The iTV: Why should they try?

A lot is being said about whether or not Apple will enter the TV market. Chris Dixon, MG Siegler, and Marco Arment (three rather intelligent people) all have written about this in the past few days. They are arguing if Apple will or won’t get involved in the TV market. They point out that it is very locked down by companies like Comcast and Verizon. They also point out that the component costs are too high. My take on this isn’t whether or not they will run into the market and disrupt it like they did with the iPod and iPhone. My take is: why on earth should they?

Let’s look at what the TV industry consists of. There is the TV itself, which is a screen that displays whatever you plug into it. There are the boxes, like the PlayStation 3, Xbox, Wii, TiVo, and the box the cable company gives you. You plug each of these into the TV, and then you choose one to watch. Everyone in the family then watches it. Another ‘feature’ that the TV industry has is the interface that each box has (in addition to the one the TV itself provides). These interfaces are all awful. They are truly some of the most buggy and ugly pieces of software ever written (I don’t blame the makers though, if there is no chance for competition, why try?). That is the extent of the TV industry (excluding the people who actually make the content).

Now, let’s look at the experience of watching something on the TV. First, it is one-way, in that it is not interactive at all. Second, there is normally one primary TV per house. There can be more than one, but there isn’t normally more than one that has all of the boxes plugged into it. This means that if you are a family of four, everyone has to watch the same things. Third, it is expensive. Looking at a 47 inch TV, it costs over $2000, retail price. This is absurdly expensive, but it is just how it is.

So we have many, many problems with the TV industry. The interfaces are awful, the experience is awful, the cost is high, it isn’t personalized, and it is tightly controlled by a few large corporations (I’m still looking at you Comcast). If we think really hard, we can probably think of some sort of magical device that solves each of these problems. Oh, right, the iPad.

Now you are saying to yourselves, “But the screen is too small to replace the TV!”. Wrong. The only reason the TV is so large is because giving each person in a family their own small TV would have been more expensive. This was true at the time TV’s started to become staples in homes, and HDTV’s started to really take off. Now, however, it isn’t true at all. If you are a family of four, you can get 4 iPads for 2000 dollars, and the premium you pay (if you can really call it a premium) is most definitely worth it. You don’t have to deal with crappy interfaces, you get to watch what you want, it is interactive, and the content is distributed over many, many corporations.

There is only one problem left though: the content. This is a problem I don’t have an immediate solution to. Hulu, Netflix, iTunes and the like are trying to change the lock-up that is the motion picture content industry, but it is an uphill battle. I give it three years for the same content that is on the TV to be available on mobile devices, and at the same time (live). Looking to the immediate future though, it is readily apparent that tablets will replaces TV’s for the vast majority of people. Like PCs, there will still be large screens (the wealthy, the people who are TV addicts, movie theaters, etc.), but for the most part, the tablet industry, and for now, the iPad, will not only disrupt the TV industry as we see it today, it will come close to decimating it.

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