Apple is making a TV. We know that. Steve Jobs told his biographer. We know it’s going to be called iTV. [Apple iTV report Updated March 14, 2013}
Apple iTV rumours, release date, specs
But do we? And when will the Apple TV be released? Is it real? What are the rumours?
In his biography of Steve Jobs Walter Isaacson wrote that Jobs claimed he’s figured out how to solve the problem of an integrated television – an AppleTV that would revolutionise another media industry.
“I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use,” Jobs told Isaacson.
“It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud. It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.”
That’s a pretty strong hint that an Apple TV is in the works. When Steve Jobs admits something, that's about as good a bet as an Apple press release – certainly better than most of the guff currrently surrounding all we know about the Apple TV.
Jony Ive, Apple's quietly mega-successful lead designer, says that Apple's currently working on is the biggest thing Apple has ever done (source: The Telegraph):
“What we’re working on now feels like the most important and the best work we’ve done, and so it would be what we’re working on right now, which of course I can’t tell you about.”
And a TV set would literally be the biggest product Apple has ever produced, with the exception of the LaserWriter.
Of course, Apple already has a product called Apple TV, reviewed, a cute little black box that sits alongside your goggle box streaming in iTunes TV and movie content, and some other internet-TV services, like YouTube. But Apple has called this product a "hobby".
And Steve's successor as Apple CEO Tim Cook also made a broad hint about a forthcoming Apple TV, during a February 2012 keynote at Goldman Sachs: "I wouldn't want to go into detail about future stuff, obviously … Apple doesn't do hobbies, as a general rule. We believe in focus and only working on a few things. With Apple TV, however, despite the barriers in that market, for those of us who use it, we've always thought there was something there.
"And that if we kept following our intuition and kept pulling the string, then we might find something that was larger. For those people that have it right now, the customer satisfaction is off the charts. But we need something that could go more main market for it to be a serious category."
At an All Things Digital conference at the end of May Apple CEO Tim Cook said technology for televisions was of "intense interest" but calmed the heat of rumour and expectation by saying that the company's efforts would unfold gradually rather than Apple suddenly reveal its revolutionary iTV.
"This is an area of intense interest for us," Cook said, referring to Apple's existing television set-top box Apple TV.
"We're going to keep pulling this string and see where it takes us."
Apple sold 2.8 million Apple TV devices last year and nearly that many in the first few months of this year, according to Cook.
Cook wouldn't admit that Apple was actually going to deliver a television set, rather than just the set-top box.
"Here's the way we would look at that, not just at this area but other areas, and ask can we control the key technology?" he said in response to a question about how Apple thinks about improving the TV experience for consumers.
"Can we make a significant contribution, far beyond what others have done in this area? Can we make a product that we would want?"
The company has a good relationship with content owners and doesn't see the need to own a content business, Cook said, adding he has met with several people in that business recently.
Many years ago Jobs famously pooh-poohed the whole television thing, saying “TV turns your brain off, PCs turn your brain on.” He was responding to the then-trendy notion of “conversion” where PCs would do TV, TVs would do PC stuff, and radios would continue to not do much at all. He even joked about a TV that makes toast. Watch the Steve Jobs on Television video, it's pretty funny.
But apart from Steve’s change of mind and joy at Apple’s ability to take over another industry what do we know about the forthcoming Apple TV, iTV?
This is where the rumours begin, unnamed sources come out of the woodwork, and facts leave the building.
What will the Apple TV look like?
Jeff Robbin, the engineer who helped create the iPod and iTunes, is apparently in charge of Apple iTV design. The question is: will it have an on/off switch?
There’s even photos of Apple’s iTV – ok, pictures of what someone adept at Photoshop thinks the iTV will/might/could look like.
Cult of Mac has some “exclusive” pictures of an Apple Display showing a movie, with some current Apple technologies pasted on top.
The “well-placed” source, which unsurprisingly has “asked to remain anonymous”, says the Apple HDTV looks like Apple’s current lineup of LED-backlit Cinema Displays but is “much bigger.”
Apparently it has a built-in iSight camera for making free FaceTime video calls; AirPlay; and Siri, the iPhone 4S’s voice-activated virtual assistant.
The pictures, it turns out, weren’t snapped by a courageous undercover reporter in a top-secret Foxconn factory. They were Photoshopped together by a designer called (wait for it) Dan Draper.
Draper hasn’t strayed too far from the too-obvious-to-be-true: “Obviously it’s very visually similar to the Thunderbolt or Cinema display, but trying to put myself in the shoes of Jony Ive I’ve made the stand shorter, wider to make the user more trusting that it can support the weight, and less angled. I figured users don’t care about the distance from a wall required by a monitor stand.”
The Motley Fool website also got a designer to dream up what an Apple TV would look like.
There is a growing group of analysts and commentators questing whether Steve Jobs was referring to a full Apple TV set or just a super-content-filled version of its Apple TV set-top box. "Asking people to spend $100 on a little black box with TV superpowers that gets upgraded every year is much easier than asking them to spend $2000 on a TV set they keep for five," points out Gizmodo.
So what if Apple iTV isn't a TV at all, but a bigger, better Apple TV? Former head of Apple's advanced product development and worldwide marketing Jean-Louis Gassée prefers the idea of an Apple set-top box:
"I believe Apple TV's magic will be performed by a separate box, a descendant of today's £99 Apple TV black puck, perhaps in combination with a new version of Time Capsule. This will enable the no-longer-a-hobby Apple TV to bring its magic to the millions of HDTVs already in homes all over the world – and to be replaced with better/faster hardware without drama."
Here's another (not so original) mock up of the Apple iTV, from serial Apple design guesser Martin Hajek, seen in iCreate.
Apple iTV release date
Really - no one knows. Latest estimate is 2014, which really means: er, not for a long time. Here's some empty conjecture from the world's Apple experts.
Cult of Mac asked TV analyst Paul Gagnon what he reckoned? Despite admitting he had no information he put his finger in the air and predicted an Apple TV sometime “this year” (2012), although he later says his “best guess” is 2013. Er, yes…
Jefferies analyst Peter Miske claimed that evidence of the Apple iTV production has surfaced during his recent visit to Asia. According to him the Apple TV would be out in stores by end of 2012, with Apple producing between two to five million connected TVs during its initial run.
More recently Miske predicted that the Apple TV would be revealed at the company's 2012 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) on June 11, and that the iTV will actually be called the iPanel. There was, however, no mention at WWDC.
He claimed that companies including AT&T, Verizon, Rogers, Deutsche Telekom and France Telecom are already testing Apple’s HDTV in their labs.
Apple iTV report Updated March 13, 2013: Jump forward to March 2013 and Miske is telling investors that Apple is now concentrating on developing a super-high definition iTV screen to make it stand out in the fiercely competitive TV market – just as it does in the laptop and tablet markets. When will the Apple iTV be released? Miske now says sometime in 2014!
"We had thought that Apple's software and ecosystem would be enough to drive demand but our checks indicate that Apple wants the hardware to also stand out," said Misek.
"We believe Apple wants a display that looks like 4K/Ultra HD but without the super-premium cost."
Maybe one day Miske will be right. At the moment we can see him predicting it several times in 2013, more in 2014, and so on and so on until either Apple releases the iTV or he retires.
According to Australian site UnderCurrent, which supposedly overheard a discussion in a pub, Apple and Sharp are co-producting two iTVs – 42-inch and 50-inch. Both will use Sharp's Full HD Quattron technology, and will be announced and released in October or November this year.
The Telegraph, quoting Piper Jaffrey senior research analayst Gene Munster, agreed that the Apple TV will be out by Christmas 2012.
Munster of Piper Jaffray said at the end of May that he believes the iTV will be out within 6 to 12 months and cost between $1,500 to $2,000 depending on screen size. He believes signs such as supply chain checks, Tim Cook hints, Steve Jobs' wishes, third party accounts all add up to suggest that the iTV is coming soon.
“We believe ‘if’ has been decided and the question is now ‘when.’ We stand by our previously stated timeline of unveiling the TV late this year with a launch in the first half of 2013 (6 months following the unveiling),” Munster said on May 31.
Computerworld's Mac expert Jonny Evans reported that an Apple iTV launch, or at least announcement, is possible as early as this summer (whenever that decides to begin). He also thought an Apple announcement at its WWDC in June was likely (it wasn't), and quotes a rumour from the ever-unreliable DigiTimes:
"The supply chain of Apple will start preparing materials for iTV sets in the first quarter of 2012 in order to meet Apple's schedule to launch the new display products in the second or the third quarter of 2012, according to industry sources."
The Boy Genius Report was another that wrongly claimed Apple was planning on demoing a new version of the Apple TV OS at its June WWDC, and has been actively courting companies to use a new “control out” API in order for third-party manufacturers to make accessories that are compatible with the new Apple TV OS and the upcoming “iTV.”
It’s said that by using the API, it will be possible to control any connected components all from the Apple remote and the Apple remote iOS app. The control out API is said to work with all aspects of various popular components, even allowing control over things like program guides on a cable operators’ set top boxes and other hardware components.
But wait (yes, I know we have to), not everyone thinks Apple will actually bother making a TV.
Macworld reports that Pacific Crest analyst Andy Hargreaves reckons Apple wouldn't waste the retail space, or be able to do deals with US broadcast and cable providers.
His reasons for the skepticism, noted by Fortune: “Investment in Apple television makes little sense without a unique TV content offering. An Apple television could drive substantial profitability if it helped Apple capture service provider profits. However, we do not expect US broadcast or cable networks to provide Apple content if it risks cannibalizing existing revenue, which makes a unique Apple service and an Apple television unlikely.
“An Apple television would be a terrible use of retail space relative to iPhone, iPad or the Apple TV set-top box. A 46in Apple television would likely generate less than 1/200th the gross profit per cubic foot as an iPhone at retail, and less than 1/50th the gross profit per cubic foot of an iPad. We believe this is critical given the limited inventory space at many Apple and partner stores.”
Who will make the Apple TV?
Apple factory partner Foxconn boss Terry Gou, reportedly confirmed that Apple is working on a HD television set.
According to China Daily, Gou has said that Apple manufacturer Foxconn is working with Sharp in Japan to prepare for production of the highly anticipated Apple television set.
"Gou said Foxconn is making preparations for iTV, Apple Inc's rumoured upcoming high-definition television, although development or manufacturing has yet to begin," says the report.
Predictably Foxconn and Gou quickly denied that he’d said anything of the sort.
Apple’s favoured Chinese manufacturer Foxconn has invested 133 billion yen (US$1.6 billion) in Sharp’s TV and Display unit, which can efficiently make large size panels up to 60-inches.
Foxconn will buy 9.9 percent of Sharp Corp. for 66.9 billion yen in a new-share sale, the Osaka-based company said in a statement in March. Foxconn chairman Gou and related investment companies will buy 46.5 percent of Sharp Display Products Corp., a venture with Sony, for 66 billion yen – reports Bloomberg.
It was reported in June that Foxconn is in talks with Sharp about increasing its stake as it bets on the Japanese firm's leading edge technology to give it a boost in the display panel business, says the Eastern Morning Herald. Foxconn agreed in March to buy new shares in Sharp worth $844 million as part of a tie-up in liquid crystal display production. All this, insiders believe, makes the possibility of an Apple TV much more likely as Foxconn is Apple's biggest supplier.
"I'm proud to say the cooperation with Sharp will let us beat Samsung in terms of clearness - high resolution," Foxconn chairman Terry Gou told shareholders.
Apple has apparently switched from Samsung to Sharp for its iPad and iPhone screens.
See also: iPhone 5 rumours and release date
“Shipments will start in August,” Sharp’s new president, Takashi Okuda, said at a press briefing in Tokyo on Aust 2, 2012, after the company released its latest quarterly earnings.
Around the same time came the rumour that Apple is planning to buy Loewe (pronounced “Lur-ver”), a German TV manufacturer that specializes in the sort of premium television sets that we’d expect Apple to produce.
AppleInsider even suggested that a final decision on the Apple TV acquisition is expected to be announced in May, with the deal being worth 87.3 million Euros (£70m, US$112m). AppleInsider’s source claims that Loewe "has been advised by its financial advisor to accept the offer and a final decision is scheduled to be announced internally before 18 May 2012."
Interestingly Japan's Sharp (see earlier) holds 28.8 percent of Loewe's shares.
Within a few hours Loewe denied the story, although it rubbed its hands in glee as its share price went through the roof.
A spokesman for Loewe said that management at the moment “has no indication or information that Apple wants to participate in Loewe”. Obviously, Apple declined to comment.
Apple TV specs: motion detection, touchscreen, Siri, AIrPlay, FaceTime
The obvious Apple techs to make it to iTV would be Siri voice recognition (if you trust it), AirPlay of course, and FaceTime (why not?).
Following a trip to Computex in Taipei and meetings with unnamed tech supply chain sources, Topeka Capital Markets analyst Brian White offered a few insights about the forthcoming Apple-branded television set.
The device will feature motion-detection technology, and a touch-screen remote, he said.
"The data points during our trip indicate Apple will use a special type of motion detection technology on future full blown Apple TV," said White.
"Also, our contacts indicate a unique remote control with a touch panel form factor that looks similar to the iPad would be used to control the device. The bezel is expected to be a plastic composition, rather than the aluminium unibody exterior that surrounds the MacBook Air."
Would the Apple TV be touch sensitive like the iPhone and iPad? Would you want finger marks all over your telly?
There's little doubt that Apple TV will use some version of iOS as its operating system, and emply the power of an A5 or A6 processor. It will interact seemlessly with Apple's other iOS products, iPhone and iPad, naturally – or maybe even supernaturally.
And, like those products, it will have apps – millions of them, operated by the remote or the iPhone/iPad. And a hell of a lot of those apps will be games, for sure – pushing out the likes of Sony's PlayStation, Nintendo's Wii and, Steve Jobs laughs manically from his grave, Microsoft's Xbox that stole Halo from the Mac.
Content producers will create apps to distribute content, bypassing cable and satellite providers, like Sky or Virgin in the UK.
No one has been brave enough to come and out and predict that the Apple TV will be 3D. 1080p HDTV, obviously. But 3D?
Steve Jobs' other company Pixar is converting its old movies, such as Finding Nemo, into 3D, and released Toy Story 3 in 3D without doing the obvious and calling it Toy Story 3D.
So why not a 3D Apple TV? But surely not one that will require Apple 3D TV glasses...
Apple TV screen size is anyone's guess (as is pretty much everything else above). Some say between 35 and 55 inches, but this decision is likely to be made much closer to the television's release date.
Apple TV price
One thing we know for sure – absolute certainty, 100 percent accuracy, etc – is that Apple iTv or whatever it gets called, will be much more expensive than the LCD TVs you can buy right now at your local superstore.
Samsung sells a 46-inch LED 3D TV with Freeview/Freesat HD and Voice/Motion Control for £1,899 (and a 55-inch version for £2,499). Bang & Olufsen has a new 40-inch TV set, with its own Apple TV slot, that costs £2,500. A Loewe 40-inch telly costs £1,590. Given Apple's usual premium, and knowledge that Apple fans would rush to buy at any price, an Apple TV would likely sell in the £2,000-£3,000 price range.
Research from the Strategy Analytics Connected Home Devices (CHD) advisory service suggests that nearly half of existing iPhone users would be "very" or "somewhat likely" to buy an Apple iTV soon after its launch.
The report, "Apple's Smart TV: Assessing Purchase Intention and Willingness to Pay," surveyed 6,000 consumers across the US, France, Germany, Italy and the UK (March 2012).
"The success of an Apple iTV hinges on Apple’s ability to match innovation with appropriate price points," said Jia Wu, Director and report author.
While 35 percent of surveyed US consumers indicate willingness to pay $1,000 or more for an Apple-branded TV, only 14 percent would be willing to pay any more than $1,600.
"Samsung, Sony, LG and other major TV manufacturers are most threatened by the prospect of an Apple iTV launch," noted analyst Kantideep Thota.
"More than a quarter of non-Apple TV owners could potentially migrate to an Apple-branded TV in a fairly short period of time."
And, whatever the Apple iTV release date, there'll be a shockingly long queue outside Apple Stores the world over as soon as it's available (and likely a few weeks beforehand).