Rumor: Apple television 'imminent', but will it turn on and tune in, or drop out?

“‘Tis the season,” well, it isn’t yet but we’re heading that way and it seems inevitable that with pine trees across the planet shivering as they hear the approach of the woodsman’s axe another shiny Apple [AAPL] product rumor hits the airwaves, this time claiming the company’s unicorn-like “will they, won’t they” Apple television launch is “imminent”, whatever that may mean.

[ABOVE: The late Steve Jobs makes his first television appearance.]

Turn on

It may be best not to heap too much scorn on these claims, coming as they do from Jefferies & Co’s analyst, James Kisner, via All Things D. The analyst claims “at least one” cable operator is testing their network to find out if it can handle the bandwidth demands a connected Apple HDTV might generate. 

What isn’t immediately clear is what kind of similar tests have been made of sundry Internet-connected television sets or set-top boxes by cable operators in the past. 

That calls to mind previous reports into Apple’s plans for its television set. 

These reports have speculated that the company intends offering a combined user interface which enables users to access conventional broadcast channels, iTunes services (including a more advanced and personalized sequence of television offerings) and, hopefully (because if it doesn’t offer support for this there’s little point) support for third-party streamed TV services such as Lovefilm or Netflix, and the like. 

Tune in

These sundry offerings would in theory be made available via an Apple-created user interface, likely high on the eye-candy and replete with iOS device support so you could easily manage what you’re doing using your iPhone, for example. 

You could also anticipate existing Apple TV services would be included within this, and it is possible -- given Steve Jobs’ claims that he’d dreamt up a new user interface for TV -- that Siri support may enable spoken word commands for what you watch. And naturally this also extends to provision of support for games on the device.

This vast collection of online services would presumably make great demands on cable firm’s precious bandwidth. With that in mind, the idea operators have a desire to test such a solution makes a little more sense. 

That an analyst believes such tests have begun doesn’t necessarily mean Apple’s any closer to shipping the device -- despite recent additional claims of a Q1/2 2013 release. Apple’s negotiations with broadcasters have been extensive and it remains possible the company’s solution developed so far may not win their approval, though these purported tests do at least suggest some movement in those talks.

The analyst doesn’t quite see it that way, telling clients: “We believe this potentially suggests an imminent launch of the Apple TV.

As AllThingsD states: “More recently, Time Warner Cable COO Rob Marcus told attendees of the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference that the company would consider selling TV subscriptions using third-party technology, even if “in some of those cases that may mean giving up control of the interface.””

Apple has been working away at this for years. However, like AllThingsD, I don’t believe these tests suggest an imminent launch. In addition to which, Apple’s head of iTunes, Eddy Cue, in August stressed his company at that time hadn’t yet been able to put a winning proposition together.

Drop out?

What does this mean? I think it means Apple’s on the way toward putting an Apple television set under people’s trees across Christmas 2013, but I won’t be saving up my pennies for such a system just yet.

There’s one more thing. Google. Apple’s solution for television sounds interesting, but its arch-rival continues to find ways in which to make leverage using YouTube.

Google’s online video sharing service is rapidly becoming a peer player in broadcasting, making investment in content and offering creatives a relatively no-strings-attached route to people’s eyes. The company’s Android ecosystem and its own TV products mean that content is available across an array of screens, while its Channels widen its reach.

The difference here is clear: Google’s television model already embraces the army of pro and semi-pro video creatives, offering up a wide array of content for a wide array of tastes. 

Apple offers a more mercantile solution, in which it seems to be moving toward offering a fantastic interface via which end users can access any kind of commercial content, but there’s no guarantee it will include YouTube content in the end.

While Apple’s solution will be elegant and lovely and I’ll probably want one; Google’s seems better-fitted to the wave of mass democratization of content creation and distribution which is impacting the broadcast market at this time. And while in a sense it pains an Apple-holic to say it, it may eventually emerge as a solution that’s more appropriate to the increasingly diversified and democratized evolution that’s transforming even commercial broadcast content at this time.

A year ago I think the premium content conversation was about iTunes, Hulu, Netflix, MSN and Yahoo,” Brian Bedol, CEO of Bedrocket, recently told AdAge. “I don’t think premium producers were thinking about producing original content for YouTube.”

It’s open to question if Apple’s extremely business-minded iTunes team can loosen up to the social media-driven change that’s transforming the broadcast industry, or if, as a result of its extensive conversations with stakeholders in that space, it simply delivers a place people can buy conventional content if they have the coin.

That’s where we seem to be right now, in any case.

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