What Apple is ‘Interested in’ with the HDTV Viewing Experience

| Particle Debris

Gamesmanship

There was a time when many observers thought about Apple changing the way consumers watch content on their HDTV. Over time, it's become clear that the content holders have an iron grip on content, and so the new question may be: what can we do with that big display that we haven't been doing? That's something Apple is uniquely suited to change.

Jonathan Ive

One can make a list of things we haven't been doing much with our HDTVs that many would, perhaps, like to do. It's just a start, and there are likely many more.

  • Take screen shots and e-mail them.
  • Do facial recognition of actors.
  • Play fantastic games, making dedicated game boxes obsolete.
  • Throw content to them from our Macs. (Possible now, but perhaps rare.)
  • Do video conferencing between friends and family.
  • Picture-in-picture effects

If Apple were to start looking at the fundamental issues we have with owning a large screen and combine that with its typical taste and feel for solving problems, the issue of rethinking how we pay for selected content, so tightly controlled these days, would just sink into the background—all under the new vision of Sir Jonathan Ive, Senior VP of Design. Doing all that may, in fact, require seizing  control of the video hardware and display -- which rules out merely a next generation set-top box. It's just a thought that, I think, deserves some consideration.

In this week's technical news debris below, there are some dot connecting ideas about all that: the failure of 3D, Apple's strength in games, the evolution of the current Apple TV product, and so on. Perhaps one reason the rumored Apple HDTV project hasn't happened yet is because Apple has given up on the notion of how we pay for and watch content, and is instead exploring avenues that they have control over. As Tim Cook has said, Apple remains keenly "interested in" TV, but that may not mean content offerings so much as it means what Apple can do with the hardware. That could be an even bigger deal as we contine to play the game of "connect the dots."

Tech News Debris for the Week of June 17

There was a lot of discussion prior to WWDC about how Apple would abandon the skeuomorphic design of iOS 6 and flatten the OS. What people weren't expecting was a substitution of dimensionality and depth for skeuomorphism. David Cole, a designer at Quora writes an interesting analysis of iOS 7 for Forbes (believe it or not).

One of things I've mentioned before is that Apple's design principles are so subtle, if you don't recognize the effect they have on you (or others) subconsciously, then you may not appreciate what Apple is doing. Brooke Crothers explores this nicely in "One reason Apple is hard to beat."

You don't need to live in the Netherlands or speak Dutch to appreciate the visual humor in this article, "The many faces of the new Mac Pro."

How many customers does Apple have? One metric is the number of iTunes accounts, which Apple puts at 575 million. How much money is each one of those customers worth to Apple? Horace Dediu does a nice analysis of the numbers. "What’s an Apple user worth?"

When you have an agenda or don't really dig into the numbers its easy to come up with sensational article titles. Daniel Eran Dilger doesn't do that sort of thing, and he takes a deeper look at the Samsung sales numbers. "After crowning Samsung as Apple's heir, analysts now rethinking their math."

Are you noticing performance issues with Netflix with Verizon? The reason, according to this very good investigative article is that there is a "behind-the-scenes power play between Verizon and Cogent Communications, one of the largest bandwidth providers," according to Om Malik and Stacey Higginbotham. It's one of the blights of our times. "Having problems with your Netflix? You can blame Verizon."

A long time ago, in another galaxy, Apple had some ambitions for its platform, Mac OS X, to be used with supercomputers. The company made a few minor inroads in 2001-2005, but the technical commitment to such an endeavor compromised and distracted from the greater market. As a result, BSD Unix never made it in that field, and "Linux continues to rule supercomputers." Would you believe 476 of the fastest 500 computers in the world run Linux? One of the nice things about Linux is that you can recompile the kernel to suit your own special technical needs.

There's true innovation, when a product solves a genuine human need and truly deserves to exist. And then there's forced gadgetry, designed to prop up sales. We always felt that was true of home 3D HDTV, and now Disney agrees and has probably put the nail in the coffin of this headache producing fad. "Disney’s decision to shutter ESPN 3D at the end of the year suggests the format’s days in home entertainment are numbered."

Related to that is a very nice article that talks about "The Trajectory of Television—Internet rebellion and hardware renaissance." It's mostly a hardware perspective and doesn't mention Apple's "interest" in home TV.

And while we're on the subject of Apple and TV, Peter Cohen has some thoughts about Apple departing slightly from the purity of paying for content on the current Apple TV a la carte and moving into subscription-based services. What does this mean? No one knows for sure, but Mr, Cohen explores the issues. "Apple TV keeps users from cutting the cable TV cord." As I mentioned in the preamble above, maybe Apple is conceding to the content holders in order to then move on with its own agenda that it can control.

Apple is amazingly successful with iOS. Google is amazingly successful with Android. iOS 7 takes some ideas from Android, and Android takes some ideas from iOS. It was ever so with the Mac and Windows. So it's not unreasonable to think about the ways Google may be leaning towards some of Apple's successful practices. Here's the discussion: "The Future of Android Looks More Like Apple Inc."

Let's play 'Connect the dots' (and neurons).

Finally, connecting the dots is what it's all about in this business, and Jonathan S. Geller does some serious dot connecting here. "Apple’s plan to take over the living room while destroying Microsoft and Sony." Jonny Evans also chimes in on this. "WWDC: Now it looks like Apple's going to take out the console market."

Happy reading!

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Neurons/dots via Shutterstock.

Particle Debris is a generally a mix of John Martellaro's observations and opinions about a standout event of the week combined with a summary of articles that didn't make the TMO headlines, the technical news debris. The column is published most every Friday except for holidays.

Comments

geoduck

Home 3D going away? Yessssss…I called it, knew it wasn’t going to catch on.

skipaq

Getting content providers to do business outside of cable and satellite companies doesn’t look to be coming soon. But there are many things that Apple TV can be enabled for with iOS. This is something that Apple has been working toward over time. I look forward to more later this year.

iJack

Fear not. The time will come when content providers are begging for Apple to help them.

iJack

Wait.  Quora employs a designer? 
You wouldn’t know it to look at it.

CudaBoy

Meanwhile Apple does nothing. Samsung OTOH, them TVs is hip and getting hipper (4p) all the time. And maybe 3D is dead on ESPN but Hollywood is filming in 3D exponentially more every year, same same with the billion dollar gaming industry. Who cares about ESPN. Too bad Apple’s Whole Widget doubles as a straitjacket as well.  Content providers will go with the flow, and it’s clear Apple has no dog in the fight as of yet.
  The music biz paradigm burned a lot of corporate bean counters - I’m speaking of the Napsters and in my opinion the hasty deal made for “peanuts” that the record co.s made to Apple in order to salvage ANY income generation compared to bubkiss. The movies aren’t hurting AND they payed attention to the whole music biz crash and burn hence I believe they have NO reason to give away revenue for peanuts unless they are in control. If most mobile devices run Android, why would “they” be bullied by Apple?

aardman

The most underreported but arguably biggest news is Apple’s new assault on gaming.  They need an exclusive killer game title when the offensive launches and I wonder if the folks over at Pixar might be able to give them a hand on this.

ibuck

Should be verrry interesting if Android becomes a walled garden like Apple. You’d think the Samsung-Android fans might pipe down a bit. But we still hear from strident fans going on about Windows in the post-PC era, so perhaps not.

Does anyone else find it odd that on one hand some people are excited about the resolution and crispness of picture on HD and HD-er screens & TVs, and OTOH tout uncrisp, often blurry 3D video?

Lancashire-Witch

I think part of the problem with the “HDTV viewing experience”  is that it’s not universal. For example, what is Netflix or HBO? They don’t exist in my part part of the world. Apart from program makers selling finished programs to each other like I Love Lucy and Kojak, the TV viewing experience itself is contained within national boundaries. Apple, being a global (revenue) company must find that quite a challenge.  So maybe, John, it will come down to exploiting the technology (but hopefully not in 3D!) rather than, like music, control & sale of the content.

wab95

John:

You pose some thoughtful comments under ‘Gamesmanship’. Standout articles from your lineup, at least for me, include the Forbes, Crothers, Dediu and Dilger pieces.

Despite an horrificly aggressive set of deadlines these next few days, TMO reading is a welcome refuge, so I make time for this, but have little time to contribute any thought, perhaps except one.

I continue to ponder the current bearishness on all things Apple, and, from my very limited discretionary reading time, see that little has changed in the popular punditry post WWDC. The bears are still bearish and any thoughtful analysis arises from the usual but fixed set of the thinking few. I remain optimistic however over Apple’s near term (and certainly longterm) prospects, specifically over Apple’s prospects of retaking ownership of their own message and narrative.

Again, Apple’s is the long game. Not only are their rivals having to come to terms with how Apple have redefined the game (e.g. whole-widget or bust), and their arch rivals, Google and MS having to come to grips with either wholesale adoption of that model, or at least greater adherence to it in mission-critical areas of their business models, but hardware OEMs are struggling to hit those core performance indicators, specifically end-user sales targets, for new products (e.g. Samsung, HTC, MS/Nokia). Meanwhile, Apple continue to make quiet but strategically important inroads into platform and client-base expansion (e.g. LAUSD) that will have implications for years to come - perhaps measured in generations.

My admittedly non-professional observation is that it is by paying attention to small and often-times non-quantifiable elements of the user experience, which can be best summarised by Apple’s leadership as, ‘We make things that we ourselves would want to use’ - elements that comprise that ineffable but all-important quality of joy that end users derive from using said products - Apple continue without fanfare, adulation or sometimes even acknowledgement to expand their core user-base of loyal clients who will be largely impervious to distractions such as spec-wars and short-lived feature advantages, and who will, irrespective of pundit appraisal, be attracted and retained on the strength of whole solutions to their digital management needs.

And it is in such detail that the distinction between a great work and a masterpiece lies, the one winning broad but limited and short-lived appeal, the other universal acclaim and immortality. That such seemingly minor detail could result in such disparate fates is a riddle whose answer lies not with the critic or even the artist, but within us, the audience and end-user.

Maxwell Williams

Seems Apple may have missed the boat on getting their TV to market, sure the rumors and fantasies about what an Apple iTV may apparently still run wild, the fact is Samsung has already put many of those initial ideas into production already, the facial recognition, video conferencing, program searching, internet and apps.

But it doesn’t appear people are willing to spend the kind of money on these TV’s as the industry first imagined. Sure Apple has it’s loyal fan club, and will buy anything Apple, but the ‘club’ has been shrinking, in part by a weak economy and again by Apples failure to ignite their consumers with ‘magical’ new devices, they’ve done nothing more then tweak their inventory.

The only excitement created by Apple the past two-years have been rumors and so-called ‘leaks’  of New devices that have yet to be released.

Some might say the iPad Mini was a New device, but was it really? It was basicly an iPad 2 ‘tweaked’ down to a 7 inch screen, and released at the sane time as the iPad 4 ...awkward.

if this is any indication where Apple is headed with New products, Samsung must really be excited, not the Apple fans.

ibuck

@Max Williams
Could you please explain why you are such a fan of Samsung, and apparently all of their products?  I’m really curious. Are their products, in your view, better than anything else on the market? If so, can you specifically illustrate why? Would you please advise what sort of PC and OS you use? And what your level of technology expertise is: beginner, average, advanced, power user, total geek, multi-language code warrior?  Also, are you a Samsung shareholder? GOOG? AAPL?  Thanks.

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