Four Guiding Principles for Understanding Apple’s TV Strategy

Here are four guiding principles that I believe Apple will use when creating whatever next-gen TV experience the company plans to deliver to customers in the future.

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Predictions of Apple creating a TV set have been hot and heavy recently as people like web pioneer and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, Piper Jaffray financial analyst Gene Munster, and many others have predicted that Apple will roll it out in 2013. And various reports from the supply chain in Taiwan and China have also suggested that Apple plans to bring out a TV soon.

The fact is that until Apple releases whatever Apple TV device it has in the works, most of what is said about it from outsiders is pretty much speculation. However, I do believe that given Apple’s history with the current Apple TV box and its other Mac and iOS products, there are some guidelines we can use to help us think about what Apple might be doing around the reinvention of the TV.

When Apple initially introduced the iPhone in 2007, I sat down with Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior VP of marketing. He showed me the iPhone and made what I consider a key statement about how Apple thinks about all of its products.

In this meeting, he set the iPhone in the off position on a table and asked, “What do you see?” I said what I saw was a phone with a blank screen. He said, “That is exactly what we want you to see.” While he pointed out the iPhone’s design, he said that the real magic of the iPhone came in the software that makes the iPhone “sing and dance.”

I had similar discussions with Steve Jobs after his return to Apple, and he echoed what Schiller told me at the iPhone launch: While Apple does hardware, the purpose of the hardware is really to showcase the genius of Apple’s software.

With that in mind, here are four guiding principles that I believe Apple will use when creating whatever next-gen TV experience the company plans to deliver to customers in the future.

An Apple TV will be personal. While Apple may create a physical TV, think of it as just another piece of glass that Apple uses to deliver great software. If the new TV experience is embodied in revolutionary software, then any slab of glass Apple sells could also be part of that next-gen TV experience too. In that sense, the iPhone and iPad could each be an Apple TV set.

Today I use the Slingbox — which is connected to the TV in my study — and its app on the iPad and iPhone. I often put the iPad on the bookstand on my treadmill and watch the news or a show while working out. Or lying in bed, I activate the Slingbox app on my iPad and watch a show that way too. I have even watched a San Francisco Giants game on my cell phone while waiting at a doctors office. What if Apple had a similar technology like that of Slingbox, or for that matter, just licensed it from a company like Dish Network? These other pieces of glass in their hardware ecosystem could now enjoy whatever new TV experience Apple might deliver to a big screen TV.

Knowing Apple, the iPad and iPhone will be critical products in any future TV devices the company delivers. They could serve as each person’s personal remote and, when watching the TV by themselves, used to deliver custom viewing experiences. They could also be used as each individual’s way to interact with a subset of TV information Apple might deliver as part of the new TV. I would also expect Apple to let users have access to their existing libraries of music, movies and pictures and keep them synchronized on each person’s screens, as they mostly do today. And given the nature of the Internet, you can bet users will get their content their way and on demand. In Apple’s view, the TV will be very personal.

Apple TV will be social. Large screen TVs are designed for viewing by more than one person. In that sense, TV watching is highly social, albeit very localized. Apple has already embraced the unique nature of social networks, and I suspect that any new Apple TV platform would find ways to make that viewing experience more social. At the very least, I believe Apple would integrate FaceTime video conferencing into its TV. And given Apple’s tight relationship with Facebook, using this social network to allow people to interact with each other in real time on their iPads or iPhones while viewing the same program in different locations would be a must.

One could speculate a lot about the role social networks could play in an Apple TV set, but given Apple’s current push into social networking , we could expect any new Apple TV technology to embrace social networking in a big way. Apple would most likely invent new forms or forums for people to connect with their friends and family around the TV no matter where they happen to be.

Apple TV will be interactive. Today’s television delivers a one-way experience. It broadcasts content to us, but gives us no way to interact with that content. It is a pretty safe bet that Apple would make its future TV product highly interactive given its history with its software. The Internet itself is the perfect backbone for interactivity, and Apple could make it easier for people to instantly vote for their favorite performer on a program like American Idol. Or you could give instant feedback to the producers of TV shows, telling them what you liked or disliked about their programs. An interactive program link to something like Jeopardy! would make it possible to play the game from home and actually win prizes.

They may even work with TV producers and let them float three possible endings to a particular program. The ending that gets the most votes would be the one that is shown on the program when it airs. One could probably imagine all types of ways to interact with a future TV. I believe that whatever new TV experience Apple gives us, it will be highly interactive.

Apple TV will revolutionize television advertising. Apple knows that today’s Nielsen ratings for TV are not very accurate. I believe that Apple will deliver to advertisers and TV producers a whole new way to determine peoples interests and or find ways to target their commercials and deliver ads based on people’s preferences.

Apple could build into the user interface a type of like or dislike button that would allow a person to instantly register how they feel about a show or commercial. For security purposes, Apple would need to never divulge anyone’s personal information, but could allow TV producers or advertisers to anonymously offer people shows and commercials that more precisely interest them. Any Apple TV platform would be designed to deliver a much better user experience based on people’s likes and filter out their dislikes. Whatever Apple does with its reinvention of TV will provide to advertisers and TV producers a more precise audience for their products.

I know that a lot of people think Apple is making an actual television set. And that might be in the works. But given Apple’s real genius of creating great software that’s easy to use and is delivered on various screens, I think that even if Apple makes a TV set, the company would also create a box that would connect to existing TV screens to deliver the same experience to millions of existing TV sets around the world.

No matter what Apple does, I think it is safe to bet that its new TV product will be personal, social and interactive, and have a major impact on what TV producers create as well as how advertisers deliver ads people really want to see.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every Monday on TIME Tech.