Rumors and reports are, once again, circulating about Apple releasing an HDTV:
Analyst Brian White with Ticonderoga Securities has been at a China electronics trade show this week, and said in a note to investors that he picked up “data points” that point toward a “Smart TV” launch by Apple, possibly by the end of the year.
“Our research suggests this Smart TV would go well beyond the miniature $99 second-generation Apple TV that the company released last fall and provide a full-blown TV product for consumers,” White said.
He went on to say that although Apple has long been projected by company watchers to enter the HDTV market, the Mac maker now appears to be “moving down this path at a faster pace than the market expected.”
I’m wrong a lot whenever I speak in absolutes about Apple’s future plans, but I don’t think they’ll ever release a TV.
One reason is that TVs are an extremely competitive, commoditized market with very slim margins and most purchasing decisions going to whoever has the most features. You can draw some parallels to markets that Apple’s doing well in, like smartphones and computers, but Apple has chosen only to serve the high end of those markets. How big is the high end of the TV market? How many people are willing to spend a significant premium over the competition for a TV?
It causes practical problems, too: TVs usually require large warehouses and very large retail display areas, which Apple’s retail stores aren’t ideal for. And large TVs usually require in-home service, which Apple doesn’t offer for any other products.
They could get over those problems. They’re inconvenient and limiting, but not fatal.
A bigger problem is that Apple prefers to offer fully integrated products, but a modern TV is just one component in a mess of electronics and service providers, most of which suck. Apple doesn’t want their beautiful, it-just-works TV to need to interact with Onkyo’s 7.1 HDMI-switching receiver, Sony’s 3D Blu-ray player, Microsoft’s game system, Comcast’s awful Scientific Atlanta HD DVR, Canon’s newest camcorder, the photos on your point-and-shoot’s SDHC card, and your Logitech universal remote. (The need for TVs to have a more complex remote than the Apple TV might be fatal alone.)
The Apple TV, as a single-featured set-top box with one take-it-or-leave-it output, avoids all of those complexities and delivers one Apple integrated experience — iTunes — to your TV. That’s it. Single-purpose, done well.
But the biggest problem that I suspect will keep Apple out of the TV business forever is much more basic:
How often do people buy new TVs?
Apple’s primary business is selling computing devices and related hardware, with healthy margins and tightly integrated experiences, to customers who generally replace them with the newest models every 1-3 years.
There’s no place for them in the TV market, and they’re content (and smart) to stay out of it.