Apple will not enter the television set market with its own long-lauded, long-expected hardware, according to an online report, putting an apparent end to one of the more persistent rumors weaving around the Cupertino, Calif. company's future.
That's good news, said one analyst.
"I never thought it made strategic sense," said Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research, in an interview. "The TV has been reduced to the glass, just a screen from the hardware perspective, a black rectangle with a very small border attached to the wall or against the wall. There was no room to make it look better or make it look like an Apple-designed product, which are meant to be seen and handled and in public."
According to the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) earlier this week, Apple shelved plans for a high-definition television set more than a year ago, effectively killing a product that never was. The newspaper contended that the firm could not come up with features that would differentiate an Apple-branded set from the rest of what is a very competitive, cut-throat market with thin margins at best.
Analysts, including Dawson, thought that was a smart decision, if, as they assumed, the Journal story is accurate.
"I was very bullish on an Apple TV ... two years ago," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. "Then it would have made a great product, and one that played to the strategy of the living room as the center of gravity for content consumption in the home. But viewing has shifted, is shifting, every year from a single big screen to a lot of smaller screens."
In other words, while an Apple-branded television set might have made sense earlier -- the company has been exploring the idea for almost a decade, and since 2009 has sold its Apple TV external box -- the concept and its logic has been outpaced by other developments.
Dawson and Moorhead both also argued that, sans a television set itself, Apple is already well positioned with Apple TV. Recent rumors claim it will get a substantial refresh this summer, perhaps including a delivery service with content licensed from the major players in television and film.
"A hockey puck-like device gets you 95% there," said Moorhead.
"What would make an Apple [television set] special that they couldn't fit in a $100 box?" Dawson asked rhetorically. "It would provide the same additional value. From a consumer's perspective, why would I buy an Apple television?"
Especially at the prices Apple would charge to account for its hallmark top-tier materials; the fact that, at least initially, it would pay through the nose for small production runs; and most importantly, a philosophy of such high margins that they would be completely outside the ken of the TV industry as a whole.
Instead of a television set, Dawson and Moorhead agreed that Apple would rely on the Apple TV as the core of its strategy to rework a television experience that Apple executive Eddy Cue said last year "sucks," and make good on CEO Tim Cook's long-running professions that the company wants to figure out a way into TV.
"We'll see a redone Apple TV" this summer, perhaps at Apple's annual developers conference, predicted Dawson. He expects the revamp to support a TV subscription service, include either an easy-to-use remote or better integration with the iPhone for the purpose, and kick-start development of apps, primarily games, that are native to the device.
He also forecast a major role for the Apple TV in Apple's plans to dominate home control devices. "It will be the hub for HomeKit," said Dawson, referring to the home automation framework that launched nearly a year ago. Dawson envisioned the black box as the family's control HQ, with iPhones and iPads -- and even Macs -- serving as the remotes.
Yet neither analyst was willing to completely bury the idea of an Apple television set.
"Never say never," said Moorhead, acknowledging that Apple has head-faked analysts and the media before.
Dawson was more specific, to the point where he came up with several reasons why Apple would want a set with its own logo. "As long as you are just an input, one of many, you'll be competing with other boxes," Dawson said. "But by controlling the TV, you get to decide how those other boxes are controlled. That gives you leverage."
If Comcast, say, balked at doing a deal with Apple, Dawson speculated, the latter could twist arms by making sure the cable giant's set-top box was incompatible with the TV, or relegated to second-citizen status. "'You might want to do a deal with us,'" Dawson said, putting words in Apple's hypothetical bargaining mouthpiece.
Dawson spelled out several other rationales for a television set in a piece he posted Wednesday to his personal blog.
Long shot? Certainly.
"A TV set locks you in for 5 to 10 years," said Moorhead. "But Apple wants to move you along every three years onto something new."
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