Last night I watched some television. Part of it was channel surfing on cable, and part of it was watching streaming Netflix on the second generation Apple TV. Laid before me were three remotes: one for the cable box, one that came with the TV (to change the input source), and the aluminum stick from Apple. It was almost as if I was living inside this slide from the original iPhone unveiling:
Unnecessary complication, made necessary by the state of the television and cable industries. For years, companies (including Apple) have tried to change this dynamic with little success. A lot of the focus from the press takes a “can you cut the cord?” approach to these devices, in that success for Roku or Apple TV equals the ability to cancel monthly cable TV fees. Jobs himself felt this way about the cell phone industry, when he wanted the original iPhone to run on Apple’s own network, carrier-free. In that case, Apple ended up brokering a deal with AT&T to provide the service and subsidize the price of the device for the customer. So why not take this approach with the television industry?
What if Apple partnered with cable companies in the U.S. (for starters) to sell televisions that were tied to two year contracts with Comcast, Cox, Time Warner, or others? Customers could buy the device from Apple or buy it directly from the cable provider, activate it using their existing Apple IDs, plug it in and start using it. The television would have one simple cable input on the back that allowed both traditional live TV streams of content as well as data for streaming offerings from iCloud, iTunes, and others. Apple would sell the hardware and control the user experience, the cable companies would retain (or add) customers, and the end user would have an entertainment system that made every other television on the market look like a complicated relic. The possibilities from this point are seemingly endless: television networks as downloadable apps, an integrated gaming console by way of the App Store, and tighter integration with other iOS devices.
I’m having a hard time seeing the downside to this, but I’m sure the cable companies could help me out on that one.