Will Apple Finally Fulfill Steve Jobs’s Dream for TV?

Photo credit: Ryan Anson/AFP/Getty Images

Photo credit: Ryan Anson/AFP/Getty Images

While there is no shortage of speculation about the types of products that Apple may have in the works, one of the most enduring rumors involves the company’s plans for the television business. Ever since legendary Apple co-founder Steve Jobs shared his vision for a new type of television product with his biographer, multiple rumors have regularly circulated about the company’s plans in this area. “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,” Jobs told Walter Isaacson, according to The Washington Post. “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.”

Since then, there has been a barrage of rumors and speculation about Apple’s ultimate plans for television. While Jobs appeared to be describing a full-fledged television set product to Isaacson, he may have later changed his mind about making the actual video display. According to sources cited by Yukari Kane in her book Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs, Jobs told employees that “TV is a terrible business. They don’t turn over and the margins suck.”

On the other hand, there are still plenty of signs that Apple has not given up on Jobs’s dream to reinvent the television user experience and many industry watchers believe that the company has plans to rework its existing Apple TV set top box into a broader content delivery device. Now it appears that those plans may finally be in progress. According to industry sources recently cited by Re/code, Apple is currently in talks with TV programmers about offering a streaming pay TV service through Apple TV.

Apple TV

Source: Apple.com

Per Re/code, this service wouldn’t offer as much content as a traditional cable or satellite television subscription, but would be comparable to Dish’s recently unveiled Sling TV Internet-based streaming service. Sling TV’s core package offers subscribers access to 12 channels for $20 per month. As previously noted by the Tech Sheet, one of the most exciting aspects of Sling TV is the potential that it has for spurring larger changes in the overall television market, including the debut of more quality Internet-based streaming services.

Assuming the latest rumors are true, this would mean that Apple has likely abandoned its plans to strike deals with distributors like Comcast and is instead opting to license content directly from the content owners. Apple was previously negotiating directly with content owners like Disney (owner of ESPN) and Viacom (owner of MTV, Nickelodeon, and Comedy Central) in late 2013, according to sources cited by Quartz. However, the earlier negotiations with the content owners apparently stalled out and in March 2014, The Wall Street Journal reported that Apple had entered negotiations with Comcast over the possibility of creating an Internet-based television service in cooperation with the cable company. Those negotiations also failed to pan out, possibly due to Comcast’s plans to acquire Time Warner Cable.

Meanwhile, Apple’s executives have continued to drop hints about their ongoing interest in improving the TV-viewing experience for consumers. At Re/code’s first annual Code Conference in May 2014, Apple SVP Eddy Cue noted the poor quality of the television experience for consumers today. “The experience has been stuck,” said Cue. “One of the problems you have with TV is you have a bunch of disparate systems. There’s no standards.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook echoed Cue’s comments in an interview with Charlie Rose in September 2014. “TV is stuck back in the ’70s,” Cook told Rose. “The interface is terrible.” Cook also noted that “TV is one [area] that we continue to have great interest in.”

Now it appears that Apple may finally have an opportunity to showcase its ideas for a new type of television user interface, thanks to its restarted talks with various content owners.  Assuming that Apple’s service will be similar in scope to Sling TV’s, it will probably not offer much of a challenge to traditional cable and satellite TV providers at first, since those services typically include over 100 channels.

However, if Apple’s pay TV service proves popular with Apple TV product owners, the company could find it easier to convince more content owners to jump on the Internet-based media streaming bandwagon. So while Apple’s proposed television streaming service may not be the revolutionary TV product that Steve Jobs’s originally envisioned, it could be the first step to bringing his dream to life.

Follow Nathanael on Twitter @ArnoldEtan_WSCS

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