Apple co-founder Steve Jobs wanted to remake television. He had a bold vision and though the details are fuzzy, the aim was to create something that would transform the TV experience.
Yet five-and-a-half years after Jobs’ death, Apple still appears to have no immediate plans to make an actual TV in its trademark minimalist style packed with homegrown technology.
Apple’s biggest announcement at its annual developers conference this week was arguably the HomePod, essentially its rendition of the Amazon (AMZN – Get Report) Echo or Google’s (GOOGL– Get Report) Home speaker. The newest innovation to its Apple TV set-top box, by contrast, was that Amazon Prime Video would finally be included.
While the HomePod is new and the actual speaker appears to be of a much higher fidelity than its rivals, it’s not a game-changer.
“Apple is in a position that they haven’t often been in over the past 15 years,” Glenn Hower, a digital media analyst at Parks Associates, said in an interview from Dallas. “Right now, they’re really playing catch-up, trying to make a big splash with home innovations. In some ways, they’re responding rather than innovating.”
In August 2011, just six weeks before Jobs died, the Apple co-founder called Walt Mossberg, the longtime tech columnist, to exclaim that he’d figured out how to remake television. The two men had planned to get together to talk about Jobs’ ideas but the Apple founder died soon afterwards.
In the book Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson shed a bit more light on the TV subject, quoting the iconoclastic inventor as saying, “I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use. 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.”
Jobs’ vision, Mossberg told a small gathering of attendees at a February ReCode conference, and later on The Verge, was to break down television in much the same way that had remade the music business. TV viewing could be organized by genres or decades or actresses rather than by the age-old construct of networks.
But forcing Time Warner (TWX) or Disney (DIS – Get Report) or Comcast’s (CMCSA – Get Report) NBCUniversal to allow Apple to re-order the presentation of their content was a non-starter. Eddy Cue, Apple’s lead dealmaker, said as much in February, explaining that his company’s ideas around TV had been met with a big dose of resistance.
“There’s technology problems and then there’s content licensing problems, which are of a totally different nature,” Shawn Carolan, a managing partner at Menlo Ventures, an early investor in Roku, Siri and Uber, among many others, said in a phone interview. “Apple is in a funny position because the content people, who have this immense power because of these serial monopolies, don’t want to give Apple a proprietary advantage — they see how their buddies down in the music industry studios got their asses handed to them.”