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Apple TV: 5 Reasons it Won’t Crush the Competition

Apple is still pursuing a game-changing TV, but there's no chance Apple can impact the TV market the way it did the phone and tablet markets.

The rumors about an Apple television are back, and I really don’t care.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Apple is still pursuing a game-changing TV that will bring Sony, Samsung, Panasonic, LG and Sharp to their knees.

I’m not buying it. Sure, Apple 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.

Here are my five reasons I’ll greet an Apple television with a skeptical shrug:

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.

Apple TV would be expensive

What company makes the most expensive tablet? Most expensive laptops? I was recently shopping for a new computer and thought seriously for 15 minutes about getting a Mac, until I remembered 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.

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-plus 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.

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, but since plasma TVs can’t be touchscreens, I don’t expect Apple to use that technology. Of course, the TV may not be touch-enabled, and 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.

But as the Wall Street Journal notes, Apple seems to be engaged in a Sharp LCD factory, so touchscreen or not, it looks like the rumored TV would be an LCD.

What will it do differently?

3D? Smart TV? Voice control? Been there, done that. Perhaps an Apple TV 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, 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 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.

Bonus: 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.

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Article Topics

News · Product News · Displays · TVs · Apple · All topics

About the Author

Grant Clauser
Grant Clauser is a technology editor, covering home electronics for more than 10 years for such publications as Electronic House and Dealerscope. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had audio training from Home Acoustics Alliance and Sencore.

12 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by Mr. Stanley  on  12/14  at  02:59 PM

I will agree to disagree. No it won’t crush the competition, but I’ll be it will be very popular.

Posted by Dave  on  12/14  at  03:14 PM

you sound a bit like an anti-apple zealot.  Not great for someone that wants to be taken seriously.

Posted by Grant Clauser  on  12/14  at  04:17 PM

Dave, apparently you didn’t read the article, in particular the last paragraph. I have nothing against Apple, and use several Apple products/services. My iPhone never leaves my side. However, as clearly stated in this piece, I don’t believe the company will be successful in the television market. There’s nothing about zealotry in that assessment.

However, I am a home theater zealot, which is why I place picture quality higher than anything else when judging a display. It’s that point-of-view that drives my opinion on this issue.

Posted by JPT  on  12/14  at  05:07 PM

just a quick devil’s advocate on your 5 reasons:
1. What sucks about TVs now or Phones in 2005 is software. Accenture found out that 51% of people who watch TV want to do more to interact with content, mainly comment on it and share what they like.

2. Estimated price right now is 1300$ about 20% more than other TVs, the iPhone was more than 2x the price of the next best thing.

3. Did people wait in line for phones or computers before iPhone or iPad… And you really think iTV will be sold in home theater stores?

4. The mere thought of you thinking the Apple TV will be touchscreen is crushing your credibility on understanding the product…

5.This one is my favorite!!! Remember how the iPhone combined, a GPS, a Phone and an iPod? Here is a list of devices that could be aggregated by the iTV: DVD/Blueray player, top-box, gaming console, kinect/motion capture device, webcam.
Now for the things it will do differently: social features like PiP twitter feed, following friends channel surfing, interacting with the show, scheduling recording from device, mirroring what’s on TV to other apple devices, playing console-quality games, video conferencing etc…

Apple only enters a market if they feel they will disrupt it permanently so the question is more whether the iTV will ever come out than whether it will crush competition when it does!

Just my two cents!

Posted by jgren  on  12/15  at  01:26 PM

Everyone thinks of it in the context of what TV is today, not where it’s going or what it can be. The model for Apple is improve, not create what currently exist. Not first MP3 player just improved it, not first smartphone just improved it, not first tablet just improved it.
Hardware is Hardware. Design and software integration will be the difference. Smart TV are not smart. ATV will change what the definition of TV is content is just one aspect.

Posted by Simple Media Man  on  12/15  at  02:18 PM

As much as I dislike some of Apples business practices I have to agree with JPT on most points. Software and hardware harmony is what Apple does best and I believe that trend will continue.

As far as price, the lowest I’ve seen is $1400 for a 42” (not bad) and a jaw dropping $25,000 to $50,000 for a 50” “Retina Display” (not gonna happen) according to Forbes. If you think Sony’s UHD is pricey, just wait.

My question is who will provide their panels? Samsung…Sharp…LG? Who would help the behemoth change the game?

Posted by Andrew Southern  on  12/16  at  01:59 PM

When or if Apple comes out with a TV it will be a huge hit. Without a doubt - they will sell more of the first model than Runco ever sold projectors, they will outsell Samsung in their size categories. Betting against Apple and their march towards middle consumers is a loosing gamble. Figure out how to become the technologist for your clients and stop worrying about what margin you’ll make on this stuff.

Posted by m Clark  on  12/17  at  09:29 AM

Agree, CATV boxes are the weak link.
I am waiting for Apple to create a $599 device 2x the size of the ipad. The end user would need to purchase and hang 4 of then to get to 65” size. Each panel would have streaming controls including scale and tiling. Each tile would be aware of its connected tile next to it on all sides…One source on four tiles or 4 sources on four tiles.  The cool bit comes when you add 3-33 more tiles to the enviroment and then control the scale and tiles via ipad.  Now you have something to spend big $$  on!

Posted by Andy Lewis  on  12/17  at  12:42 PM

I was going to post a comment but JPT pretty much summed up my thoughts very well. Apple is about changing whole ecosystems. The TV watching experience is so broken. Apple has the weight to work with the content owners and change the rules of the game. They did it with music, they did it with mobile phones ... TV is next.

Posted by John Nemesh  on  12/17  at  04:52 PM

Personally, I cant wait to see Apple try.  It will be an EPIC failure!  Someone pass the popcorn!

Posted by Mr. Stanley  on  12/18  at  06:11 PM

John, that is what Steve Balhmer (pres of Microsoft said) ... when Apple anounced the iPhone!

Personally I think it’ll sell well and probably be 3 to 4 times the cost of lets say a comparable Sammy or Panny.

Posted by MrSatyre  on  12/27  at  05:24 PM

@ JPT: “5.This one is my favorite!!! Remember how the iPhone combined, a GPS, a Phone and an iPod? Here is a list of devices that could be aggregated by the iTV: DVD/Blueray player, top-box, gaming console, kinect/motion capture device, webcam.”

Save for very small-scale displays, most manufacturers steer well and far away from integrating any optical disc technology into their TVs for the very simple reason that if the player breaks down (and it will), then the whole TV has to come down off its stand or off the wall and go out for service (unless there’s an in-home service plan, which would be a very high add-on expense to an already very expensive TV).

Apple does not make set-top boxes, and has no interest in them, thanks to streaming networked boxes such as Roku, etc. Building in an Apple TV, on the other hand, would be smart.

Ditto for a gaming console. Apple has neither the background nor the customer base for games. This is not to say that Apple users aren’t gamers, but most aren’t, and Apple toyed with and scrapped the notion many years ago because they would have to start from scratch and grow a reputation which would take years (they could afford it, of course, but why go that route at all?).

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