Regardless of whether the end users are there to buy them, if content producers will play ball or if Apple needs to risk huge capital in making them, it seems the company is starting early production with its Chinese partners of HDTV sets, as polls suggest current iOS users will be the lead converts.
Does TV Need to Change? Do You Need to Change Your TV?
Those are the two multi-billion dollar questions up for grabs right now. Long-time incumbent set makers, Sony, LG, Samsung and others have been taking a pounding in the TV market in recent years. To the extent that both Sony and Samsung are putting minimum pricing in place to prevent TV sets being sold cheap.
Google too has found that trying to change the market via Google TV has been nothing but a long, argumentative struggle. Content providers don't want to play ball and users are slow to adopt. Instead it is nimble TV and movie services like Netflix who have generated hype, built up a user base and made some headway, but with marginal revenue from cheap subscriptions. At the same time, dozens of TV and film services have risen up and drifted away, as casualties of a cutthroat business.
As for anyone who has picked up a decent HDTV or 3DTV set in recent years, are they likely to want to pick up another new box? Will Apple keep its product in focus with its existing loyal customers, or aim it at a broader audience?
Here Comes the Apple Machine
So, Apple believes it has the content via iTunes, the hardware and technology (from its design labs and from partners) and is presumably bashing out the deals with TV and film companies for even better distribution rights. Word from The China Times that Foxconn has orders to build sets and has a trial production line up and running.
Such a set would likely contain a camera for video chat, a sizeable hard drive for local content (iCloud isn't going to cut it) and Wi-Fi for streaming media. That will compromise how thin it can be, as the market goes on an ever stricter diet. Whatever it is made of, it will have some way to go to beat LG's latest set, unveiled last week, at a mere 4mm thick. Cult of Mac claims to have seen an early prototype.
A Different Market...
Good old Apple-focused analyst Gene Munster expects to see 42" to 55" screens hitting stores for between $1,500 and $2,000 sometime next year. A recent survey from Strategy Analytics reckons almost half of western iPhone users would go for an Apple HDTV set. That's a lot of potential with some 37 million iPhones sold globally, so perhaps 12-15 million potential sales, on the low side at $18 billion.
Assuming all goes well, Apple could radically upset the existing market, vastly increase the amount it raises from iTunes and sell heaps more apps. All it needs is a compliant network of component partners, media companies, store retailers and an issue free launch. It could also make a serious play in the games market, bringing big-screen entertainment to challenge Sony's PlayStation consoles.
A lot could happen between now and a late 2012, early 2013 launch point, but with the smartphone market losing its novelty, the tablet market about to get violently competitive with the launch of Windows 8/RT tablets, Apple could do with something new and sexy to impress the market with. While the company will likely remain firmly silent on the issue through WWDC, eventually something in the chain will give, especially for some as hard to hide as a TV set, and we'll get a better look at Apple's plans.