In many respects the TV industry is in exactly the same place the mobile phone industry was in 2006, before Apple launched the iPhone and redefined everything; reasonable hardware married to pathetic software and UI design and driven by a physical push-button interface model.
Most of the predictions about Apple's anticipated entry into the smart-tv market predict some form of physical gesture based interface model like Microsoft's Kinect, and or a Siri based voice control interface model and basically iOS in a TV.
However, given the much slower frequency with which people change their TVs compared with their smartphones, it's unlikely that Apple will enter this market with a basic product offering that they then iteratively refine over three of four version updates as they did with the iPhone. It has to be pretty much perfect and fully baked at launch, which is probably why they're not rushing to get something out to market. Besides, it's likely to depend significantly on high bandwidth connections and the longer they wait, the faster and more broadly available that becomes.
But broadband aside, if I was tasked with defining Apple's much anticipated TV strategy, I'd abstract most of the brains out of the display and into smart tablet device, like an iPad.
This would address a number of things.
- Kinect type interfaces are great but they're not perfect. How they deal with multiple moving bodies in a wide field of view without generating lots of false gesture reads is still patchy, I'd say. Not quite ready for primetime.
- Equally, driving a TV through a Siri voice interface model also sounds like hell on wheels, not least because the microphone would be based in a device that's likely to be pumping out lots of sound, generating perfect conditions for a distant voice direction to be misheard.
- Abstracting most of the brains, UI and control to a smart remote like an iPad combines both a touch and gesture based UI along with near field voice control, as well as dumbing down the display and mitigating the chance of obsolescence.
Apple shouldn't build a smart-TV, they should de-risk the purchase for the consumer by building a dumb TV and focusing all the innovation and soft updates to a smaller, iPad like device. The only cleverness the TV will have is the ability to handle Airplay content both ways. As well as receiving content from an iOS device as with Airplay today, I'd guess they'll Airplay transmit conventional TV programming from the onboard tuner to the mobile iOS devices so that you can watch your regular TV programming anywhere in the home in your lap.
Existing TV manufacturers are centralising all the complexity and technological redundancy inside a big, expensive display unit with a shitty UI that will be obsolete inside of two years. Apple will go the other way with a dumb hardware display with minimal onboard intelligence combined with an iOS remote device.
That would be my bet. Indeed, I'd double down on that and say the next generation of iPad will bring a TV app and co-incide with the launch of a bunch of large Apple dumb-TVs.