Apple Archive

iTV Will Succeed Because It Lets You Watch Video on Your TV

- 2006.09.15

Apple's recent announcement of their iTV* system, along with their entry into the movie download market, is aimed to show that they are serious about wanting to be at the center of home entertainment.

As with the iPod and the iTunes Store, they're not the first to market. They're also not the only ones; Amazon.com currently offers downloads of movies, for example.

However, Apple knows something that Amazon and the others don't - in order to get people interested in these downloadable movies, there has to be a simple, cost-effective way for them to watch them on their TV sets.

On Your TV

Today it has become much more economical to set up a '"home theatre". Good sized LCD TVs can be had from US$1,000, and plasma sets now start at about $1,400 (we just purchased a Sanyo for $1,500, and the picture is perfectly adequate, if not quite as amazing as some of the $2,000+ models).

When you buy a high-definition TV, you're not buying it to watch your old "pan-and-scan" VHS movies. DVDs are a great idea, but unless you like owning every movie you want to see (and have a lot of space to store them) or want to sign up for a subscription rental service like Netflix, you're out of luck.

This is part of where iTV comes in. Connect iTV to your TV, and you'll be able to send movies from your computer to the TV. This lets your computer function as a digital archive for movies you purchase as well as perform the function of the DVD player.

The idea makes a lot of sense. Not only do you save a lot of space by not having to store DVDs, you also have instant access to them at the click of a button - and you can watch them right on your TV set as you would a DVD.

Past Failures

This isn't the first time someone has tried to integrate the home computer with another function. In the 1990s, IBM made an attempt at integrating the computer with the home. The IBM computer you bought to do your work on and for your kids to do their homework on could also turn your lights on and off and perform similar functions like open garage doors. The system didn't sell - largely because it was complex, and not everyone wanted their computer to have that much control over their lives

Apple offered several Performas (notably the 5200 and 6400 series) in the mid-90s with built-in TV tuners so you could watch TV on your computer. That essentially failed - why watch TV on your small, low-resolution computer screen if you can watch it on your 27" or 32" TV?

Why do we need the iTV? Couldn't you just watch the movies on your computer?

Yes, you could, and if you've got a large display (20" or above), that may make the most sense; especially if you don't want to spend $400 on iTV in addition to what you've already spent for your computer and TV. For students, watching movies on the computer is commonplace, and with bigger displays available at lower prices these days, others are likely going to catch on to the practice as well.

So will the iTV sell? Maybe.

Why iTV Will Succeed

Apple has a way of making complex things simple. The iPod was a simple, straightforward, easy-to-use MP3 player. AirPort made something that even sounded confusing ("802.11b") as easy as selecting an item from a dropdown menu.

There's no doubt that Apple can make iTV elegant and functional. There's no doubt that it will be a quality product.

Whether people will want to buy it or not remains to be seen. In the past few years, Apple's product announcements have attracted a lot of attention, and that serves their interest. Some people will buy it "just because". Others will buy it because they feel that it will streamline their lives, just like the iPod streamlined the way they listen to music.

But those who want wireless networking these days typically don't buy Apple's AirPort Extreme wireless router (for a reason you might want to consider it, see Small Networks: Apple's AirPort Hardware Trumps the Competition). Sure, Netgear or Linksys may not be the most elegant solution, but since it's not a device the user actually physically uses, it works (behind the scenes), and that's what counts.

If iTV is a success, Apple has to watch out for competitors who offer more or less the same product at a much lower price point.

* Apple has already announced that the product won't be called iTV when it comes to market. This was their working name for the project, and we have no idea what the device will actually be called, so we're sticking with iTV. For now. ed

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