Apple is expected to unveil a new Internet TV gadget today at an event in San Francisco. (Join us here for live analysis all day.)The main topic for Apple’s event is supposed to be its annual iPod product-line refresh, but Bloomberg reported Tuesday that Apple would be unveiling a new Apple TV device, too.
rumours suggest it may be called “iTV” and could cost as little as $99. And Bloomberg says it’ll be able to stream movies from Netflix.
But at this point, there’s a lot more unknown than known about this new device. So we come bearing questions.
This is the biggest question Apple will need an answer to.
So far, we've seen several Internet video products reach the market, including Apple TV, Roku, Slingbox, recent Tivo models, and more. None has been a runaway success. (More are on the way, including the Boxee box, Google TV, etc.) Meanwhile, Internet video is getting built right into TV sets, bypassing the need for a box.
What's going to get people to actually buy something they haven't wanted to buy before? Features? Price? Something else?
Making things more complicated, many people don't have any HDMI jacks free on their HDTVs, once you factor in cable/satellite boxes, video game consoles, Blu-ray players, etc. So who is Apple going to replace?
When Apple first showed off its TV gadget in 2006, it was called 'iTV.' Then, when it was formally launched in 2007, it was called 'Apple TV.' Now, the rumour is that Apple will call it iTV again.
Assuming the U.K. network ITV gets off Apple's back, this is probably a smart idea. 'Apple TV' hasn't taken off as a brand, but Apple's 'i' brands are strong. (On the other hand, if Apple is going to use iTV, maybe it should wait until it actually sells TVs. Assuming it ever does that.)
For the sake of this post, we'll call it both 'iTV' and 'Apple TV,' because we'll find out the real name soon enough.
If iTV is going to be cheap and lightweight, Apple is going to need to turn iTunes into a streaming video service, not just a download service.
It could also afford some more social features. And maybe a new name.
The changes to iTunes will be among the most important in iTV's success. We've already read plenty about 99-cent TV show rentals, and some new Apple datacenter for streaming. But what else is in store?
The Apple TV hardware hasn't changed its look since 2006, when Apple first teased it. Surely, the new one will look different. But how different?
It could probably be much smaller, for one. It's probably basically the guts of an iPod touch, without the screen or battery. So it's conceivable that it could be really tiny. But then it wouldn't be the sexy centrepiece in your living room entertainment centre.
Will the new iTV require an iPod touch/iPhone/iPad as a remote control?
Will it have its own tiny plastic remote, like the current Apple TV?
Will it use the newish Apple Magic Trackpad?
Or perhaps no controller at all, but motion-sensing cameras, like the Microsoft Kinect add-on for the Xbox?
A Bloomberg report on Tuesday said that Netflix would be part of the new Apple TV device.
Will it be submitting an app to the iTV app store, as it has for the iPhone and iPad?
Or will Apple keep a tighter grip on which apps and games make it for this platform, integrating Netflix into iTV manually?
The rumours suggest that iTV could start for as little as $99.
How is that possible? Well, take a $199 iPod touch, whittle away the screen and battery, throw a few cords in the box, and maybe it's possible.
Especially if Apple is willing to take a lower margin on the iTV, knowing it's going to sell a lot of iPod touches, iPhones, and iPads as remote controls. And iTunes rentals and apps. And perhaps accessories, such as FaceTime camera add-ons.
Game console leaders Microsoft and Sony -- and to some extent, Nintendo -- have had success getting their gamer customers to use their devices for watching web video.
Will Apple be using gaming as a hook to get people to buy its video device? Will its Game centre social network be included?
For more, read 'Here's Why Gaming Could Be Apple's Winning Ticket Into The Living Room.'
Google and Apple are increasingly competitive, and the TV business is no difference. Google is gearing up to launch its new Google TV software later this year, and search will (of course) play a big role.
What does Apple have in store for search? Will it offer a universal search for iTunes, YouTube, and other video sites like Netflix and Hulu? Will it tap into apps you've installed? Will it search your TV listings?
That's one way people could replace something that's already in their living room, and not have to add on a new box.
But we admit that it's unlikely. Maybe a few years ago, it could have helped, but Apple seems to be pushing Internet video here, and not discs. (And Apple continues to update its Mac lineup without adding Blu-ray.)
This is another Google TV feature that seems interesting, but that Apple probably won't mimic.
Probably too complicated to set up, and not enough value. Use the iTV for streaming video, iTunes, photos, music, and games -- and your existing DVR for everything else.
It really bugs us that you need a computer to set up an iPad for the first time. Will the new Apple TV device be able to exist without a computer?
Especially now that it's about more than just sharing your iTunes library...
So far, Apple's iAd team has been focused on mobile -- publicly, at least.
But mobile advertising is a small market and still in its infancy. TV advertising is mature, and huge. And it desperately needs help moving into an interactive medium, because the cable companies aren't innovating there.
Is this an opportunity for Apple to grow its ad business into TV, and help subsidise more content/apps for consumers?
We're not sold on 3D glasses, especially for home viewing, so this is probably the last priority for Apple.
But it could be neat.
Companies have all sorts of video needs that might not be getting filled. Training, conferencing, presentations.
Depending on its feature set, Apple's iTV could conceivably be a cheap digital video solution that's more practical than some of the heavyweight, enterprise-focused systems.
It's nice that you can use FaceTime to communicate between two iPhones. It'll be even nicer when Apple announces today that you'll be able to FaceTime with the new iPod touch.
But it would be REALLY nice if you could FaceTime between Apple's mobile devices and an Apple TV. Wouldn't grandma and grandpa LOVE to be able to see their grandkids on their big living-room TV?
Wouldn't unlimited free FaceTime chats be an incentive for a lot of people to buy and install this thing?
Will iTV include Apple's Safari browser? Will it work with a wireless keyboard and mouse?
Will it support Flash?
Even though Apple TV hasn't been a big hit, it's hard to see Apple totally screwing the early adopters who spend hundreds of dollars on their 'hobby' device. So it makes sense that at least a few of the new features would be available for the old Apple TV.
But you'd have to think that the new iTV will include a different chip and hardware components than the old one, and new software guts, and that Apple would only support the new hardware for the newest software features.
If the new iTV is cheap enough, it would be nice if Apple included some sort of trade-in program.
iPhone users wound up using so much mobile bandwidth -- more than any other phone before or since -- that earlier this year, AT&T switched to metered bandwidth subscriptions with overage charges.
Will iTV become so popular -- and will its users consume so much hi-def Internet video -- that ISPs like Comcast and AT&T drop all-you-can-eat service in favour of metered access?
We explored that topic in a recent post, 'Apple's New iTV Could Finally Force ISPs To Give Up On All-You-Can-Eat Internet Access And Jack Up Your Bandwidth Bill'
Probably not. Let's assume Apple has sold 3 million Apple TVs to date. Then let's assume that somehow, Apple can sell 3 million iTVs this year. Or, even wilder, 5 million.
At $120 a pop, including accessories, that's at most a $600 million business. That's nothing to sneeze at, and certainly bigger than Roku, which would be thrilled to cross $100 million in sales this year. But Apple is a $60+ billion business this year. Another $600 million doesn't really move the needle.
On the other hand, if those 3-5 million people are also buying an iPod touch or iPhone or iPad along with their iTV, then it quickly multiplies. That's why Apple might be subsidizing the margins on iTV, to push its portable gadgets.
But we'll know more today.