Like many people, I enjoy guessing as to what technology is going to bring and what innovations will transform our lives. The quicker we all innovate, the quicker I will be to owning my life’s dream – that flying car (it better be in my lifetime!) In today’s world, things are so mundane and boring, so drip-fed to us commercially and unsystematically, that our dreams of the future are comparatively dull. An exception is Elon Musk who seems to be the one person in the world who’s challenging this approach and is not scared about taking on the auto industry with his electric Tesla’s and hovering rockets, not to mention the challenging foray of other ideas like a levitating hyperloop train in a vacuum tube.
Now when I say boring, I am frustrated with the perpetual cycle of marketing bullcrap we are fed as consumers. Mobile phones are a perfect example of this spiral. We are allured to the newest devices on offer because of some minor improvement that was actually invented many years ago, but we just weren’t allowed to have it before.
Apple is a company that gained fame for bringing tomorrow’s technology to us today. Its history is impressive and we’ve often come to rely on owning something new. However, over the past few years, its stream of ‘awe-inspiring’ products seems to have dried up a bit, or at least hit a blockage in the pipe of creativity and innovation. Is it just me who feels this? No. The internet speaks about it all the time – there’s volumes of discussions out there – and Apple’s share value has consequently taken the hitas a direct result. Apple’s shares hit its highest in Sep 2012 at $700 which then slid to today’s value of around $500. Why is it that a company which has more resources than it has ever had cannot compete on the stock market with Google and Amazon, whose shares continue to rise?
That said, I believe we are finally about to rejoice with a new product launch on September 10th, 2013, at the annual Apple conference which is famed for releasing new ideas. No, I’m not talking about the iPhone 5s… boring, the iPhone 5c… boring, or even the audacious iPhone Gold/Champagne Edition…. are you serious? Changing colours is hardly going forwards! What I am talking about is the Apple TV, the iTV, a physical TV with full software integration and one that is going to be called the iWatch. That’s right, it’s been staring us in the face for a long time, but intentionally, or unintentionally as the name has acted as a decoy.
It’s been long known that Steve Jobs wanted to invade our living rooms with a TV, but the fact that it’s taken such a long time to come to the light suggests there is some huge fundamental change on the cards. He’s famously quoted in his recent autobiography as saying, “I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use.”
In December 2012, Tim Cook said in an NBC interview, “When I go into my living room and turn on the TV, I feel like I have gone backwards in time by 20 to 30 years…It’s an area of intense interest. I can’t say more than that.”
Direct from the horse’s mouth. My research into all the murmurings about a TV Apple-like device shows it’s more than a figment of my (or Jobs’) imagination. There are exceptional reasons to believe this is about to happen. Let’s look at some of the facts and arguments to prove these wild claims of mine.
Why is it not a Watch? I want a Watch dammit!
I don’t feel like I actually need to elaborate on this much. A watch just doesn’t make sense, especially for Apple. I might be wrong in saying this, but don’t you think it would flop as a product?
A watch is for fashion and sometimes for telling the time. It’s certainly not for taking phone calls – you’d look like you were trying to lick your elbow. If it’s not mobile friendly, what is its purpose? It barely has one. Practical reasons for a watch not making sense have been highlighted by Gizmodo. First, the concept has been around for decades and has failed everytime. Secondly, it doesn’t stack up economically, as it won’t appeal to the masses. Apple doesn’t do niche products, as it would tarnish its overall reputation. To elaborate further, your mother will make calls on an iPhone, she may watch a movie on an iPad, but she will most certainly not be wearing a James Bond smart watch. Fashion territory is not for everyone; most people don’t brag about being a geek (geeks forget that, I often discover). Perhaps we may see a low priority product that slips onto the shelves like an accessory, but if I was Apple I wouldn’t be investing my resources in it. Contrast this with a TV which taps into a $39 billion market. A watch couldn’t command even 1% of that market earnings.
A TV has a mega audience. Yet, it is also an object of desire. So much so that this week they’ve been observing in the news that the poor would rather have the latest TV than to eat. Many households have more than one TV. It’s a gold mine. What’s odd to realise is that the principal profit comes not from selling the TV, but the right to access specific content and to buy the unique platform that brings this to you. Most likely this is a subscription based service like the successful Netflix with access to as much content as they get their mits on. There’ll be access to your iTunes naturally and the newly envisaged iRadio allowing unlimited music along with hundreds of other features. All this for the same price as Netflix and suddenly you’re buying into a lot more. Add the concept of the App store redefined in a whole new way: you’ll be recording more crap than you can possibly watch. Perhaps TiVo-like auto recording will come in to play…. My imagination starts running wild with all these new capabilities on offer, especially when you consider that your iPhone will be capable of controlling it.
Huh, so why the iWatch name then you ask?
So let us imagaine you are Apple and you’re going to bring out a TV that actually profits mainly from its content. A subscription based service and product that has a longer cycle than a mobile. Now let’s brainstorm some names here. iTV…. Oh. No, first hurdle! That is Channel 3 in the UK already! “Apple TV” has a better ring to it than that but it’s already associated with their current offering. I guess it could be refreshed. Other ideas such iFilm and iMovies simply don’t have the charm of its eloquent brand sounding names but then, wait a minute, what about iWatch? Boom, there you go. It’s primarily a content based medium allowing you the freedom to watch whatever you wish. The global acquisition of the iWatch name was always going to grab attention. It has everyone scouring over the concept of a wristwatch, but it’s a genius marketing ploy. It’s duping the world. It has distracted everyone so much that I feel isolated in this opinion of mine. I am even doubting myself, so I take my hat off to Apple here. Steve would be proud of what his marketing team are achieving. It will finally keep up with some of his past stunts at his past Apple conferences.
“I’ve finally cracked it” Steve says, but what exactly?
In his later days of his life, Steve came out and said “I’ve finally cracked it,” in relation to developing a TV product. It’s also worth noting that Steve still has an influential input on most of Apple’s products up until 2016.
Now my instant first thought is that that blooming remote control has got to go. I’m forever picking up the wrong one, or losing it down the sofa. Sometimes the battery even goes if it hasn’t already fallen out. Just why are remotes so badly designed when so much effort goes into the main product it’s controlling? I’m sure I’m not alone here in these views and it seems Steve Jobs wasn’t either: “There’s no reason you should have all these complicated remote controls,” he said to Isaacson. Whoever finds the solution to this frustration first will be applauded and then will reap the benefits. This has Apple’s name written all over it, doesn’t it?
Take a look at past news. It’s staring us in the face if we look hard enough. Apple not long ago was in talks to buy Primesense for$280 million. What’s special about this company? The Tel Aviv business is renowned for providing the sensing technology for the remarkable Xbox Kinect. Throw that piece of magic in your TV and you’ll soon realise you don’t now need a remote. However, the new Xbox One is due out on the 8th November 2013 which introduces the new advanced Kinect 2.0 which I expect will be on par, technology-wise, with this new Apple TV. Apparently the detail of the Xbox version is so incredible it can read your heartbeat. I’m expecting it will function perfectly, in case you’re wondering – unlike Siri. Ohh, Siri. Siri could be used as well I suppose. If that isn’t enough evidence for my proposition then there’s also a Patent surrounding this entire concept. For the amusement factor, a journalist over at Gizmodo has some conflicting opinions on the topic.
Apple has a second weapon in its armoury. Approved today (although filed 5 years ago), is a patent by Apple which shows its intentions for the iPhone and iPad to become a remote in itself. To quote, “The techniques of the present invention can allow the states of the components in the multimedia system to be captured in a scene. Once the scene has been saved, the scene can be restored at a later time. A remote control system for recommending scenes by comparing states of components in the current scene with states of components in saved scenes is also provided. The remote control system can also recommend scenes based on usage patterns. Moreover, the remote control system can allow users to designate one or more saved scenes as favourite scenes.” So, although many hundreds of patents get filed these days, it would seem rather a coincidence that this is suddenly approved 2 weeks before an announcement about iWatch.
A secret being very well kept, I sense. I expect it will be Wi-Fi controlled for the full feature set and the apps will work and run similar to the Xbox’s Smart Glass app, which extends greatly the user experience of the console. There was a hope in me that an IR receiver would be inbuilt to communicate with my other peripherals, such as my surround-sound system, but I can only dream. We all know Apple doesn’t like to mix with other fruit! Shame.
None of this would be possible without the huge installation base that Apple has secured across the world. Are they thinking it’s now time to utilise this to its full advantage? The speculative iPhone 5C is set to increase this user base and, maybe – I throw this out there – it could well be bundled in as part of the iWatch TV set. Design cues correspond with the new mac pro and there’s a visionary hint as to what else there is to come.
What is it going to look like?
This is anyone’s guess, and we’ll just leave it up to Apples’ chief designer, Jonny Ive. Like any branding, different products on offer should form a cross-correlation in its theme which I expect is going to take a similar direction of the outrageously, sexy and curvaceous new mac pro.
There’s a mountain of speculation about the TV display size. According to sources (and you’d expect some leaks wouldn’t you), Apple have ordered two sizes, 55” and 65”. If I had to guess sizes then perhaps these are on the larger scale, but at the same time these sizes make perfect sense. The way forward is large as we’ve seen in phones and the type of consumer buying this is going to want big. Two different varying sizes is logical but I would also expect a size of around 45”/47” for the smaller living space. Perhaps this one hasn’t been leaked, but who knows.
Although Apple would like to manufacture the majority of the product itself, there are some components that you simply just have to let others produce due to the economics of the technology. The screen itself is one. You just let the big boys in South Korea (Samsung, LG) and Japan (Sony, Toshiba, Sharp) take over this area of expertise. The majority of the world’s screens are made by these mega companies. Now, like any sensible large scale business, you would secure the supply chain with multiple manufacturers producing the similar parts. It would seem that LG and Sharp are the selected partners here given the sour relationship they now have with Samsung. Apple is rumoured to have invested $2 billion in Sharp in 2012, which would perhaps allow it to control the Japanese production of its screens (whilst maintaining a tighter control on leaks). There appears to be immense secrecy surrounding this deal. Another potential Apple partner that has seen consistently strong rumours going around, is an Apple acquisition of German Sound and visual renowned company, Loewe which sent the prospective companies shares up 45% in February this year.
I imagine the overall appearance would be an aluminium cast casing following that of the Mac Air. But to be honest, it could be so thin and frameless that it’s simply invisible and practically unobtrusive, given a TV is viewed in rooms of many sizes around the world. Oooh, maybe it can display the colour of the wall behind and turn it semi-invisible? That would be unique. I’ll take credit for that idea, ok?
What technical aspects do we expect?
The screen technology will most certainly be OLED due to the fact that it can display ‘black’ naturally, as opposed to dimming down the brightness as is traditionally found in LCD. There are plenty of other principal benefits that OLED offers, such as having more energy efficiency and better contrasting colours, but the real offering is in the “O” which stands for Organic. I don’t mean Organic as in home-grown vegetables. This technology allows for self-illumination of the individual diodes (pixels) – which allows for very thin screens and frameless possibilities. This is very good aesthetically for Apple and their imagination.
It’s likely to be a 4k resolution screen, which is the next advance on the current HD screens. The new consoles from Microsoft and Sony are going to support this. However, is it too early? Could it be left for a boring cycle rollout update the following year? This would ensure Apple’s consumers dip deep into their pockets again.
The unique selling point in terms of design could be a curved screen. Sounds a little crazy, but it’s proven already. It gives a more immersive feeling; like people who are used to having a TV in the corner of the lounge. I imagine it would only be a subtle curve, as people now grown used to having their screens on a flat wall. There’ve been rumours of curved glass and Apple for some time, but this has always been in relation to the curvature of the human wrist and a watch. So I think we’re going to see it brought in for the TV. Thanks to Corning’s ‘Willow Glass’ development, I expect we’ll see this paper thin technology layered on top for protection also. And if you’re dismissing this curvaceous creature coming to your living room, then to prove its existence, LG has already gone and made a curved OLED screen that you can already buy. Why would LG release so publicly this technology? I guess all the big companies are working on it, so LG might as well join in. LG have also tasted the flavour of the 55” size….hmm, so the production line is ready. Although it’s currently some £8,000 in price, one thing can be certain: when Apple makes something en masse, it’s no stranger to bringing down the price of parts where other cannot match. This is their specialty!
Yeah, the screens will be filled with Wi-Fi and all the usual ports and stuff. I guess there could be an inbuilt relay box that speaks to the varying devices you have such as your surround sound, wirelessly transmitting information to the TV. This means minimal cables creeping up your wall and keeps the system set up as thin as possible. Once it’s on the wall, they’ll be no need to be routing round for that HDMI port.
3D. That’s a tricky one. It hasn’t taken off too well so far. The media moguls have taken a step backwards, cutting the cord on 3D streams. I doubt the new Apple TV will have 3D capabilities because from a business proposition it would increase costs for something already on the high side.
No leaks, no nothing. It can’t be!
Well actually there are plenty of leaks, but everyone’s been intoxicated with the iPhone 5S & 5C frenzy that any other titbits of information are not making the news. Brilliant! The way it was intended! The marketing whizz kids at Apple probably have an entire team treading the rumour-mill to give the hungry bloggers something to bite on – they’re a hungry bunch. I’ve never seen so many leaks from any company, let alone Apple, who’s usually more coy. If nothing else, the marketing is good. There’s even a video yesterday, professionally shot, huh?
We’re talking about a billion dollar market and Apple knows how to manipulate it. The mobile phone industry moves like lightning, and the upgrade window is a vicious circle. By releasing enough interest to get you excited about a new product, Apple is also releasing photos that effectively show the same design and phone and so that you don’t put off upgrading before any releases. This keeps both camps happy. The iPhone will be available to buy within a few weeks of its launch and is already sitting in warehouses ready. Leaking information is all part of the plan to ensure its garnered as much public attention and media hype as possible, so when it really is launched, it will boil over in excitement as it’s been brewing for months.
Previous products in Apple’s product line have not had the same marketing behavior. Did you see the MacBook Air coming, before it was announced in 2010? Or the recent cylindrical Mac Pro earlier this year? Launched at the WWDC 13, it was like a stealth bomber which burst onto the scene from nowhere. When the release date is far from the launch date, the product is still very much under wraps as less people are not exposed to it, such as those in warehouses. The control over the product is still secure from leaks.
Let us presume for a moment that most news comes from the leaky ship of Foxconn in Shenzhen, China, which is where the iPhone has been made. Shown through blurry cameras, of course. Perhaps this ship needs plugging? However, if you follow Apple in some detail you’ll know that Apple announced its intentions to “move” one of its production facilities to the US back in December 2012 with $100 million devoted to this manufacturing initiative. At the time no particular product was specified, but Tim Cook has since hinted that the investment was for the new Mac Pro line. The conflicting news however is that it’s come to light that the new Mac Pro is now only going to be assembled in the States, which then begs the question of what Apple is actually going to ‘manufacture’ in the US, as it’s very intent on this being the way forward? It’s also worth noting that Foxconn has its own factories in the US, so there are plenty of methods to make this rather secret product in the US as a potentially covert operation. Either way, there’s certainly no clear intent on what is actually being made where or by whom. The OLED panels will be made in Asia anyway so it’s not really going to be made in the US fully, regardless. Most likely it’s a clever combination of multiple channels so nobody knows specifically what is going on apart from Apple itself.
Is making it in the US not really expensive?
Well yes it will cost more to make it state-side – unusual, I grant you. But, think of the PR surrounding this. Conditions in China aren’t good, and prices rising, so bring it back home. Apple is not alone in bringing production back to the home country. It will be another champion supporting the US economic recovery and helping resolve unemployment. What better product to manufacture than a TV set in the country where all things are televised? However, let’s look at one practical and logistical advantage. You’ll realise that a 65” TV is a rather large object to ship in and distribute. If it’s made in the US, then suddenly the cost of shipping decreases which goes towards counteracting any extra labour costs. Apple could also justify smaller production margins if it securely held the right to the potential subscription income. That will be a very high margin with the long term goal to install a user base for content driving – not for the first time. Sony’s Playstation 3 was sold at a loss to install its user base to then profit from the sale of games.
Why September 10th 2013 and not next year?
How you watch TV today is not how you will watch it in 5 years’ time. It’s not just the physical TV that’s important here to Apple but the vertical integration of its software offering and multi-media driven platforms.
The media industry is about to go through seismic shift of epic proportions that haven’t been seen since the physical birth of television. Most people these days have a plethora of TV channels available to them (unless you are old stick-in-the muds, but then you wouldn’t be reading this right) all sent through fibre optic or satellite. Up until now users have been controlled by gatekeepers of the industry jealous of their inheritance – the likes of Sky & Virgin in the UK or Time Warner Cable in the US. A serious bunch with a lot of money and power. Power and control is at the forefront here. If you reside in the UK, you may remember the launch of ITV Digital and the funny monkey adverts. This was a competitive threat to Sky and, through dirty market manipulation, Sky effectively forced the demise of this service. Read Alan Sugars autobiography and his take on this. It’s scary the extent to which the big players, in this case Rupert Murdoch, will go to maintain monopoly.
So into this ruthless empire comes the internet. The internet now offers download speeds enough to supply video in HD. Here comes Netflix that pops up and is suddenly a billion dollar empire overnight all thanks to streaming content. What Netflix has done is prove how streaming can be not only popular but profitable. However, the advantage it now has could be seriously thwarted.
If Apple doesn’t act NOW, it will miss the biggest chance of its corporate lifetime. OK, it’s not always about first mover advantage, as was proven with the iPod release, but the competition here is not just a few MP3 players. We are talking about huge, huge conglomerates cashing in on this new industry. And those getting involved in this opportunity are not short of heavy influence and solid users already. By the end of the 2013 we will see Microsoft’s Xbox One, Sony’s Playstation 4, Hulu, Roku, Google’s Chromecast, Boxee, and the likes of even Intel. Not to mention well- established companies like LoveFilm and Netflix. But the scariest one of them all in my opinion is Amazon. Yup, they want a slice too. After all, almost every streaming service (even Netflix) pretty much relies on Amazon’s cloud server setup. All they’d have to do is flick a switch and suddenly the millions of Kindle’s out there could stream content. Ohh, but they already do that don’t they? Amazon own LoveFilm! Content which is only accessed by Kindle and not to iPad. See where this is going?
So why hasn’t it been released sooner?
I expect it was supposed to be released earlier, but in this challenging environment, content licensing probably got more complicated than expected. Also, the famous “Reality Distortion Field” that Steve Jobs used to bring to the company is no longer in force and so everything takes longer to come to light as is evident by a lacklustre display of current innovative products by Apple.
The real cause is probably the multibillion-dollar barricade that they are facing from the gatekeepers. Intel has recently found out how difficult this really is. There are, however, loopholes and if you throw enough money and lawyers at it and I’m sure they will have come up with a solution. One being looked at is called the “Multichannel video programming distributor” or MVPD; this could be the key to the floodgates.
Apple is in talks with plenty of content providers in the US such as ESPN, HBO, MTV plus other less glamorous acronymic names. It’s a sign of times that things are changing. Sony has just recently secured MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon for use on its new Playstation 4. If they’ve done it, then the torrent of other channels following suit is upon us and we’ll all be bathing in everything ever filmed.
What about the Current Apple TV?
This strange little device is actually the most used device in my life that I’ve had contact with. It’s true. We have one at work and I play radio through the TV as it’s the only speakers I have access to. A weird use I know, but in this context a useful experience. The device has always been the ugly duckling of the Apple fold. You can barely find it on Apple’s website – It’s hidden under “iPod”. Although I’ve tried using youtube and other stuff on it, it barely works. It’s not got a lot of use except for AirPlay. And the remote is awful – how I hate remotes! In essence, it’s a device that was never given much focus and just sits at the back of the class. When was the last update for it? The dashboard is prehistoric. My guess is that it was simply a device for soft testing the technology behind the scenes and allowing the setup of the content streams.
Isn’t that strange? A mega industry is about to kick off and Apple have a device capable of tapping into this foray, yet it’s given no attention? Isn’t this a rather big clue ?
My personal standpoint
It’s important I state my personal views on Apple in order to avoid any ‘fanboy-isms’ that might arise. I certainly am not one of those loud mouth one sided online trolls and to many people’s surprise, given my love for technology, I have never owned or bought an Apple product in my lifetime. I have no intentions of doing so either. The principal reason is due to Apple’s eagerness to be separate and monopolistic which suffocates future world innovation. I prefer compatibility. I prefer universal micro USB’s which can be exchanged in any phone. I prefer software that can be used as soon as it’s released, and used on a huge variety of applications, in a way that I want. I prefer watching a live stream of Apples’ recent WWDC on my Chrome browser using Windows, but unfortunately am denied that possibility due to it only being viewable via a Safari browser. How can I buy into Apple if I can’t watch the launch of new products from a none Apple product? If you’ve read the autobiography of Steve Jobs you’ll know that this is his personal trait: utter control giving utter dominance. It remains in the DNA of the company and I therefore don’t think I’ll ever shift.
Besides, if Steve had shared the same views as Bill Gates in the early days, we wouldn’t have had Microsoft, so be thankful for today’s competition – otherwise we could still be using floppy disks, urgh. Wikipedia, WordPress, Opencart and Linux are fine examples of the opposite extreme, but the true hero for me is Google. Google Maps is freely used on the iPhone, but Apple Maps would never be seen on Android now would it? Google’s share price continues to rise, whilst Apple’s suffers. It’s dangerous play to close your doors. Open them and make friends in my opinion.
So that begs the question to why am I interested in Apple and want to know any of the above? For one, I simply appreciate all the positives they do offer. I applaud much of the product design and the search for improved technology. I follow Apple because what it does, affects the whole sphere of technology development and drives much of it forward. I even harbour an investment interest in AAPL shares – so that gives me a good enough reason. My investment in Apple shares is based on the fact that Apple’s innovation days are not over yet as they’re undervalued at the moment. And I don’t just mean silly biometric readers on its phone and clever triangulated motherboards for desktops. It can turn things around beyond these minor innovations and has the potential for a massive profit gain from this TV – a TV called the iWatch.
So, iWatch or I watch nothing…
September 10th 2013 will explain all or nothing. Apple’s announcements over the past few years have been rather underwhelming. However, I have a feeling that this year’s will be a knockout punch which is about to shock the world in 2 weeks’ time.
Could it be the first Apple product I ever purchase? I wonder. My Xbox would hook up nicely ….