Having already turned the markets for personal music players, smartphones and tablets on their heads, Apple now appears poised to move even further into another area of consumers' lives: their living rooms.
The Apple TV has been around for years and analysts have been predicting Apple's takeover of the living room for just as long, but a few recent developments suggest a more serious foray is imminent.
An update being rolled out to Apple TVs today includes cloud storage and streaming of television shows purchased on iTunes, signaling a significant push by the company in its quest to play a more dominant role in how people consume content at home, on screens both big and small. iTunes television content was previously streamable on the Apple TV only if it was stored on other devices connected via AirPlay or Home Sharing.
With this shift, episodes needn't be stored locally in order to be watched on the Apple TV. The move gives users an early taste of what the company intends to roll out in the fall with iCloud, which will sync content, contacts and calendars across Apple devices.
Meanwhile, the Apple rumor mill continues to buzz about the company's alleged plans to release its own Web-connected HDTV sets, with Apple Insider reporting that three models may be on the market by March 2012. Wall Street analyst Trip Chowdry gave renewed credence to the years-old rumor with a note to investors that suggested that the high-definition television sets will be available next year at three different price points. If true, this is another sign that Apple no longer views its presence on television sets as "a hobby" (as Steve Jobs once said about Apple TV) but as a significant new frontier for its business.
In a sense, Apple's conquest of the living room has already begun, with or without set top boxes or television sets. Consumers are increasingly using tablets and smartphones to supplement the television-watching experience, whether to tweet about it or to research actors and references made in a given episode. As our own Richard MacManus noted in his recent post on second screen apps, 86% of mobile Web users access the Internet via their mobile devices while they're watching television, according to Yahoo.
Now, in addition to the second (and sometimes third) screen devices Apple is making so much money selling, the company appears to be moving to dominate the first screen too. In doing so, they may actually end up liberating content from the living room, thanks to the ease with which users will be able to "content shift" from one device to another, a trend that is already well underway.