Apple and the iPhone TV: one day all televisions will be this way

Imagine you'd been able to watch this year's Olympic Games on your television without having to rely on NBC's much-criticized coverage. That's the sort of future you can look forward to on release of the Apple [AAPL] television when it comes, or when you use some connected television sets and set-top boxes.

[ABOVE: Apple is preparing a "sneak attack," a profound change to television consumption with the introduction of a "dual app" scenario says Jeff Whatcott, chief marketing officer of Brightcove.]

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Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster recently said almost 49 percent of Americans would be willing to purchase an Apple television when it eventually ships. (Expected this year the product now seems set to appear in 2013). A May Strategy Analytics survey results claimed nearly half of iPhone users would likely buy an Apple television soon after the product's launch.

29 percent of homes would consider upgrading to the new television even if they don't need a new television yet. Though true success will depend on price -- most consumers will baulk at the rumored $1,500 price tag some think this thing will cost.

As cited in his official biography, Steve Jobs had his eyes on television, saying: "I'd like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use. It would be seamlessly synched with all of your devices and with iCloud. It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it."

In a cryptic statement uttered in May, Apple board member Millard Drexler said that, while the living room has been a hobby with the Apple TV: "the living room they're dealing with at some point in the near future."

Changing the channels

Over 40 percent of Americans are live-streaming Olympics coverage on their smartphones and tablets. Already one-third of Europeans are streaming TV shows over the Internet, up by 10 percent on 2011.

"The Olympic audience is becoming more fragmented," said Velti chief marketing officer Krishna Subramanian. "For brands that want to reach Olympic viewers, this is an important finding as it highlights the ability to look beyond TV and focus on secondary devices such as smart phones and tablets."

While we watch these shows, we talk about them. A UK TV Licensing survey reveals that 57 percent of the country's adult social media users aged under 35 claim the social buzz around a show can affect whether they watch the programme or not. Television viewing is becoming a shared experience using social media: Twitter or Facebook.

Victoria Jaye, Head of IPTV and TV Online Content at BBC Vision said: “Exploring how second screen connectivity can enhance the way audiences access, discover and enjoy BBC TV programmes is a key part of the BBC iPlayer strategy. We have a number of ambitious projects in development, following dual screen pilots conducted over the past year."

Smarter than smart TV

The television is becoming a more intelligent device. The user interfaces on existing solutions (including the Apple TV) aren't yet as fluid as they need to become for television to become a truly interactive medium.

This has led to much speculation the television would carry channel content through conventional broadcasting, via iTunes and also through individual apps from broadcasters, which raises interesting opportunities.

For example, a BBC app could be made available for free to US viewers, offering some free content but making a much wider catalog of content available for a monthly fee.

Such a plan would fit well with the BBC's stated mission to make more money from international sales of its content. In theory at least it would also have meant US Olympics fans would have been able to watch the opening ceremony in real time, rather than being forced to use NBC.

A similar channel as an app model should enable US viewers to access content from numerous networks that have no presence on US networks, though it's also likely those wanting to watch adult content will need to use another device, given Apple's censorious attitude pertaining to such material.

What else might the Apple TV do?

Siri support would enable voice navigation of channels and -- presumably -- also make it possible to speak your Tweets or Facebook status updates.

Gaming is an obvious extra string to the bow. In theory any iOS app should be usable on the television. This would devour the console market in the same way as the iPhone is devouring the handheld gaming market.

What other functions should work on a big screen television? Image editing seems possible, as does full Web surfing (existing Web surfing on smart televisions remains an unsatisfying experience); email and social media communications; note-taking; FaceTime conversations; time-shifting of broadcast content. Many of these functions are likely to cannibalize use of notebooks in the home.

A post-PC TV

"We actually believe the market for consumer desktops could see pressure in the wake of an iTV product by 2014, much the same way that the overall notebook market's growth slowed after the introduction of the iPad," warned Barclay's Ben Reitzes this week.

"The reason is that an Apple TV would represent an easy way to check email and the web as well as share photos (and even edit them in the same way as an iPhone/iPad can)."

What might it look like? Apple's pursuit of Samsung in its attempt to protect the iPhone/iPad design seems pretty telling. It strongly suggests to me that the television will be similar in design with rounded corners and little other than the display to interrupt the user experience. Despite the size of the display (up to 55-inches) the device should be really thin, partially because it won't require a battery. This implies it could be lighter too, this is something you could easily hang onto any wall.

The connected device would easily be linked to any Apple device: a Mac, an iPhone and iPad. Any of these devices could be used for text entry or an a remote.

Introduction of TV show subscriptions would enable visitors to stream their favorite shows to the television. People should be able to screen their homemade movies and iTunes movie collections the same way.

At present, the television offers a single screen experience, or, at best, a picture-in-picture effect. I'd like to see support for multiple windows, so you can watch your Twitter feed or check movie reviews while you enjoy something else in the main on-screen window.

That should also allow users to play a game while watching something in the background, if they like, or navigate their music collection while also watching something else in the background.

What would you like your television to do?

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