How the Long-Rumored Apple Television Set Might Work

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Whispers of an Apple-branded television set have been popping up since the beginning of human history (yes, that long), with even the late Steve Jobs tipping his hand to his biographer, Walter Isaacson, informing him that he’d “finally cracked” the secret to an Apple television set:

“I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use. It would be seamlessly synched with all of your devices and with iCloud. It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.”

And just recently, Bloomberg quoted the ever-mysterious “people with knowledge of the project”—three of them, even!—as saying the Apple TV (not to be confused with Apple TV which, confusingly, lives in the iPod section of Apple’s website) will be spearheaded by “Jeff Robbin, who helped create the iPod in addition to the iTunes media store.”

The Current State of Connected TV

Assuming this Apple TV will be a connected set—it’ll seamlessly synch everything, after all—here’s what Apple’s up against.

You’ve got second-input boxes, like the Roku and Apple TV (again, not to be confused with the Apple TV) along with newer Blu-ray players that offer a selection of streamable content from the likes of Netflix and other providers. The disconnect from your actual TV, however, is that you need to switch to a second input source to use these things. It’s not rocket science, but it’s not Apple-simple. Tell the average TV-owning consumer to “just flip to input two real quick” and see what happens.

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Then you’ve got the first-input box from your cable company—Comcast, Verizon, DirecTV, or whatever service you use. The interface on the box may look like it was cobbled together by a surly, color-blind engineer with an axe to grind, but at least everything’s in one place. The downside, of course, is that your content selection is limited. You’ve got whatever’s on TV, whatever you’ve recorded, and whatever’s available on-demand. But that’s about it.

Then you’ve got the outliers like Google TV, a box that sits in between your cable box and your TV. It’s still a first-input device, like your cable box, but you have access to both your cable content and web content. On paper, it’s the best of both worlds. In reality, the interface is clunky and certain content providers—especially the major networks—throw a tantrum when you try to stream their content via Google TV’s web browser instead of watching it as they want you to watch it: on TV, the old-fashioned way.

And finally, we’ve got a newly-emerging class of connected TV, one in which the cable companies offer their content to you, but you supply the box.

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