Books written by Ray Sullivan

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Is Apple TV The One To Watch?

It can't have slipped past too many people that Apple have been making announcements over the last day or two.  Much of the news has been substantially reported, or leaked as I like to think of it, for some time now.

For instance it has been an open secret that Apple were going to tidy up the iOS interface, removing all the fussy details and making the whole experience cleaner.  I suspect that they've been planning this longer than the six months or so that they've had us believe it was being worked on, quite probably it has been a longer term aim to pull the interface back to Apple core values for some time and perhaps the muddle iOS 6 found itself in was a catalyst for the final push.  Or maybe it was just pure coincidence.  I'll wait for the biography, it matters not.

But one revelation that didn't get too much notice in the reports I read was around Apple TV, probably because Apple didn't reveal too much about it.  Maybe they haven't worked out exactly what it is they want to achieve, so are waiting for the pundits to throw in their two-pennyworth first so that they can cherry pick the better ideas.  Outrageous, nobody should fall for that ruse, but here goes anyway.

Apple TV has been a long term project in Apple, something Jobs talked about but without any meat on the bones.  I think it was originally a hardware project, a device that let you watch TV on a superlative screen with an interface that was easy to navigate.  Well time has moved on and most screens are pretty good these days.  Navigation can be a black art on some TVs, so I guess there is mileage in that old Apple magic there.

But TV has changed radically over the last few years.  The dependency on the major network schedules has been eroded to triviality, the impact on the viewing figures changing the way producers finance their productions.  One thing is certain, the golden age of TV advertising as we know it has disappeared.  Most of us don't watch a lot of TV live unless there's a compelling reason - a major sporting event, breaking news, reality TV.  I'm guessing about the last one as that's what I hear from others - I've never understood how locking a bunch of morons in a house for a month on end, or gearing up a crowd of no-nothing egotists to compete to run make believe businesses is classified as 'reality'.  The only 'reality' TV I think should continue is 'I'm a celebrity, get me out of here' for the simple reason that I suspect one season Ant and Dec will march the so called celebrities into the jungle and then the TV crews will abandon them all.  We can hope, send me an email when that happens because if I'm watching TV at all it'll be on DVR.

DVR is an almost acceptable halfway house, where we can record hundreds of hours of programmes we might possibly want to watch in the future.  It's all kidology, of course.  Most we'll decide against or the hard drives will corrupt before we get anywhere near the bottom of the ever expanding lists of programmes we have recorded.  I have a suggestion for using the DVR - each time you record a programme put a pound or a dollar in a jar as if you are paying for the right to record the programme. IOUs are acceptable as long as you pay them up with interest on payday.  Take a note out when you watch a recorded programme.  Now you're putting a monetary value on the record button you might be a bit more surgical.

But we're not going to be using DVRs for much longer, because it's so inefficient unless you haven't got access to broadband, then it's indispensable.  But if you have access and if someone smart comes up with a way to select programming as and when you feel like it, for a subscription fee, then that's what you'll use.  We're nearly there now with Lovefilm and Netflix vying for our wallets, with Amazon funding TV show productions as well, but somehow it isn't quite right.   Of course Lovefilm have played a long game, building up the customer base and getting the distribution spot on.  Now that Amazon control Lovefilm that end will only improve further, but as always it's all about market share with Amazon and somehow that always leaves me a little uncomfortable.

Netflix are playing catch up, at least this side of the pond, but they do provide a good service.  However I don't see them surviving an extended war against Amazon, letting alone winning.  But pitch someone like Apple into the fray and you've got a different battle, one that Amazon will find challenging.  Apple will think the process out carefully, probably have a long time since, and if Apple TV is a subscription internet streaming service then they will challenge Amazon directly.  There may be a hardware element, but I don't think we're going to see an Apple TV set anytime soon, if at all. 

There's good reasons to think this, apart from the blindingly obvious that there are plenty of perfectly good TV sets out there and Apple can't just create a new broadcast standard to differentiate itself.  Instead it would have either produce a niche, US product, not really their global vision these days, or they'll have to consider the NTSC, PAL, SECAM muddle and include HD with 3D.  Not your standard Steve Jobs rationalised product range at all.  Apart from teaming up with a major TV manufacturer to lend their Apple vision to the TV interface to augment their project I can't really see Apple getting too close to TV manufacturing.  Unless they come up with a true internet TV that is independent of the various standards.  Now that could work.

However, in the meantime, a streaming service that will leverage iPad capabilities but will still run on standard TVs, perhaps through an adaptor, sounds like an Apple product.  If you're watching TV, the watch Apple.  Because you will soon.


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