In a note to clients Thursday, Gene Munster, a senior analyst at investment bank Piper Jaffray, floated the notion that Apple would take a bite out of the TV market in 2011 by introducing its first television.
To help support his claim, Munster cited the more than 48 million iPhones and iPod Touches out there that could be used as TV remotes or interactive game controllers.
Of course it's just speculation at this point, but that describes 99 percent of Apple-related blogging anyway, right? And in that vein I think an iPhone/iTouch enabled HDTV would be pretty dang cool if the company did it right. Let's call it the "iHDTV."
Imagine a television that's smoothly integrated into both your home network--for streaming your videos, photos and music--and the Internet at large, including not just iTunes for music and movies but the whole array of Web-based content currently available through the browser on your computer. The company's Apple TV box works great already for many of those functions, and the first step a future iHDTV would need to take is to build that functionality right into the flat-screen TV itself, without the need for an external box.
Even with a built-in Apple TV box and a big, shiny Apple logo, the iHDTV would barely rate a "ho-hum" from jaded tech reviewers like myself. Nope, the real coolness and opportunity for innovation would be the seamless integration of a high-powered, Web-enabled touch-screen remote control--especially one 48 million people already own. Like, say, an iPhone.
Touch-screen remotes aren't new. From the groundbreaking Philips Pronto to the current Logitech 1100, they've always raised jealous eyebrows from visitors to living rooms swanky (or wasteful) enough to include them. Sure, I prefer the "hard" buttons of my good old universal remote, but with subtle vibration feedback and customizable buttons I could be convinced to go touch screen. Especially given Apple's well deserved reputation for ease of use and slick interface design.
Meanwhile any devoted owner of a living-room-based home theater PC, or HTPC, will tell you that a keyboard is necessary for full functionality. But few mainstream couch potatoes want a bulky full-sized keyboard cluttering up the living room table--let alone the hassle of buying, configuring and maintaining an HTPC. Elegant solutions already exist of course, including the Logitech diNovo Mini Keyboard, which earned an Editors' Choice award and high praise: "If you're a home theater PC owner looking for the perfect input device, look no further."
I think an iPhone or iPod Touch, mated to an Internet-enabled television, makes an even more perfect input device. We love the current iTunes remote app, which controls iTunes or an Apple TV box, as well as the Sonos app, which does the same thing with the Sonos multi-room audio system. How much cooler could an iHDTV/iPhone combo be?
- When mated via Bluetooth to the TV the default skin on your iPhone could automatically mimic a standard remote control, complete with customizable buttons.
- You could use the touch-screen keyboard to enter info sent to the TV. But instead of devoting valuable TV screen space to text or information, the phone could be the "words" and the TV the "images" component of an integrated Web/content browser.
- The phone's accelerometer or the screen itself can serve as a mouse on a browser or to otherwise manipulate the TV interface.
- Bluetooth and the 3G network connection would mean you wouldn't have to aim the remote at the TV, or even be in the same room or the house.
- You could browse channel listings, lists of recorded DVR shows or movies and video-on-demand offerings right on the phone, select one and have it start playing on the TV.
- TV content could be duplicated on the remote's screen, so you could take it into other rooms, outside or even across the country to follow the TV action (e.g. Slingbox for iPhone).
- A video from the iTunes store you began watching on the commute home could be finished on the TV.
- When your iPhone rings the TV show you're watching could automatically pause, then resume when you hang up. Caller ID info could show up on the TV.
- A camera on the TV could be used for video chat that employs the iPhone's speaker and mic.
- The TV could serve as an extra-large monitor for the iPhone's camera/camcorder.
- The remote could serve as the small window of a PIP (picture-in-picture) function, allowing you to keep tabs on two channels or content pieces at once full-screen.
- Notifications for new e-mails, texts and instant messages could appear on both the phone and the TV, and allow you to read/reply on either the big or the small screen.
- Apps like iTunes, Facebook, and YouTube could display the photos and video on the big screen but be searched and controlled via the touch-screen remote.
- Game apps could be designed for or adapted to the iHDTV, allowing a big-screen gaming experience controlled via the touch-screen iPhone or iPod Touch.
- The TV could interface with multiple iPhones or iPod touches in the same room for collaborative casual gaming.
Many of these functions are possible now, naturally, but only with extra gear and the accompanying headaches. I'm sure the people at Apple and the app developers themselves could think up even better uses for the iPhone/HDTV combo. You probably can too--let us know in comments.
Before 2011, of course, significant hurdles remain between today and the perfect union I'm envisioning. The TV market has its established players, who have their own (mostly, currently) weak attempts at Internet-enabled TVs, as well as track records at producing high-quality display devices. Apple needs to get the content side right, which means adding Netflix streaming at least, or even "opening up" a sort of media browser in the TV to Hulu and similar Web-based providers. And oh yeah: it needs to make a TV with a good picture (and a frame that isn't white, please!). There's no doubt that the iHDTV would be an expensive beast, however, so why not go all-out with OLED? I can dream, right?