With the iPad3 launching on the 7th, I was a little disappointed. Apple has always liked to save a little surprise with an, "oh, and one more thing." I had expected that this time, that little surprise would be a big screen TV – the launch of Apple TV full screen units. But it was not meant to be.
Whether the TV actually launched concurrently or at a later date, what is interesting – and not going away any time soon – is the strategy that underlined my assertion. The cable industry has remained largely consistent over the years, with entrenched relationships between cable providers and the media studios. Consider that Apple has had considerable struggle to get media studios on board with their Netflix-type streaming service, which they apparently want to launch for the Christmas season.
Not unlike iTunes, Apple wants content to be delivered through them; they want to own the audience. In order to achieve this, however, Apple must drive a spike between cable carriers and the studios with which they are so tightly aligned – and the first step is to decouple the carriers from having near-exclusive access to your living room.
Apple will take advantage of two trends that are yet to be swept up in a significantly commercialized manor. While others are wondering what to make of the second screen phenomenon, which is simply the result of how people are using their devices, Apple is making a conscious effort to develop a well-choreographed offering – making this space ripe for disruption. Some studies show 50% of people now use a second screen while watching TV ‘Study shows growth in second screen use’, yet there has been no major player who has successfully synthesized the experience between the two devices. Apple could make some major user experience inroads here, to create a unified experience and drive a market that is barely recognized by most people.
The second trend is the 12-34 year olds who focus more and more on the streaming video world (such as YouTube and Hulu) and less on TV. Creating a simple, more unified experience for such viewing activities could bring it more directly into the living room and expand its appeal to a broader audience. If Apple can't get traditional media from the established guard, don't put it past them to endorse models which encourage the alternatives in a richer way than we understand today.
But moving consumers toward a new class of content is only one element in Apple's drive toward owning the media audience. They will find a way to partner with cable providers in a non-threatening manner. In return for collaborative access to existing cable media lineups, Apple may offer the allure of supplementing the cable providers’ revenue stream – but just what these agreements might look like is not something I could hazard a guess at.
So, getting back to the iPad release, the primary improvement over the prior generation is graphics processing and a full 1080 screen on the tablet. Why would you need that on the small screen? I believe the reason is screen shifting: the ability to push directly to the TV and see things at a 1:1 ratio, which means the graphics engine will effectively have to render two video streams at once. A primary input for the Apple TV will be wireless connectivity to the iPad: just walk in to the room and push to the device with full-screen mirroring for a unified second screen experience. Further, Apple has always innovated toward limited cables and connectors, so there is a natural tendency toward such cable-less connectivity.
The next technical improvement is 4G connectivity, with the associated speeds necessary to deliver all of your media – including your TV programming. Apple wants the carriers to assume the role of commoditized "dumb pipes" – not content providers. By enabling your TV with a completely alternative means of sourcing content, Apple will introduce a new predator in the land of cable content provision.
If the iPad can become the central management tool of all of your media – streamed or stored to the cloud, available anytime, anywhere – the TV may no longer be the primary device, but rather a slave to your externally choreographed media experience. Whether it is on the iPad or a rich Apple TV device, the key tenet of Apple's philosophy will remain true to leading by user experience, the centerpiece of which will be virtual assistant technology.
But don't count the cable industry out just yet. Cable is not going away any time soon: with the primary content offering already in hand, it is their battle to lose. There is a window of opportunity for such providers to deliver an equally amazing user experience.