How to Change the TV Habits of Viewers, 10 Million at a Time

Is TV viewing only about consuming content? There was a time when Apple may have believed that the combination of content delivery, in the Apple TV style, and innovative ways to watch that content was the signature combination. However, that view may be changing.

For a long time, there were rumblings that Apple was trying to sew up major content deals for a TV subscription plan. Combined with new technologies in selecting, buying and viewing that content, Apple could disintermediate the cable and satellite companies.

However, the recent deal between Disney, a key Apple ally, and Netflix suggests that the focus has now switched to something that Tim Cook has been talking about in his recent interviews: a laser-like focus on products that delight the customer. That is, there may be a recognition that Hollywood and the Networks, alarmed by all the talk of an Apple HDTV, have cleverly arranged things so that customers are locked into an industry-devised methodology for entertainment. Apple won't be given the keys to the Kingdom.

The next step may well be to focus on the higher level of the technology pyramid, the actual process of selecting and viewing content that's available from others. That's been tried with Xbox, Apple TV, the Mac mini, Google TV (partnering with Logitech), Orb, The Boxee box and the Roku with different levels of success. Again, one has to worry about agreements. For example, Boxee is blocked but just about all the content providers.

Is there a way to go beyond what these boxes do? Is there a way to still use Cable and Satellite, but build a TV that operates on the authorized, downwind side of the HDMI hand-shaking that can improve the experience? That may mean that Apple will have to build the TV display, HDMI and all, instead of just a box. And if Apple does do that, how widespread and popular will the product be? How many screen sizes will Apple have to support? Is it even possible to do that, perhaps, in combination with direct Internet access to Apple, that provides a unique value-added?

It's not sufficient, in my opinion, to have something that's cool for the geeks. It has to be so surprising, so delightful, and so desirable that millions, tens of millions of customers will immediately appreciate what it does for them. When Ed Baig at USA Today says drop everything an buy this, Apple will know it has a winner.

There's a bit more on this at the end of the Tech News for the week down below.

Tech News Debris

From time to time, we hear rumblings about how Apple should use some of its cash to just be done and go acquire Twitter. It would help Apple immensely, it is said. But we also know that there is always "the rest of the story," and here it is. " Why Apple Won't Acquire Twitter."

As we know, The Daily from News Corp finally folded. There are lessons to be learned, according to Jeff Sonderman. "2 major lessons from the demise of The Daily."

A little known fact is discussed here: Apple no longer uses the off-the-shelf AMD designed cores called Cortex. Apple uses its own custom designed SoC for the A6 and A6X. "Apple Dumped ARM's Designs In iPhone And iPad, But Nobody Noticed."

When we think about how, in outward physical appearance and ecosystems, the iPad competitors are catching up to Apple, we often fail to consider how Apple's custom designs combined with its own iOS can lead to functionality that out-classes the competition. The next time you read a review of a competitor's tablet that complains about glitches or video stutter, keep that in mind. I wish the investors would also.

Speaking of competitors tablets, if you really must insist on spec comparisons, here's a helpful slide show for the holidays that compares all the major tablets and eReaders.

That said, I should add that the ground game against Apple this Christmas is in price and specifications. If you can convince a buyer who has one shot at making a decision for the holidays that the key metric is specs and price, then you can gain some ground. But then you buy the device, and then the buyer's remorse sets in. I'll tell you this: there is hardly any buyer's remorse with Apple products.

One of the popular public discourse techniques these days, brought on by the inability to understand the customer, then execute, is the Big Rationale. You see it all the time. A company has been making product X for 40 years, and then they screw up the design. "We'll definitely learn from this mistake and move forward." One wonders where the 40 years of experience went.

Here's a great example from Lenovo. "Lenovo exec: We didn't realize how big touch would be."

Here's the key quote to note with a grin. "In the case of touch, Smith said the industry will have to evaluate how it was so off about the demand and figure out what it can do to prevent that in the future." Perhaps if sales executives weren't under so much pressure to provide such rosy sales projections, to keep their jobs, things like that wouldn't happen.

Why do I have the feeling that nothing will change?

This next one is case number 1,307 in the "Let's copy Apple Department." In this case, Microsoft appears to have made a decision that only Microsoft stores could properly sell the new Surface. Plus, I surmise that if they let the customer decide without direct supervision at, say, Best Buy, customers might buy the Surface RT without a keyboard, thus destroying all Microsoft's profits. In any case, "Lack of Distribution Is 'Killing' Surface." I laughed 'till it hurt.

But wait. That's not all Microsoft is doing wrong. C|NET's David Carnoy can count the ways. "8 things Microsoft is doing wrong." I was amused by item #6.

I may be wrong, but a current trend in the industry now is to provide a flashy briefing to the press, but restrict review units to only those who are guaranteed to provide a positive review. The idea is that millions of units might be potentially sold before the down-to-earth reviews get published. One writer, exposed to that process, paid for a Surface out of his own pocket. The result? After a scathing review, the tablet went right into the trash. This one bears repeating, from a few weeks ago, for precisely this reason. "An iPad Lover’s Take On The Surface With Windows RT."

If you're not confident enough in a product to let your harshest critics explore and write, then perhaps there's a deeper problem.

However, Apple isn't blameless these days. Any sufficiently large company is going to have snafus. But I'd like to hear ow Tim Cook is going to handle this one. Presented here not for an indictment of Apple (well, maybe yes), but for the charming way it's presented. Everyone with a Big Gripe should write their story like this. "The incredibly annoying case of the Apple TV update."

This next headline caught my eye: it's a clever title. "Here's Why Anthony Wood, Inventor of the DVR, Doesn't Use a DVR Anymore." I was expecting a technical analysis, but what it boiled down to is that Mr. Wood, the CEO of Roku, has an axe to grind, and that's video on demand.

This tension between what people are accustomed to doing, time shifting free content and skipping commercials with a DVR and paying for streaming content without commercials is the Big Technical Issue of our time. Like cord-cutting, those who over estimate how eager people are to ditch their DVR may end up in severe trouble because they're trying to force the technology prematurely.

How Apple handles this is also important. The current generation Apple TV uses the streaming model, and that seems fine for movies. But how many people want to pay for Dancing with the Stars just to avoid commercials? If Apple is going to surprise and delight us with an Apple Television, and a new way of watching TV, this is one area to address.