As we get closer to yet another Apple event, the rumor mill is operating at full speed and everyone has "sources." The latest to offer up a juicy bit of gossip is Jason Calacanis, who went on record in an interview with CNET UK as saying that he has direct sources telling him Apple is developing a networked LCD HDTV that will have built-in Apple TV capabilities. Immediately, this brought up a smattering of conflicting ideas and opinions from a few of us at Giz as to whether or not this makes sense. And if it does happen, we almost certainly won't see it on Tuesday. Ultimately, we're still undecided one way or the other, but here's what we think on the matter. Right off the bat, it doesn't really make sense why Apply would enter TV market with an Apple-branded LCD. The market is as cutthroat as ever with companies eating costs and gouging prices. Most of the big PC names (Dell, Gateway, etc...) are getting out, leaving obscure Chinese manufacturers to hash it out. Sure, Apple makes their Cinema Display, but those are strictly for the computer market and aren't any bigger than 30". So while they're not LCD n00bs, they're still green to the TV market. You can also use the cheapness wars to highlight the best selling TVs are the ones which only offer video, speakers and a sufficient number of inputs — leaving the rest to the consumer. But at the same time, all these manufacturers are bottoming out with their prices, and will soon need to distinguish their product from the rest with special features. Storage is also an issue. The Apple TV relies on a 40 GB HDD to bring content to the living room. Putting a spinner inside a TV is something manufacturers are adverse to, probably because of drive failure, noise, and heat concerns. It's entirely possible they could stick a 64 GB SSD in the TV and call it a day, but that still adds a couple hundred extra dollars to the price. There are also reasons why this rumor might have some validity to it, the most obvious of which is Jason Calacanis' standing in Silicon Valley. Unless he's pulling a stunt to get his own fledgling projects some attention, you have to believe the internet tech entrepreneur rubs elbows with some people who actually know what they're talking about. Kevin Rose has proven to have some great insider information in the past, so there's no reason to think that Calacanis wouldn't. Looking at other companies, networked TVs and internet-based content are becoming more popular in flat panels. Pioneer, HP and Samsung, among others, have showed off displays with internet connectivity. And LG has Netflix streaming in their upcoming Blu-ray player, so maybe it's not far fetched to think Apple wants a piece of this. And speaking of which, Apple has to worry about Netflix, who is on their ASS when it comes to digital movie distribution. Netflix has made aggressive moves in the last few weeks with regard to their all-you-can eat streaming service, you have to think Apple needs to make some moves to keep their ala carte model of distribution relevant. And this brings about the final point, which is purely speculation — what if Apple doesn't build a TV at all, but rather lends their Apple TV software to a big name TV maker? Instead of an "Apple iWhatever," it's a "Sharp Aquos with Apple TV." This would work on two levels. First it would eliminate the financial risk of R&D, marketing and manufacturing costs of what could be a potential flop in an already oversaturated market. Second, they don't need to move the hardware to make money. They just need people buying things from the iTunes Store. Lending their interface to an already established TV maker, would do just that — bring new customers into their marketplace. Again, we're just thinking out loud here. We're trying to make sense of this like anyone else, especially with Apple TV rumors floating around, the lack of updates to the Apple displays, and Apple Execs referencing new products and product transitions. But for all we know, they could be talking about the iPod Shuffle. [CNET UK via Mac Blogz]
My take on this is that Apple would be far better off licensing iTunes compatibility to television manufacturers. I doubt Apple would want to get into the business of manufacturing television sets and including the Apple TV hardware would price them out of competitiveness. However there would be a lot of value if television sets were able to stream iTunes content either from a computer or an Apple TV. The only added hardware would be the Wi-Fi connection preserving and reinforcing Apples strategy of making an Apple TV a media hub.
In fact, a lot of manufacturers from Sony to Samsung have attempted this approach and have failed to network living rooms in a user friendly fashion. It is just like Apple to perceive this failing and to introduce an approach that works and is useable.