What we expect from the true Apple TV

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Full Coverage From Apple's 9/12 iPhone 5 Launch EventThere is a very good chance we will not be hearing about a television made by Apple this Wednesday. A recent report from Bloomberg pokes a big hole in widespread speculation that Apple will unveil the much-anticipated television during its upcoming event, saying talks between Apple and big media companies have not been going well and claiming an unnamed source “familiar with the company’s plans” stated “Apple won’t be releasing a new TV product this year.”

Then again, Apple has surprised us before. While we agree that Apple needs to crack the big media code to bring a truly revolutionary TV to market, we can’t help but wonder if Apple might surprise us again and unveil a TV product this Wednesday, even without those media-licensing deals in place. And that got us thinking: after all these years of anticipation and subsequent let-downs, what do we now expect from Apple’s elusive TV, anyway?

Revolutionizing the TV

In order for Apple to continue its legacy of single-handedly transforming the industry it enters into, it needs to redefine the way we use our televisions with its new product. A TV that offered the following features and functionality would certainly do that.

Gesture and voice control

Granted, these wouldn’t be considered breakthrough technologies for Apple. Samsung’s top-tier smart TVs offer gesture and voice control for both basic TV functions, such as turning the TV on and adjusting the volume, as well as game control, which can be seen here. But Apple has a big opportunity here. If it can design and implement these features better than anyone else right out of the gate, it will make a big splash in the TV market — and it is poised to do so.

apple tv siri conceptThough we’ve been pretty tough on Siri in the past, we must concede that it is a better interactive voice interface than the sort we’ve seen folded into Samsung’s TVs to date. If Apple polishes Siri up, it could work well enough to help folks warm up to the idea of speaking at their TV. Not only could Siri help with those basic TV functions, but it could be an excellent interface for search and an interesting alternative for app navigation.

We also think Apple has the potential (and resources) to take motion control to the next level. If it were to integrate a motion-control feature similar to Microsoft’s Kinect, users would have a brand new way to play the vast number of games available from Apple’s app store.

Replacing you cable box

The best way for Apple to revolutionize TV is to provide access to all content, from every channel, all in one place. Ideally you would ask Siri to find you an episode of your favorite show and she would return options for streaming content from Netflix, Hulu or live broadcasts. Siri could also be instructed to record certain programs to be watched another time. Here’s the sticking point, though: Big media is reluctant to deal with Apple; a point that really shouldn’t come as a surprise since Apple is known to redefine everything it touches.

What is it that Apple is planning that has the cable companies so nervous? As the Wall Street Journal puts it: Apple seeks to “erase the distinction between live and on-demand content.” It wants to essentially replace the need for a cable box or DVR with its television, and possibly its Apple TV set-top boxes as well. TV shows will be available online within minutes of airing, allowing viewers more flexibility in their viewing schedule. As for recording shows, Apple’s service would bypass the need for a DVR box by recording shows and saving them in the cloud for viewing at any time, with any capable Apple device connected to the Internet.

apple tv concept apps iconsIn doing so, Apple would take a serious bite out of ad revenues, which cable providers are notoriously protective of. This is why Apple hasn’t been getting anywhere with the likes of Comcast, Cox and Verizon. The one noted exception appears to be Time Warner Cable — ranked number four in the US in terms of subscribers — which has been quoted as saying it ‘is not religiously wedded to absolutely controlling the user interface.’ But it will take a lot more than Time Warner’s limited regional coverage to get Apple the kind of distribution it needs to get a foothold in the TV space.

Surround sound

That users will be able to share content and otherwise interact with Apple’s TV using their iOS devices is a given. AirPlay will probably be the portal for that. How it will look and feel, however, remains to be seen. We expect to be able to use an iDevice like a remote control and even “flick” content up to the TV directly iDevice screens.

We are also confident that Apple’s TV, whenever it is released, will feature what the rumor mill has been calling “AirPlay Direct”, a technology that allows sharing media from iDevices to Apple-approved peripherals just like standard AirPlay, but without the need for a Wi-Fi connection. We’ve seen evidence of this technology with our own eyes, and expect it will be announced Wednesday.

What will we call it?

First off, we’re pretty sure Apple’s television won’t be called “Apple TV,’ despite the fact that plenty of news outlets insist on calling it that. Apple already has an Apple TV – it’s a set-top box with plenty of traction and Apple will not be cannibalizing its name.

No, it is far more likely the device would be called iTV; but even that seems too obvious, and a number of other companies already own trademarks on it. What would you call it?

See ya next year?

Assuming the most recent reports turn out to be accurate and Apple doesn’t bow a TV this Wednesday, we are left to wonder how that might impact the future of an Apple-made television. Were Apple to wait another year, it would leave big-name TV companies like Samsung, LG and Sony plenty of time to design and implement the sort of next-generation features we were hoping to see in Apple’s television this year. What, then, could Apple do to revolutionize the TV industry, outside of striking deals with cable companies? Do we really have to sit and speculate for another year?

Guess we’ll find out on Wednesday.