room. But once it’s plugged in and turned on, it disappears and the video on screen is all that matters.

And that video has to come from somewhere. For most people, that place is a cable box or a satellite receiver, so they’re viewing experience is determined by that box they rent every month. A TV made by Apple isn’t going to change that. Adam Lisagor:

The TV is not the screen with seven different inputs for your players and boxes and game machines. The TV is the content and the buttons we touch to get to that content. That is, the TV has historically been the cable box, and Apple has merely hinted at changing this.

The only way to improve that awful experience is to avoid it by routing around the cable/satellite providers. And in case you missed it, Apple already has a way to do this through the $99 Apple TV. Plug that in, and you’ve got an Apple experience and content available through iTunes and Netflix. Marco Arment puts it well:

A bigger problem is that Apple prefers to offer fully integrated products, but a modern TV is just one component in a mess of electronics and service providers, most of which suck. Apple doesn’t want their beautiful, it-just-works TV to need to interact with Onkyo’s 7.1 HDMI-switching receiver, Sony’s 3D Blu-ray player, Microsoft’s game system, Comcast’s awful Scientific Atlanta HD DVR, Canon’s newest camcorder, the photos on your point-and-shoot’s SDHC card, and your Logitech universal remote. (The need for TVs to have a more complex remote than the Apple TV might be fatal alone.)

The Apple TV, as a single-featured set-top box with one take-it-or-leave-it output, avoids all of those complexities and delivers one Apple integrated experience — iTunes — to your TV. That’s it. Single-purpose, done well.

So what could an Apple flatscreen offer over the combination of your current television with an Apple TV plugged into it? One less box, I suppose, but then your eight year old will eventually be stuck running software almost a decade old. No, if Apple continues to pursue this hobby, it’ll be on the content side, so that you’ll eventually no longer have a need for the other boxes plugged into your TV.

  • Anonymous

    If Apple
    does release a branded TV, then they would have outdone themselves once
    again! Why does this not surprise me? I
    mean it’s Apple… they never ceases to amaze. This TV actually sounds pretty
    stellar. I will definitely have to check into getting one should it all pan
    out. I’m constantly looking for the most for my money and the best quality of
    HD. Being a long term DISH Network customer and most recently employee; I can
    say that DISH offers the most HD channels on the market at no additional
    cost. Amazing stuff; HD is certainly a
    thing or the present and of the future and I would recommend it and DISH to
    anyone looking for the best quality TV out there!