There's a market segment that's desperately needing a little slice of Apple [AAPL] product marketing magic, and it's 3DTV. Introduced with much brouhaha as a 'must-have' killer new feature, the technology has rapidly been relegated to just another spec, consumers like it, don't love it. Does Apple have an iPad plan to make the technology interesting?
[ABOVE: This video shows it is theoretically possible to combine iPads with 3D TV technologies. A display manufacturer called CPT had a working prototype of an Apple iPad 2 tablet on display at its booth at the Display Taiwan event.]
Apple goes to Hollywood
"The fact that the iPad 3 is 3D is a dead certainty," a Hollywood insider told RCR Wireless.
The report claims numerous big name studios are attempting to develop 3D content for Apple's next launch. Foxconn sources have also claimed Apple is working on a 3D iPad.
Apple has filed a wide number of 3D patents, including for 3D operating system elements. The company has also been rumored to have been working on the development of 3D glasses. In the last few days Apple has said that the 3D Web graphics standard, WebGL, will be an option within iOS 5 for iAds.
"WebGL will not be publicly available in iOS 5. It will only be available to iAd developers," said Apple's Chris Marrin on a WebGL mailing list.
Despite the bitter and intensifying legal dispute between the two, Apple is engaged in high level talks with emerging enemy, Samsung, with a view to securing supplies of AMOLED displays, perfect for 3D.
There's even been a report the iPad 3 screen resolution could be as high as 2,560-1,920 -- much higher than the current generation.
[ABOVE: An ad for Samsung's 3D TV. Think about it: If Samsung can take on Apple for mobile devices, can Apple attack Samsung for television?]
Grabbing failure from success
At present, 3D is just nice to have, but not essential.
"We do not share the view that 3D represents the obvious next evolutionary step for TV, in the same way that color followed black and white, or HD is following SD. A case can be made that color and HD offer noticeable enhancements to the technologies that preceded them. But 3DTV is less of an enhancement and rather more a new type of viewing experience one that many people will enjoy, but some way from becoming ubiquitous," says Informa Telecoms & Media senior analyst Adam Thomas.
He describes a market in which 3D enthusiasts have already purchased new 3D TV boxes, but fewer than half of UK homes will be active and regular users of such content by 2016. While broadcasters support it, TV viewers need more content and remain to be convinced that wearing silly glasses is a good thing to do when watching television.
"Irrespective of existing public demand for 3D, major set manufacturers (Samsung, LG, Panasonic, et al) increasingly see 3D capability as a feature that they must include in their sets, or the perception will be that rival manufacturers are producing a technically-superior product (with 3D included)," he said.
This means more and more TV sets are having 3D capability built into them. "But instead of a unique selling point, 3D is now often marketed as just one of the set's benefits -- along with features such as Internet-connection capability and LED backlighting," Thomas added.
In other words, 3D has failed to achieve the massive traction its supporters had hoped for and is passing on to become an under-used standard.
[ABOVE: With thanks to Patently Apple, this image details an Apple patent for a 3D OS interface. Touching, no?]
Will Apple take us to the third dimension?
History shows us that powerful new standards which have failed to grab the popular imagination are perfectly-formed for Apple, which may not always get to the party first, but has a wondrous way of refining such solutions for the mass market.
Apple will have to represent the technology as something you cannot live without.
That's where its recently-filed 3D projection patent may step in.
Apple calls this a "three-dimensional display system." It describes a: "highly effective, practical, efficient, uncomplicated, and inexpensive autostereoscopic 3D displays that allow the observer complete and unencumbered freedom of movement."
So an iPad which allows you to watch 3D television without those silly glasse could be part of the company's attempt to raise the full potential of the 3D TV segment.(And it has potential beyond TV -- think on virtually grabbable icons in a touch-enabled OS, such as the successor to Lion.)
Television will be revolutionized
Then there's the other front room device, the television. Will the Apple TV become a must-have device by enabling 3D experiences on non-3D sets? Will an Apple-branded television equipped with iOS, all the iOS apps, movement controlled Wii-like gaming and 3D TV right out of the box?
It makes sense. Think about it -- if iPad 3 is introduced this September, its release would likely take some of the attention away from the iPhone 5, which is also expected that month. It makes more sense to introduce the iPad 3 next year.
Doing so would also give Apple time introduce its own 3D apps in an attempt to explain the different ways in which the technologies can be applied, in advance of opening up development frameworks at WWDC 2012.
It may be a stretch, but introducing a 3D Apple-branded, fully connected iOS/iTunes-savvy television-cum-media hub at WWDC could potentially be a way to open up yet another potentially profitable market for developers.
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