Apple Television Q&A

Rumors and speculation about an Apple television set are spiking. Why? Because Steve Jobs himself talked about it to his biographer, knowing full well the book would be released in late 2011. This is no coincidence, it’s planned. It’s planned because it’s a product that’s within a year of being launched.

So, I’ll play along and attempt to provide what I think are the answers to all the key questions, and a few not so obvious ones. I want as complete a picture as I can predict, not just a couple of bits and pieces. It was fun doing this last time when iPad rumors were abundant, but long before the product was revealed.

Remember when Steve revealed the iPad? He introduced it by explaining what a tablet would have to be good at. What does an Apple television set have to be good at? Entertainment and information. In the living room and bedroom. What is the living room? It’s a place where one or more people sit on the couch, and expect to be entertained. It’s a place currently burdened with a pile of remotes, set top boxes, cables, receiver, consoles and their controllers. Apple’s job is to free us from this mess and give us a wonderful user experience.

Q. Will it just be a gorgeous looking AirPlay display, designed to easily display content from your iOS device, but unable to function on its own?

No. Besides being a rather boring product to announce, it wouldn’t make for a great user experience if it relied solely on your iOS device in order to work. Imagine walking into your living room to watch something, but realizing you left the iPhone or iPad somewhere else, or someone else is using it? You couldn’t start your entertainment session. This scenario would be riddled with problems. What if a family member uses the iOS device to receive a call or run an app, but you need to pause a video’s playback and you can’t? Or if the battery was low, which happens with iOS devices, and everything just stops working?  It’s “fumbling for your remote control” reinvented.

Here’s a tasty morsel. When you start a video (such as a YouTube video) using AirPlay, today’s Apple TV will “go native”. It will stop streaming from your iOS device and do the streaming from the internet itself. This lets your iOS device take a breather, reduce network activity,  and eliminate a point of failure. The Apple television will do no less. That implies the Apple television will indeed have the innards to be able function on its own. That tiny $75 iOS-running motherboard in it, though, could run Siri, show notifications, reminders, FaceTime, and so much more, without requiring a separate iOS device. What a lost opportunity it would be if left dormant.

Q. So this thing will leverage iOS, and have an Apple processor in it?

Yes. Even better, it is the first iOS device that’s permanently plugged into the power line, so it will have more ram, and the CPU and GPU will run at higher clock rates. This will let it run the software it needs to at excellent speeds for many years. No planned obsolescence, just a little inevitable obsolescence. It will have a handful of GB of flash-based storage for buffering movies and system use.

Q. Will it run apps? Apps from an App Store?

Built-in apps, yes. Apps you can choose and install from an App Store, no. There will be no grid of icons to touch, or to select from with a remote control. There will be apps it can run, but they are invoked by the system. Like when you tell the system to play a YouTube video, the player app is invoked. Or when you want to know what the weather is like today, an app will display the information, but it is an app installed by Apple and fully integrated with the system. More apps can be added by Apple as needed through a system update.

Q. Will it run games on board?

No. Every year, Apple processors and GPUs for iOS devices double in speed, or sometimes even gets bumped up 7x in speed like with the iPhone 4S. If the Apple television set ran games on board, it would quickly become obsolete.  What’s is the ultimate game console and controller all rolled into one? A handheld iOS device. Fire up a game on your iOS device, touch the AirPlay symbol, the Apple television responds, and you have yourself a dual-screen gaming experience like no console can offer. Have you seen Real Racing HD? It displays a steering wheel on your iOS device, and the 3D racetrack view on your display. While an iOS device may not be as good at some games like traditional controllers included with the Xbox 360 or PS3 or Wii, it does have lots of modern touches, like gyros and accelerometers and a touch screen. As a controller and as a game console, it’s more than enough to satisfy user’s gaming needs. The proof is the massive amount of developers building quality games for iOS. Deeper, console-like games will come, too, with the market to sell them to.

One more thing. I remember at a Microsoft keynote for Windows Phone 7, they demoed their dream of gamers being able to play a game on a console, and then pick up where they left off on their Windows Phone 7. To make this happen, developers would have to write both an Xbox 360 version of their game as well as a Windows Phone 7 version. But when the device, the controller is the console, this just happens naturally. None of this will be going on here.

Next year’s $200, A5-equipped, AirPlay mirroring-capable  iPod touch: it’s the game console for your living room, bathroom, and pants pocket.

Q. Will the Apple television have a built-in cable decoder and PVR?

No. This is the internet-era, baby. You won’t be plugging in cable service into this thing. The internet and iTunes is it’s source.  There are two kinds of Apple television set theories. The kind where it embraces and extends the past, and the kind where it sheds legacy and breaks new ground. If there’s one company that has the guts, the backing, the momentum to do this, it’s Apple. It’s how, as John Gruber would say, Apple rolls.

Q. Wait a minute, you mean I won’t be able to plug in my Blu-Ray player, set-top box, Xbox 360, Wii or PS3 into it?

No. If you’re dead-set on doing that, then this device won’t appeal to you.

Q. What will the primary user interface be? What’s this business of “the simplest user interface you can imagine”?

Your voice. No remotes to find, and unless you want to play video games, no iOS devices to charge and keep handy. Quietly speak what you want, and it will be done, conversationally. Even if the television is playing a loud movie, thanks to modern echo cancellation techniques, you can still speak softly. Converse like this: “Play iPhone 4 vs. HTC Evo from YouTube.” — (answer) “Playing.” — “Skip forward 3 minutes” — “Pause” — “Play Total Recall” — “What football games are playing right now?” — “FaceTime with Mike” — (answer) “Mike Sax or Mike Strobel?” — “Sax” — (answer) “Calling Mike Sax on FaceTime.” — “What is the weather like today?” — “Set an alarm in 30 minutes”.

All the user has to know is which keyword to say to get the system to start listening for commands, because unlike on iPhone 4S, there’s no button to press and hold. “Siri” sounds like a pretty distinct keyword to me. But she’s a “humble personal assistant” – maybe it will be her fun-loving sister.

Q. Will voice be the only way to control the TV? What about accessibility?

A tiny remote, the aluminum Apple TV remote, will be included. It will be the only remote you’ll ever need again, and most people probably won’t ever use it except during setup. The interface for the remote control will be similar to the kind of left-right-up-down one used for today’s Apple TV. No grid of icons, as I said previously. You won’t be using this remote to control games.

Q. Will there be anything special about it’s industrial design?

It will be incredibly thin, the world’s thinnest TV, and won’t come with an ugly box for plugging in all your existing stuff. It will have only one cable, the power cable. It will still be very rigid, because it will use real glass, with a good amount of thickness in it to keep the entire thing solid. It won’t have any buttons, it will be always on, using as little power as your iPhone when not in use. When you walk into an Apple store and see one, you will of course, immediately fall in love. They’ll show you what your current system looks like (the mess) and what Apple offers.  The rest will be history.

Q. I like to watch TV, will buying this thing mean I won’t need to pay for cable TV anymore?

You won’t want to. You’ll just be pay for your internet connection. Apart from YouTube, Netflix, MLB, Vimeo, and other internet sources, you’ll have direct, cheaper access to the TV shows you want, thanks to Apple’s expanded iTunes TV and video store. At first, some of the things you want to watch won’t be there. But a nice salvo of new stuff will be announced with the launch of the Apple television set, lessening the pain of the transition, and over time, like with music in the iTunes store, everything will be available. Once the industry sees it can publish their content (even live content, for newscasts) quickly and easily through iTunes, and that they can make as much, if not more money off of it, than through traditional TV, everything will fall into place. And when it does, even more customers will use it, because it will be cheaper than classic TV, on a monthly basis.

Q. What will this Apple television set be called.

I racked my brains for months trying to name the Apple tablet, and got it wrong. I’m not going through that part again. This time, I’m going with the simplest name (and siding with Daring Fireball): iTV.

Q. So why can only Apple build this and nobody else?

Nobody else has Siri, nobody else has the guts to not include any inputs, nobody else has iOS, nobody else has invested in the machinery for the glass and materials required for this level of beauty, and nobody else has their own 300+ stores with heavy traffic to launch this from and introduce it properly. Have I given enough reasons?

Q. Camera?

Yes, FaceTime HD camera. An LED light will clearly indicate when it is in use.

Q. SD card reader?

No. The new point-and-shoots are iOS devices, and Photo Stream is built in. The loop is closing.

Q. ipod connector? 3D? 3G?  Ethernet port?

No. No. No. Ethernet port, maybe.

Q. Will I be able to browse the web?

Still thinking about this one. I don’t see how you’d do it. I think Siri’s “I found this for you:” will return only results from integrated sources. Not web pages you can surf.

Q. Flash support?

Hahaha, no.

That’s it for now. I’ll post an update if I think I got some things wrong, or forgot to answer questions (or couldn’t yet, such as “How will multi-user work?”, “Will there be face or voice recognition?”, “How do parental controls work?”). I’ll be reading blogs, arguing on twitter, and articles and adjusting my predictions if necessary, up until the day before the big reveal.

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Comments

  1. Jiltedcitizen says:

    Why would anyone want a tv that has no inputs?

    • Odi Kosmatos says:

      Why would anyone want an iPad with no USB ports? A MacBook Air with no DVD drive? An iPhone without a user-replaceable battery? An Apple TV that won’t stream my DIVX files? I can go on.

  2. Jiltedcitizen says:

    If people can’t connect their consoles, bluray players or whatever, they won’t buy a tv. Apple would be better off improving the current Apple TV and let tv manufacturers do the things they are good at.

  3. I think you pretty much nailed it… until you mentioned no inputs. I have a hard time imagining who would be the market for a television with no inputs. Steve Jobs always said that the AppleTV (not the Apple Television) was a hobby. What you are describing is a monitor with an AppleTV inside + camera and siri (unless I missed something). To me, that’s a little boring. I have three apple tvs at home, I use them a LOT. I definetly fall in their target market and in 2011-2012-2013 I would never buy a television with no inputs.

    Also, Apple doesn’t manifacture their screens right? Are you suggesting Apple will move in the LCD (or whatever technology they decide to use) and compete with Samsung, Sharp etc..? That would be interesting but sounds unlikely to me.

    All in all, it would be very arrogant of them to release a product as you described it, I think Apple should come in the market with a more humble approach. That said, if there is a company to make an arrogant move like this, it would be Apple. I would bet 100$ with you that if Apple does release a Television, it will have at LEAST some HDMI inputs. I can imagine them saying screw RCA and Component inputs though.

    Thanks for the post, you should do this more often 🙂 Always fun to try and imagine what’s coming next from Apple!

    • Odi Kosmatos says:

      I’m not suggesting they’ll manufacture the panels they will use. They’ll source that from Samsung or whomever, but the machinery to cut glass they already own. Also, if there are HDMI inputs, they won’t be freeing us from any mess after all. Isn’t it typical that they do this, we all scream blue murder, and they still sell millions? Because, in the end, you don’t *need* the inputs if Apple can give you enough of what you want. I cannot imagine it including inputs just to please more people, but breaking the vision.

      • We’ll see, Apple didn’t take off the dvd drive from their laptops from day one, it took time. Also, remember that the iPad does have a usb and card reader 😉 it may be an option but it’s still there.

        Bottom line to me, people want need inputs. People use tvs as monitors nowadays, are you saying Apple wouldn’t allow their televisions to be a computer monitor as well?

  4. Leaving the no-inputs aspect aside, there is a reason why set-top boxes are ‘set-top’.. the life-cycle of a TV display and STB are completely mismatched. A TV display will last 10+ years. Your STB, 2-3. It makes no economical sense for an all-in-one whatsoever.

    Samsung et all have a vested interest in integrating ‘smarts’ into their TVs as it will obsolete them quicker so they can sell more TVs. You don’t need to be a particularly smart consumer to see this a mile off (and avoid it). Most consumers who have bought their 47″ 1080p sets in the last few years will not be replacing them before 2020.

    An Apple integrated TV may, simply because of the brand, but it’ll be *nothing* like the numbers of iPads, iPhones etc sold.

    Though it could be argued that the typical Apple consumer doesn’t have economical sense. 😉

    • Odi Kosmatos says:

      Yeah. On one side, I am tempted to ask why you think a TV has to last 10+ years but a 27″ iMac doesn’t. On the other side, I want to know what you think of the 2X – 7X GPU speed increase of iPhone/iPad on a yearly basis, lending credibility to the idea that Airplay is the solution to not obsolete your Apple television.

      Or worse, the iPhone 3GS is still an incredible seller. I think a Top-3 selling smartphone worldwide this very minute.

      Anyway, thought about all this. Still nebulous.

    • Odi Kosmatos says:

      Oh, by the way, I think our set top box at home, the Hi-Definition one, is about 7-10 years old, and the Xbox 360 is 7 years old.

      That’s pretty close to the 10-year milestone if you ask me.

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