Thanks to the Wall Street Journal, we now know that Apple really was working on its own television set before it ditched the idea over a year ago. The project got shelved, Gene Munster has said his mea culpa, and we can all move on.
It puts a different perspective on the tech rumors of today: Even when they’re right they can be wrong. In other words, speculation about an upcoming product might be spot on, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll ever see the light of day. Apple Car, anyone?
The Simple Reasons Apple Bailed
In retrospect, it’s not difficult to see why Apple canned its idea for a TV set to call its own. As one commenter at 9to5Mac put it:
As expensive as they are, TV screens are a commodity. Selling different sizes and features would be a nightmare, and so would lugging one into the Genius Bar for warranty support.
In other words, televisions are bulky pieces of equipment that tend to last a lot longer than the rapidly obsolete electronics you’d expect in a smart TV. Margins are slim and making a profit is hard, as LG, Sony, Samsung, Philips and others have all discovered in recent years. Buyers wouldn’t be upgrading very often, and Apple wouldn’t make much money when they did.
These are all points that have been repeatedly made down the years. No doubt they played some part in Apple’s thinking.
But Wait, There’s More
But aside from the practicalities of TV engineering or the realities of the marketplace, Apple’s decision also suggests it just couldn’t figure out a way to put its own distinctive mark on the screens that fill our dens and bedrooms.
By contrast, Apple had no problem green-lighting its smartwatch. Whether the Apple Watch goes on to be a roaring success or not, it’s certainly distinctive, premium and disruptive. Could any television set Apple might have come up with have made the same impact? It’s doubtful.
MacBook Pros, iMacs, iPhones—these bits of kit are compelling and iconic in a way that you can’t really envisage a television set being, even with the best efforts of Sir Jony Ive.
Ultra-high resolutions are already here, as are super-slim bezels, curved screens, integrated apps, gesture control and lots more. How would Apple’s version have stood out? Or stood out enough to make the endeavour worthwhile?
Indeed, it’s the things that would have made an Apple TV set truly compelling that are being built into the Apple TV box that it actually does sell: smart home control, live TV streaming, Siri integration, access to the App Store, and so on.
The Real Apple TV
It’s perhaps no coincidence that the real Apple TV is getting a lot more love and attention since the theoretical Apple TV bit the dust. Maybe Tim Cook and his team realized that all the best parts of their new project could be added to the one they had under their noses all along.
And look at the competition: Google, Microsoft, Amazon… these companies are all building boxes to go under your living room TV, without worrying about the actual sets themselves.
Ultimately, a TV is simply a window into something else, plus a small package of extra smarts, and Apple has realized putting those smarts in a separate puck-shaped black box gives it the flexibility it needs to do something that can really make an impact.
Lead image courtesy of Apple