Claimed Apple Television Prototype Lacks Disruptive Character

Cult of Mac this morning published a mockup of a future Apple television based on a description provided by an anonymous source who claimed to have seen a prototype of the device in action. While the story quickly spread to other tech sites, our initial reaction was less enthusiastic.

 Cult of Mac’s Apple Television Mockup (We're Skeptical)

Cult of Mac’s Apple Television Mockup (with a little commentary added by TMO)

Why? Because, while we think the product described by Cult of Mac’s source will share much in common with an eventual Apple television, it’s what the mockup lacks that’s going to be the “killer feature” of Apple’s “next big thing.”

Apple, under Steve Jobs’s leadership and beyond, has always been a disruptor. The company doesn’t enter markets with the intention of simply making a slightly better version of an existing product; it aims to completely upset the balance and engage customers, and competitors, with products or services that are novel, effective, and disruptive.

We’ve been throwing rumors of an Apple television around for nearly four years. The reason such a product does not currently exist is the simple fact that Apple is not going to enter the highly mature, extremely low margin television game unless the product it puts forth can be just as disruptive to the television industry as products like the iPhone and iPad were to their respective industries.

That said, the mockup presented today by Cult of Mac is not a product we’re waiting for, and it’s not the one Apple will potentially, eventually, release.

First, there’s simply nothing remarkable or disruptive about using an enlarged Cinema Display form factor. The Cinema Display / iMac form factor has been discussed and analyzed for its “living room” potential for years, and other companies, such as Samsung, have set high standards for slim, attractive television form factors.

Second, a built-in iSight camera is nothing new, neither to Apple, which has included cameras on the majority of its products for many years, nor to the television industry, which has seen many competing companies offer both built-in and add-on cameras for use in video chatting and motion control in the past year.

Third, while we’ve been hearing about voice-controlled Apple television interfaces since long before Apple acquired Siri, the fact remains that competitors such as Samsung and Microsoft have deployed the technology first and, in certain situations, such as bars, parties, or a child-filled noisy family room, voice control simply isn’t an ideal method of control for a television’s interface. Siri has a hard enough time understanding commands spoken directly into the microphone on an iPhone 4S; how effective can it be at interpreting the commands of multiple users across a potentially noisy room?

It would not surprise us to see an eventual Apple television with a Cinema Display-like form factor, built-in iSight, and an optional voice interface based on Siri. In fact, all of these features seem likely, but none of them are what will set the Apple television apart from the industry as a “must have product.” None of them, individually or combined, come close to creating a disruptive product of the caliber that Apple wants to deliver.

Steve Jobs now famously told biographer Walter Isaacson that he “finally cracked” the design and implementation of an Apple television. Those words, if accurately conveyed by Mr. Isaacson, carry significant weight and indicate that Apple has another “secret formula” brewing in its labs.

It would be a shame if the end product is solely as Cult of Mac envisions it. The future television market for Apple is too large, too high profile, and too crucial to the continued growth of the company. Apple knows this, and that’s why the final product will be well-timed, well-executed, and much more than simply a large Cinema Display with voice controls.