Apple: Of Tablets and TVs

The hype surrounding the tablet is at an all time high: it could be a bigger iPhone; or not; it could be a new macbook; or not. But one thing that no one else seems to be thinking is that it could have more to do with being a TV-centric device than an iPhone or MacBook.

Let’s review: as far as Apple is concerned, as illustrated by the navigation in its homepage, there are three major lines of business: the Mac, the iPod, and the iPhone. And then, there’s the redheaded stepchild, AppleTV, which the company considers “a hobby.”

But while the company claims to not be interested in this market (even though the product was called out as a successful hobby on a recent analyst call), it seems odd that it would be working so hard to attempt to cater to the video-specific crowd: iTunes Extra, the rumored dealings with Disney and CBS, the increased partnerships to release movies on iTunes at the same time as DVDs (a move that Netflix consider too bold) all seem to point to greater ambitions to get some level of control over the third screen.

But what does that third screen really need? If you look at most the news coming out of the Consumer Electronic Show this week, it looks like the rise of web-based video being available either as an embedded option, or through a BluRay player, or a separate box, will soon be a given. NetFlix is one of the early winners in this but where would that leave Apple. It has strong relationship with the studios (its own CEO is the largest single shareholder in Disney) and a product that is about to become almost irrelevant.

“Send to TV”

But the function that most TV screen present still needs some form of remote control. That remote control could (and does) come as an iPhone app but what if there were a different way to experience content from the internet. Something like a “tablet” device that would allow someone to surf the internet on a smallish (maybe 10 inch) screen they could use when it comes to reading text. But, once a video component shows up, they could press a “Send to TV” button that would get the stream started on the big screen.

Attached to the TV would be a “simple” device with either an RF or bluetooth receiver, a network output (or built in Wifi over 802.11n), and an HDMI and power out. Inside that device would be electronics that would have a small internet stack, a web server or a bonjour bridge (for any form of administration), and enough video power to stream movies from a variety of format. The “receiving” end of the software could also be added to existing AppleTV software to ensure that the new tablet could talk to them.

Technology is there already

Those technologies are mostly there, by the way. Apple has another small component called Airport Express that currently can receive music from iTunes (and can be hacked to received sound from other sources). Adapting it to receive video doesn’t sound too farfetched.

And Apple just released a software update to AppleTV to improve connectivity between iTunes and the device over Bonjour. Could Bonjour be used as the mean of instructing from the tablet to the device?

Clouds

So it’s not totally improbable that the AppleTV would play an important part of the tablet’s future. It could be one of three major features: cloud computer, e-reader, and TV on steroids.

The cloud part would include web-based version of Apple’s iWork suite, along with a new iTunes focused around the offerings of lala.com, and the me.com offering for other basic services. It would also include instant on version of currently available for rent movies, leveraging the new large data center for streaming purpose. This portion of the offering would counter much of the discussion about netbooks and their effect on the device.

The option of sending video straight to the TV would also “simplify” the device in that it may not necessarily need to include enough power itself for processing the video. This, in turn could help the company lower the price-point of the tablet device (shifting the cost of video processing to the “add-on” everyone who doesn’t have an AppleTV will want to purchase).

So what do you think, is this a totally crazy idea? Chime in in the comments…

About the Author

Tristan Louis

Writing and working on the internet since 1993, I've launched six companies, of which two went public and three were sold. This is my personal site and all opinions here are mine.

  • http://www.derekmartin.ca/topic/geek/ Derek Martin

    While I see Airport Express A/V as a logical extension of existing products, the notion that Apple would produce a device incapable of playing 1080p video at this point in time is absurd.

  • http://www.tnl.net/blog/ Tristan Louis

    Derek,

    1080p works for BluRay and higher end TVs but it seems most people are content with 720p. As a result, my bet is that they would kick things of with 720p with a 1080p version coming up as a “new” version of the same product a year later.

  • http://www.derekmartin.ca/topic/geek/ Derek Martin

    Tristan,

    You’re probably right.
    Plus, Apple DOES love to iterate its designs, purposefully leaving out things they know people would want, just so they have more to add in future releases (i.e. copy/paste, compass, FM tuner, 802.11n, higher capacity, front facing camera, etc).

    In the case of FM tuner & 802.11n, my understanding is that the iPhone 3GS already has that hardware inside – it just needs to be unlocked in a firmware update. That will be a fantastic update for existing owners, making them really happy when it happens. Make them even happier with a purchase they made a while ago. Talk about building your brand. Wow.

  • http://www.tnl.net/blog/ Tristan Louis

    Derek,

    I think that’s kind of how Apple tends to play, in general. Introduce a good product that still doesn’t have ALL the features that the market expected. Listen to the marketplace and prioritize the features. Release products with progressive amounts of add-ons.

    For example, the macbook progressively went from being a 12 and 13 inches to 13 and 15, and later added a 17 inch screen. Along the way, we saw the introduction of built-in video cameras, backlighting on keyboards, and touch-sensitive pads (of course, with memory, hard drive and CPU bumps too).

    The ipod went from being a small device for music to one that increased in size, then supported video, and eventually moved to either a smaller form factor (nano) or a bigger screen (touch and iphone).

    The iPhone went from the basic setup with no apps, to apps and 3G, to higher speed, FM tuner and video recording.

    At any given stage, the products had competitors that offered the same features but Apple focused on integration and polish, providing the features not only when they were nicely integrated into the product but also when enough of the market was ready for them.

    My belief is that the market is ready for Apple to get serious about TV, which explains this post :)