TechCrunch on Google TV

TechCrunch posted about Google TV’s impending doom. A particular quote caught my eye:

Second, no one is sure what a smart TV is supposed to be, but GTV isn’t it. No one can quite put their finger on what they want a TV to do. Is it supposed to stream home content? Allow you to watch YouTube on the big screen? Offer ways to tweet from your couch? All those things happen more quickly and more efficiently on laptops and tablets. Why co-opt the biggest screen in the house?

This confusion is exactly why I think TVs should be dumb. The smarts are in the palm of your hand. The TV is best used as a big screen that celebrates content.


Apple's TV is the new Apple TV

This TechCrunch article, written by David McIntosh of Redux, insists that AirPlay is not the new Apple TV. However, it starts from a flawed assumption that Apple would need to license the technology to many TV manufacturers.

The only technology Apple has really cared to license is the dock connector, and that was specifically to get an accessory ecosystem going in order to sell more devices. Integrating with TVs isn’t going to sell more devices, because the users that would buy such a television already have a device. The only immediate incentive Apple has to license the technology is to collect a hefty licensing fee, but that doesn’t amount to much.

Let’s say that licensing fee is $100 per unit (which no TV manufacturer is going to pay, but let’s give Apple the benefit of the doubt). There were 250 million television shipments last year. That’s a maximum of $24 billion per year, and we know the per-unit fee and the share of TVs using the technology would be much smaller. And with TV shipments falling year over year, that number would decrease over time. For a company that does $13 billion a month in revenue, this is quickly becoming chump change.

Another indirect incentive for Apple to license AirPlay would be to increase revenue for iTunes content. But, iTunes was always a ploy to attract people to purchasing Apple devices, not vice-versa.

I’m still of the opinion that Apple’s going to build a TV of its own and sell it to the richest consumers who already are invested in Apple’s media ecosystem.


Apple's TV Playbook

I’ve written a number of times about television. When I wrote what I thought Apple TV should have been, I thought things like a CableCARD DVR and a DVD player would be key features for me to buy it. If I could be Apple in 2011 designing a TV, I think I’d do it this way:

Industrial Design

Televisions are known for black or grey bezels with various curves, markings, buttons, LEDs, grills (for speakers) and technology brandings. Some of these are functional, while others are meant to distinguish them from the competition. I would think Apple will either borrow from the glass & white plastic bezel of iOS devices, or borrow from the brushed aluminum motif of the Cinema Display. The bezel itself will be clean; there might be one LED on it to indicate it is on, though I doubt even that. I’m guessing there will only be a power button, because you won’t need to control the device at the TV itself. Apple won’t need any branding on the device other than its own logo, and I think the rest of the design will be so clean for a TV that people won’t mistake it for anything but the Apple TV if it didn’t have that either.

Photo Frame

It used to be that people adorned their walls at home with beautiful art. Then, the television came along and ruined everything: the center of attention became a garish box rather than a piece of art. Considering the industrial design of the TV itself is likely going to be quite nice, it seems it would go to waste if it was off all the time. I could see Apple extending their iPad photo frame functionality to the television, where it automatically starts showing content while it’s on but not playing anything. Alternatively, you could manually start it by holding/touching the power button.

Inputs & Outputs

I would put four connectors on this device: power, HDMI in, HDMI out, and a network adapter. Unfortunately, no one has invented wireless power that can supply the wattage a television needs, so that one has to be there. HDMI out is an easy one: if you’re a home theater nut, you’ll want to hear the audio through your speaker setup. The network adapter is understandable for the case where wifi isn’t available or has low signal quality. Finally, when it comes to HDMI in, my logic goes like this: either you are a simple consumer that has a cable box and perhaps a DVD player, or you are a home theater nut and you have lots of components and a receiver. If you’re the former category, Apple wants to replace at least one of those boxes. For these people, Apple might automatically switch to the HDMI in signal when it detects something is on. That way, if you want to use your cable box or DVD player, you only have to turn it on and not futz with some other mechanism. If you’re in the latter category, you’ll use the receiver to switch between inputs.

Apple might throw in an IR receiver just as a throw back to people who have the old Apple remote.

Remote Control

I mentioned that there wouldn’t be any buttons on the device if I were to design it. I believe Apple will place remote command and control on iOS devices. iPhone and iPod Touch users will get a simple experience for command and control. It depends on the content service that goes along with the device, but if they provide a cable-style service, I could see a simple electronic program guide primarily driven by search. iPad users will get a better experience: a natural electronic program guide due to the device’s larger screen.


More importantly, Apple will recognize that discovery and consumption lie in two different places. The TV display is great for consumption, but the human interface for discovery has always been poor, especially on archaic cable boxes. Many people think Siri will be an important part of Apple TV’s value proposition, but I’m not convinced of it. Rather, Apple already has a great, reconfigurable remote control in iOS devices. iOS 5’s ability to use AirPlay wirelessly will enable Apple to create a discovery experience that leverages the TV so that the family doesn’t have to huddle around an iPhone or iPad, but the primary interaction will take place on one of those devices.


The only reason I could see Apple making the screen a touchscreen is for configuring its networking. However, I don’t think they will do that. This article sounds very prescient. Configuration over bluetooth from an iOS device would be understandable for so many people, it makes the most sense. Alternatively, for people who use wired ethernet instead, they’ll be able to use iTunes from their computer to perform the configuration and then disconnect the cable if they desire.


I honestly have no idea what Apple is going to do with content. Everyone is expecting some amazing cable-style subscription service. I have to question whether that will happen because Apple couldn’t compete on price with cable companies since the media companies are not going to be fooled into giving Apple preferential deal terms. At least, I would think they wouldn’t.


3-D in Movie Theaters

This article reminded me that I wanted to write about 3-D movies.

Many people have written about how 3-D won't work due to physiological
issues with eye strain and wearing glasses for extended periods of
time. While these issues are real, I have faith that technology will
get to the point where these issues are mitigated if not eliminated.

Everyone knows that movies are entertainment, and as such, an
unnecessary good. The market has already priced out this good:
entertain me for about 2 hours and I will pay $10 for that
entertainment. Theaters have thus far priced 3-D movies as a marginal
good: 3-D is better and thus should be higher value. The only problem
is, it isn't (or at best, the margin is short lived).

I wonder if "talkies" demanded a higher ticket price when they were introduced?

Once 3-D movies cost the same as a regular projection, they will
simply become the norm at theaters because all the other reasons to go
to the theater (timed releases, big screen, popcorn?) will have
eroded. The theater is already becoming a throw-away entertainment
activity, and 3-D will be the only thing keeping them alive, until the
next technology comes along. Personal surround sound, anyone?