That is the question. So let's look at the rumours. This is not about a little box that Apple already makes, that lets you network your media files from Macs and iDevices to actual TVs, and that can stream movies rentals and purchases from iTunes.
No, I mean an actual television.
Silicon Valley sources talk about a digital Apple Television based on iOS, the operating system that runs iPad/iPhone/iPod touch. The sources include parts suppliers, an 'internal Apple source', and other posts that seem to comprise reports of rumours then on-reported as 'sources'. But Apple did make a $3.9 billion investment in display component technology recently.
The Wall Street Journal mentioned Apple is "working on new technology to deliver video to televisions, and has been discussing whether to try to launch a subscription TV service," according to "sources familiar with the matter."
That's code for 'inside sources', but since everyone knows how tight Apple is on security, I'm not convinced. Read more here.
Cult of Mac notes the time may be ripe for Apple to make a television because high-end TVs have started to dip below the US$1000 price threshold. Apple buys 27-inch tubes for iMacs and Cinema Displays - a TV woud have to be big - say 55-inches.
The cost of LCD screens does appear to have been a limiting factor in Apple's products since 2007.
Business Week's Ben Kunz reckons new CEO Tim Cook needs a hit with a product.
But does Cook need a high stakes flop? He's essentially an accountant - I don't reckon he'd take a high stakes gamble - I reckon he's more likely to pare parts supply and marketing margins to keep Apple's profits in the stratosphere.
But an Apple Television makes more sense in the big US market because of discontent with TV delivery services, Kunz thinks. And despite record levels of US job losses and poverty, it's still a relatively well-heeled audience that blows money on devices it often wants rather than needs.
Apple was hardly the first with a tablet, or a computer, for that matter - it was just first with a tablet that was actually usable and that people wanted, and first with a computer that was widely available using human analogies in its interface.
But the TV market is a different beast - long established, well complemented with devices, and subject to rapid technological development across a broad spectrum - likewise in TV delivery, which is evolving from analogue to digital delivery, with the TV companies struggling to keep up.
Also, there's not much margin in the TV hardware business. It's as cut-throat as all hell - Apple likes a captive market and plump margins.
With iOS 5, which is due 'soon', iPad 2 owners will get wireless mirroring of the iPad 2 to a TV if they also have an Apple TV - that's the little iTunes-streaming box Apple sells here in New Zealand for $179.
If you think about a TV with iOS installed, it would be able to show video, play games, run apps, let you check your schedule and tweet about whatever YouTube movie you're watching at that moment - so, a TV with a keyboard? An Apple TV is a surprisingly impressive device, but navigating an on-screen virtual keyboard with a remote is no fun whatsoever. But with a touchscreen - why not?
Some of the latest TVs let you communicate person to person with Skype-like video and sound (Apple's 'Face Time' is similar to Skype, but bound to Apple devices). That could be good, too, except do you want Nana calling you in the middle of The Borgias? But what else could an Apple TV add that other TVs don't have, except for attractiveness at a premium price?
Licensing iOS to another TV maker is virtually 100% out of the question. Here I concur with MG Siegler on TechCrunch - if Apple does a television set, Apple would have to make it, from concept to setting up its manufacturing to shipping the product. Otherwise it's just not an 'Apple Television'.
To me, none of the rumours say Apple will actually make a television set, but TV is a domain in which the company hasn't yet established a significant foothold. Can Apple afford to take a gamble in this huge, well established market?
Well, yes. Apple could afford to build a resort on the moon. But who would want to go there?
Nowadays, many new TVs - even some DVD players - can plug directly into the 'net, so you can watch TV On Demand, for example, to catch up on the missed episode of Nothing Trivial (or whatever) actually on your TV in your lounge, instead of on your laptop or PC, and watch YouTube in comfort.
Apple innovated and continues to be the biggest player in music downloads, but for movies and TV shows, it's just one service among many. Overseas there's Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, Amazon, and the others, and there are even a few in lil ol' New Zild, where Apple TV stumbles for lack of content available on the NZ iTunes Store. (But note that it is constantly improving.)
The only real plus for an Apple branded television, to my mind, would be to have a TV in my home that's actually attractive, as most of them - including the Sony I bought recently - simply aren't. The fact you don't notice it much when it's off is possibly the most I can hope for. But would pay a premium for an attractive Apple Television? Nope. I'd rather just be able to get TV on my Mac - something Apple has delivered before, on a few special Mac versions, but not for a long time. (Eligato and others have made plug-in TV delivery devices that you can still buy, for Macs and PCs.)
But conceivably, an Apple television could be the heart of a grander content strategy that sees Apple trying to conquer the living room, as Peter Pachal points out on PC Mag.
This, in turn, would be dependent on Apple having excellent (and reliable) agreements with companies that make TV shows.
So really, who knows? Apple has been dabbling in TV for a long time.The Californian Inc spent part of the 1990s working on an interactive television box, an early predecessor to video-on-demand and what would eventually emerge as the Apple TV. It never actually went into production, but various prototypes of it still pop up on eBay.
There was also a 'Pippen' prototype, not to be confused with Apple's one-time game console 'Pippin' that it developed with Sony. The Pippen was an 'Interactive Television Box' and had S-video and serial ports, plus SCART connections for a TV and a VCR. It was before its time in terms of the network infrastructure required to make it into production, plus there was virtually no content available back then.
At day's end, an Apple Television does make sense in a dense, high-tech market like the States, England and Europe, and parts of Asia. However, it doesn't make much sense here in New Zealand.
I reckon here it would look gorgeous, cost around $3000 and have almost no content.
What do you think?
- Mark Webster mac-nz.com