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Was Jobs' next big thing an integrated Apple TV?

The Washington Post reports that former Apple CEO Steve Jobs reveals in his authorized biography that the company is working on an integrated connected-TV.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
4 min read
Is Apple working on its own TV set?

Is Apple working on its own Internet-connected TV? According to The Washington Post, which is reviewing an advanced copy of the authorized biography of former CEO Steve Jobs, Apple has been working on such a device.

Tidbits from the biography written by Walter Isaacson have been trickling out the past couple of days before the book's debut on Monday. These latest cited passages describe how Jobs hoped to change the TV industry in much the same way he transformed the computing, music, and telecommunications industries.

The Washington Post article quoted Isaacson's book:

"He very much wanted to do for television sets what he had done for computers, music players, and phones: make them simple and elegant."

Isaacson continued: "'I'd like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use,' he told me. 'It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud.' No longer would users have to fiddle with complex remotes for DVD players and cable channels. 'It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.'"

This isn't the first time someone has brought up Apple's supposed plans to develop a slickly designed TV. Rumors have floated around since 2009 that Apple had a TV in the works. In August the rumors surfaced again when anonymous sources were cited mentioning the project and Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster told Venture Beat that he predicted Apple would produce a TV set by the end of 2012 or early 2013.

Munster has long believed that Apple is developing a TV. In 2009, he predicted the company would announce the new product by the end of 2011. When Apple announced its new iCloud service, Munster said that the Internet-based storage service could work as a perfect vehicle for delivering content for the Net-enabled Apple TV.

Apple already offers a set-top box called Apple TV, which plugs into a TV and allows people to rent or buy digital videos from the iTunes store. The product has never been a big success. But it certainly reflects Apple's desire to break into the streaming video and TV markets.

From a hardware and software perspective, integrating the existing Apple TV functionality into an elegantly designed TV seems doable. If Apple modeled the TVs after the design of its large iMac screens, the product would almost certainly be a hit, even if didn't add additional functionality.

It's clear that if Apple were going to enter a new highly competitive and commoditized market, like the TV set industry, it would have to offer something different. And that something different would be content. But getting the content isn't easy.

It's likely that Apple hasn't introduced a TV not because it can't get the technology right, but because it doesn't have the necessary business relationships worked out yet. When Apple decided to make the iPod digital music players, it didn't just start making digital music players, it created the iTunes store and ecosystem to make it easy for people to buy music legally and load their new devices with music.

And when Apple created the iPhone, it didn't just create a new cell phone, it also created another online store, the App Store, to offer content like games and apps to fill those devices. Aside from the cool design of the iPad, it's really the apps and the App Store where users can discover and download those apps that make that such a popular and useful product.

In the process of creating the iTunes music store and the App Store, Apple disintermediated the music industry that distributed its own content on its own terms as well as the telecommunications industry, which until that point had controlled what apps could get on a phone. As a result of Apple's own business ambitions, these industries had to change how they functioned. In other words, Apple swooped in and changed the game for them entirely.

So it would only make sense that Apple would need a similar type of ecosystem for a connected Apple-branded TV. And it would also make sense that the TV networks and movie studios would be leery about striking deals with Apple, given the company's history with other content creators. And from what we can see publicly, Apple hasn't had the best relationships with the Hollywood movie studios and large TV networks.

Apple's strained relationship with the TV networks, in particular, was evident this summer when the company was unable to keep its 99 cent TV show rental business afloat. Despite Apple's best efforts, the TV networks weren't willing to offer their shows at the 99 cent price point. And after only a year, Apple gave up and reverted back to a purchase-only model.

So is an Apple integrated TV coming? Without content deals from all the major TV networks and movie studios, it would be a difficult feat. Let's just say I'm not holding my breath.