How Apple Could Reinvent TV

Tim Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market intelligence firm in Silicon Valley.

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If you happen to be at the San Francisco Airport and have some time on your hands, stroll over to the United Airlines domestic gates and check out the history of television display.

Set up like a museum arcade, the exhibit has everything from early black and white TVs in huge cabinets to mini-TVs that fit in the palm of your hand. There’s even one that looks like a space capsule from the ’60s. And sprinkled in between the various TVs are all types of TV-related memorabilia such as TV guides from the 1950s and 1960s, posters from shows like I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show, to lunch boxes with characters from The Mickey Mouse Club and, my favorite, an actual Howdy Doody puppet with its strings still attached.

(MORE: Four Industries Apple Can Disrupt in the Near Future)

The last time I took this walk down memory lane, I grew rather nostalgic for the simple times of early television where we only had to deal with three channels and every show was appointment TV. In my childhood, 6:00pm was time for Uncle Walter (CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite). And every Saturday night, I had to endure my aunt’s demand to watch The Lawrence Welk Show.

Now we have hundreds of channels to choose from, DVR technology to make sure we don’t miss any show we really want to see and, more recently, a plethora of OTA (over the air) TV shows and video podcasts popping up on the Internet – all streamed to my TV via something like Google TV if I can find them.

And while we’ve had major advances in TV technology that includes color TV, cable and satellite programing and apps related to TV at our disposal, the actual means for finding the shows we want to watch is about the same. In my youth, it was the TV guide that helped me find what was on TV, while today it’s the interactive programming guide.

While the interactive programming guide is much better then the analog TV Guides of the past for finding what’s on television, its user interface is mediocre at best. And the way you have to enter text to search for a program is primitive and often maddening. And that same type of user interface is also found on things like Netflix, Hulu+ and others. You use a remote to peck out one letter at a time in a crossword-like manner until you get the name of the show.

In his biography of Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson quotes Jobs on this very subject: “I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use,” he told Isaacson.  “It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud. It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.” Isaacson elaborates, “No longer would users have to fiddle with complex remotes for DVD players and cable channels.”

(MORE: Apple TV: 5 Rumored Features)

Since that quote has come out, many have speculated about what a Jobsian like TV would be like. While he hints that it would be an integrated TV that is easy to use and seamlessly synched with iCloud, he does not give many more details about his vision for reinventing TV.

But as someone who has followed Apple for 30 years, tracking Steve Jobs and watching the way he thought close up, my experience from years of scrutinizing Apple and Jobs makes me think that there are probably three key goals behind his strategy to reinvent TV.

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