Rumors once again are flying about the iPhone 5 due this fall, as well as initial speculation about the iPad 3. But another, far more fascinating product may be in the offing from Apple.
This is mere speculation (well-informed, I hope), but Apple may morph its all-in-one Apple iMac into a full-sized HDTV.
But this wouldn't simply be a computer-in-the-living room – Apple may be guilty of many things, but producing half-assed product isn't one of them.
An Apple HDTV could combine the attributes of the iMac and iTunes, with the functions of the pile of ugly black boxes currently jacked into your soon-to-be antiquated HDTV – cable box, Blu-ray player, DVR, video game player, media streamer (i.e. Roku or the current Apple TV) – all controlled by an Apple-typical innovative interface.
The prospect is delicious to contemplate. So I will.
What's wrong with what's out there
Yes, there are connected HDTVs – TVs that offer an Internet connection to access content from sources such as Netflix – from such brands such as Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, Toshiba, LG, et al.
But these connected TVs all are TVs first, with limited Internet access via "widgets," little mini applications to bring you specific types of content such as Netflix, ESPN, or generic stock or weather info. These two content sources – standard cable/satellite TV and Internet widgets – aren't "converged," but are treated as completely separate entities. These connected TVs, although able to be connected to the Internet, don't offer anything resembling Web-browsing or Web searching.
Then there is Google TV, which was an interesting attempt to merge standard TV, your DVR and the Web. Google TV also enables system and Internet-wide content searches – if you searched for "Law & Order," for instance, Google TV finds episodes on your DVR, upcoming on the regular TV schedule, on pay-per-view, and on the Web.
But Google TV has been recalled for a complete make-over after a barrage of criticism of both the interface and the airplane cockpit-like remote control, with no word on when it might be reintroduced. (You can buy the separate Logitech Google Revue system, but I wouldn't recommend it until Google announces its revamped interface.)
None of the connected TV makers have a complete grasp of all the disparate pieces to make a unified product. The TV people know, duh, TV, but not the Internet and not interfaces – how a person navigates around the screen to locate content. It's just not their business.
Google understands the Internet and searching, but not the TV or the us, the TV viewer and, apparently, not interfaces.
While Steve Jobs & Co. may not know the TV business, Apple knows, as it has proven over and over again since the introduction of the first graphic user interface (GUI) on the original Mac back in 1984, user interfaces.
Here's what would make an Apple HDTV (again, pure but hopefully informed speculation) revolutionary.
The Program Guide: That grid of programs you scroll through to find what's on (and usually not worth watching) is called an electronic program guide, or EPG, and was created by a company called Rovi. Last September, Apple signed a deal with Rovi. Since Rovi does nothing but create TV EPGs, this is the primary reason the rumor mill is abuzz about an Apple HDTV.
What I've gleaned from discussions with the Rovi folks, the EPG on an Apple HDTV could include ALL the content you'd want to access. For instance, there could be "program" listings for Web-based content along side standard network and cable fare. For instance, Netflix could be Channel 301, NBC's Web site could be Channel 233, Hulu could be Channel 456, etc. With everything in a single interface, an Apple HDTV could enable Google TV-like system- and Internet-wide content searches, maybe even to find damning video clips like Jon Stewart.
Even if the Apple HDTV interface looks more like the interface in the current Apple TV – simple lists of content sources rather than an EPG – even this would be preferable to the mangled widget interfaces the TV makers have launched. Regardless, an Apple HDTV interface likely will be a revolutionary approach to how we get to the growing amount of Internet-based content out there.
No Cable Box Necessary: An Apple HDTV will include a built-in over-the-air HDTV tuner – all big screen HDTVs have to by law – so you'll be able your local stations.
But when you consider all the content on iTunes, Hulu, Netflix, YouTube and individual TV network Web sites, you may not need a separate cable box.
My guess is Apple makes deals with "basic cable" channels such as Bravo, ESPN, USA, et al, and premium channels such as HBO and Showtime to be delivered somehow without a separate box, and offer cable/satellite-like-channel packages – maybe even allow you to cherry-pick only those channels you want the way iTunes lets you buy singles instead of entire albums.
No DVR Necessary: All computers have hard drives built-in, and that's all a DVR is – a hard drive that records TV shows instead of word processing files. So, naturally, an Apple HDTV would include not only a DVR but probably some really cool ways of programming it ala TiVo.
No Blu-ray Player Necessary: Current iMacs have a slot on their side to slide in DVDs and CDs. For some reason, Apple has eschewed Blu-ray in its computer wares, but likely would include one – maybe even one capable of recording – in an Apple HDTV.
No Video Game Console Necessary: There are lots of video games in the iTunes App Store, and Apple HDTV likely would run the entire universe of iPxxx apps.
iPxxx As Remote Control: An Apple HDTV would probably include a simple remote, but a better remote/video game controller would be the iPod, iPhone or iPad you already own via a revamped Remote app.
As noted, this is all pure (informed) speculation. But considering what Apple brought to digital music, the cell phone and portable computing, it's fun speculation.