Bringing Apple's seamless integration, simple interfaces and cool design aesthetic to what is the focal point of many living rooms may be the next big thing that company visionary Steve Jobs was working on before his Oct. 5 death.
“I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use,” Jobs told his biographer, Walter Isaacson. “It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud.”
Jobs told Isaacson, whose book Steve Jobs was released Monday, that he would declutter living rooms of the pile of complex remotes for things like DVD players and cable TV.
“It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine,” Jobs said. “I finally cracked it.”
It's those last four words that are intriguing. Could an iTelevision be coming soon? Apple already offers a set-top box, which has received a tepid market response. There have been rumors for years that Apple was working on a smart TV. Jobs essentially confirmed it with Isaacson.
A smart TV could tie together all the elements of Apple's self-contained universe: Shows or movies or music purchased through iTunes and stored on iCloud; played on an entertainment center operated by a smart TV, or to go on an iPod, iPhone or iPad; controlled from the couch by any of those three devices; and complete with the Siri voice assistant thrown in.
“Siri, show me the most recent episode of Glee,” you say, and your smart TV does just that. “Siri, what movies are available featuring George Clooney?” and a list pops up that combines what's available on iTunes with listings for your cable or satellite service. “Siri, show me photos from our vacation,” and your smart TV does just that. “Siri, tell me if I need an umbrella today,” and your TV will answer, just like an iPhone 4S does now.
The TV market is already headed toward the same opportunity sweet spot that existed when Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007. Back then, manufacturers of phones and PDAs (remember those?) were already beginning to integrate many of the features that showed up in the iPhone. It's just that none did it very well, and none did everything the iPhone did.
Lack of integration—for example, being able to make a phone call, send a text or email, or map directions, all from the same contact in an address book—and ease-of-use issues made those early smartphones look dumb.
Televisions are no longer just something for watching broadcast TV. They can come with web browsers and Ethernet connections to hook up to your home network. Watching a show from Hulu or Netflix or a network website, or checking the weather or sports scores can be done. I can program my DVR from my smartphone, or watch a recorded show on my PC in another room, or play music or show photos from that PC on my TV.
But it takes a lot of puzzling through how to connect things, and knowledge of how to use them, and more than one remote control to make it all work. Apple could fix all that and make it shiny with a cool look from company design guru Jonathan Ive. Another revolution.
Some tech analysts who make a living reading the Apple tea leaves are already weighing in. More than one has found evidence that Apple already has produced prototypes.
Peter Misek, an analyst at Jefferies, predicts Apple will be selling smart TVs in the second half of next year.
Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray says half of all TVs sold next year will have Internet connections built in, and Apple could ring up $2.5 billion in sales for its share of the market. He notes that as recently as Oct. 6 Apple was applying for patents “related to software for browsing and recording live television.”
Look for it next year.