December 13, 2012
| by Grant Clauser
The rumors and speculation over an Apple television are back, and I really don’t care. According to reports in the Wall Street Journal, Apple is still stealthily pursuing a game-changing television that will bring Sony, Samsung, Panasonic, LG and Sharp to their knees.
I’m not buying it. Sure, the company may come out with one, but there’s no chance it will impact the TV market the way the iPhone/iPad/iPod gripped those respective markets. At best, an Apple television could hold a position similar to what the company’s laptop and desktop PCs hold in the computer market—loved by users, cool to own, but far behind everyone else in actual market share. That may be all Apple wants and needs. Anyway, here are my five reasons I’ll greet an Apple television with a skeptical shrug:
1. Apple is all about software. TVs are all about hardware. Sure, that oversimplifies things a little. The iPad is a very nice piece of hardware, as is the iPhone, but what makes those products stand out is their software, which includes the apps and the interface. For the TV buyer, the apps and interface are secondary and often are made up of things the buyer already owns (like a Blu-ray player, Xbox 360 and DVR). In fact, the most important of those things, the DVR/cable box, is largely dictated by location due to cable company monopolies or geographic features that limit FiOS or satellite availability. Why pay a premium for a TV that’s mostly about software when you’re going to hook it to the same cable box you’ve used for years anyway?
TVs are mostly (despite the growth of the smart TV market) judged by their hardware performance—panel design, backlight structure, brightness, black level, and so on. Software plays a role—video processing is largely a software play these day—but good hardware is the key, and Apple doesn’t have a corner on that.
2. It would be expensive. What company makes the most expensive tablet? Most expensive laptops? Earlier this year I was shopping for a new computer and thought seriously for 15 minutes about getting a Mac until I remembered that the money I’d save on a similarly-equipped Lenovo would cover a couple car payments. I’m not saying there isn’t value and quality in a Mac computer, and there’s also the smugness factor, but the high-end TV market is not particularly big.
Apple would likely insist on a premium-performance product—the best picture quality, the best connectivity, the coolest interface and the sleekest modern design. How do I know this? Look at the rest of their products. Fans gawk at iPhones and iPads as if they’re works of art. The Retina display is stunning. It’s all top-shelf stuff. When you build a TV that way you get a very expensive TV.
3. TVs are marketed, sold and installed differently than portable or computing devices. People don’t camp out in front of home theater stores to pay $4,000 and up for a TV. Premium TVs are sold by qualified independent dealers and installers who understand the nuances of the technology and how to integrate them into a home. Apple products have a cult-like following that can’t be duplicated with televisions. While it may be relatively easy to pull together $500 for an iPad so you can have the best tablet on the market, I don’t believe people will line up outside Apple stores for high-priced televisions.
4. It won’t be plasma. People largely buy TVs based on picture quality. The best picture quality comes from plasma technology (with the possible exception of the Sharp Elite TVs). Anyone who wants a killer picture and knows what a killer picture looks like, will look for plasma. However, as the Wall Street Journal notes, Apple seems to be engaged in a Sharp LCD factory, so it looks like the rumored TV would be an LCD.
On a less likely front, since plasma TVs can’t be touchscreens, I don’t expect Apple to use that technology. Of course a lot of people would cringe at the thought of having to tap a TV to make something happen, so maybe that point doesn’t matter.
5. What will it do differently? 3D? Smart TV? Voice control? Been there/done that. Perhaps an Apple HDTV will have a nice Siri-style voice control feature. Even if it works better than Samsung’s attempt (and it better), I don’t believe I’d want to use it. It’s one thing to use voice control on a phone—that’s something you already talk into. But a TV is not a phone. The most I’ve ever said to my television happened during this year’s presidential debates, and if the TV took anything I said then seriously I’d probably be arrested.
Anything Apple can do to make the television experience better can and should be done via the Apple TV set-top-box. The biggest leverage Apple could have with a TV is to add AirPlay to it, which has yet to happen with any current TV—again, another reason to buy the Apple TV set-top-box.
6. (Bonus Reason) It won’t be a projector. TVs are toys. Home theater projectors are for real media rooms.
I want to make clear, I’m not an Apple hater. There are iThings all over my house. And if Apple does eventually offer a television, I’ll want to review one just to see what all the fuss is about, but I don’t expect that Apple can be to the TV market what it is to the phone and tablet market. I’ll try to keep an open mind though.
Related: Which is better, Apple TV or Roku?
Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had audio training from Home Acoustics Alliance and Sencore. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.