Squeezed between rumors of the "iPhone 5" and "iPad Mini" being released this year were whispers that Apple is finally going to get serious about television, like it once did about music and cell phones.
But if you were holding your breath, waiting for the so-called "iTV" to hit shelves, it's time to exhale.
The company currently offers a little black set-top box called an "Apple TV," a $99 device that streams online videos from Netflix, Hulu and YouTube but not honest-to-goodness live cable TV. (Indeed, Apple calls this device a "hobby".) But many had hoped that Apple was working to lock down licensing deals with cable and media companies and even maybe manufacture its own HDTV sets; Apple had event hinted (albeit, vaguely) at it. Since Apple's most recent phones and tablets have been mere iterations of its existing products, an Apple-branded TV set, potentially offering a la carte watching options or even just a better user interface than we're used to with our 40-button remotes, could be the company's next industry-changing product.
Too bad that Apple's apparently scrapped plans to release a new TV product anytime soon, as Bloomberg News reports.
After Steve Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson quoted Steve Jobs as saying he'd "finally cracked" TV without offering details, the rumor mill has churned out report after report on what the iTV might look like. Now, though, most of those reports seem a distant memory, squashed by the stubbornness of Apple and the cable companies it had reportedly been negotiating with.
-In January, the Wall Street Journal wrote that Apple had "recent meetings with media companies" to lay out its vision for the iTV. The plan, according to WSJ, included a TV from which one could wirelessly stream shows, movies and other content from media companies; this content would also be watchable on both iDevices and traditional TV. In meetings, Apple execs even dreamed of being able to control TVs with voice or hand gestures.
-By August, though, compromises were made. The Journal reported that Apple was in talks to partner with cable companies to sell a device that would connect to a TV set's cable signal. This would have meant that cable companies would still deliver (and charge customers for) content, but that Apple would have controlled the interface and would presumably have made it Apple-beautiful.
On September 6, however, Bloomberg regrettably informs us that cable companies couldn't even swallow the notion of Apple controlling the look and feel of the TV-watching experience. "In recent negotiations, the main stumbling blocks with cable companies have included a tussle for control over the software that determines the screen interface" Adam Satariano and Alex Sherman wrote for Bloomberg.
Ultimately, what we're seeing is a clash between two irreconcilable corporate philosophies: Big Cable will do everything in its power to not "disrupt" its industry, keeping Apple (and Google and Amazon) from getting a foothold in television. Meanwhile, Apple doesn't waste its energy on any industry if it can't potentially disrupt it, the way it did with record companies and wireless carriers. It's likely that cable companies have recognized what happened in those industries and are trying for dear life to avoid that fate.
Of course, the dream of a truly glorious Apple TV is only being deferred for now. Apple may be holding out for a better deal with cable, or it may strike up partnerships with Hollywood itself and cut out the cable middleman. Demand is here; that $99 "hobby" Apple TV device still somehow sold 4 million units without any promotion. Point is, big changes are coming for the cable industry. Just not in 2012.
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