Apple CEO Tim Cook doesn’t do many interviews, so it’s understandable why not one but two “exclusive” interviews this week excited plenty of interest among fans curious to know where one of the world’s most valuable companies is going next. In particular, a lot of people picked up on Cook’s comment to NBC’s Brian Willams in an interview airing tonight that television is now an “area of intense interest.”
Sound familiar? It should. Back in May at the AllThingsD D10 conference, he said television is “an intense area of interest to us.” In other words, nearly seven months later, he’s saying precisely the same thing, and no more.
That’s not the only reason to avoid getting hot and bothered about a possible Apple television. An Apple TV set presents a thorny problem for Apple, one that still has no obvious answers.
Some TV people in the know whom I’ve talked to recently say that Apple is indeed working on a television. However, it’s clear that Apple could easily have produced a television by now if Cook and his team felt that they could offer one that would provide a different, compelling enough experience to command a typical Apple premium price. Apple already makes the Apple TV streaming device, it sells monitors, adding a TV tuner would be easy, its iTunes Store and software would be a much better interface for finding TV shows, and it has developed a number of technologies in the past year or so that make it easy to shuttle video from iPads, iPhones, and Macs to a TV screen.
The fact that they still haven’t come out with a TV set is a clear sign that they haven’t cracked it, despite the late Steve Jobs’ crowing before he died that he had done just that. Indeed, many other people in the TV and tech industries can’t see why Apple would sell anything close to a television set, because it fits so poorly with Apple’s business model, its cost structure, the increasingly mobile trajectory of its product line, and even the layout of its retail stores.
In any case, an Apple TV set isn’t coming soon. Gene Munster, the Piper Jaffray analyst who has been predicting an Apple television since 2009, now says it won’t come out before November 2013–that’s right, almost a year from now.
The main problem is this: Unlike the other industries Apple has disrupted, in particular music and wireless communications, the TV business isn’t broken. TV studios and pay-TV operators are doing just fine, thank you. They have no intention of letting Apple into their henhouse, even if Apple is willing to pay the many billions of dollars it would take to get access to live TV content.
Lately, the betting seems to be on Apple making a settop box that would meld live TV for existing pay-TV subscribers with iTunes content under a more intuitive user interface, but it seems that the TV powers that be are wary even of that small step. So it’s tough to see how Apple can offer much unique in a TV set.
The only thing we know for sure is that whatever Apple comes out with in the TV realm, it won’t be what many people are expecting–because many people are expecting and hoping that TV will revolutionize the medium. Viewer demand and Apple innovation notwithstanding, that’s not going to happen anytime soon.