May 23, 2012
Last week, we released our newest report about the future of TV and argued in it and the accompanying blog post that the battle for the TV is not really about TV. It’s about the future of the platform giants like Apple, Google, and Microsoft that want to add the TV to their platform ambitions. Surprising to some was our claim that Microsoft was in the lead in the US TV platform battle with its base of millions of Xbox 360 owners generating more online video views on the TV screen than viewers of any other device. Many have challenged this assertion, putting the data about current use aside and asking a good question:
Won’t Apple easily walk away with the TV business once it releases its next big thing, presumably a TV?
Let’s be clear what the company is up against in its long-rumored interest in the TV business. The reason it has failed with the Apple TV so far is not that it hasn’t tried. It’s that the TV business is a tough nut to crack: Content is still controlled by monopolists unlikely to give Apple the keys to their content archives. And simply introducing a new display on which to watch that content as it is currently delivered by existing distributors won’t offer consumers much that’s new. Remember, unlike in the phone business where the iPhone penetrated quickly, the TV upgrade cycle takes seven years. You can't jump in with a new version of the same thing everyone already has – even if it is elegant – and expect millions of people to buy it, especially at price points that Apple will have to maintain in order to keep its margins far away from those of LG and Samsung. Apple's only shot to sell such an expensive device quickly is if it does something very different. And that's what I hope Apple will do.
Here’s me putting on the record what I’ve been telling clients behind closed doors for more than a year: Apple should sell the world’s first non-TV TV. Instead of selling a replacement for the TV you just bought, Apple should convince millions of Apple fans that they need a new screen in their lives. Call it the iHub, a 32-inch screen with touch, gesture, voice, and iPad control that can be hung on the wall wherever the family congregates for planning, talking, or eating — in more and more US homes, that room is the dining room or eat-in kitchen. By pushing developers to create apps that serve as the hub of family life — complete with shared calendars, photo and video viewers, and FaceTime for chatting with grandma — this non-TV TV could take off, ultimately positioning Apple to replace your 60-inch set once it’s ready to retire.
If you think about it, my proposal takes advantage of everything Apple has going for it: Its base of super-engaged customers, its bevy of hungry developers, its ability to open our minds to the possibility of post-PC computing form factors, and its spectacular track record with generating elegant experiences that teach us to do things we didn’t know we needed. In fact, I want this so bad I can almost taste it. That’s why, if what Apple releases later in the year falls short of my admittedly high expectations, I will probably come off as less impressed than others. I’ll be comparing whatever the company eventually sells to a glorious and welcome revolution that only Apple could incite.