Along with revelations about his "thermonuclear war" on Google and funding of non-traditional cancer treatments, Steve Jobs' newly published biography drops a bomb about the next big thing he and Apple were working on.
And it's - tah-dah! - Apple TV. Not that little set top box (Job's "hobby" of a product) we associate with the name today, but a full-fledged television set that could synch with all your other Apple devices, iTunes and content stored distantly in the iCloud. Oh, and it would probably work with Apple's smart voice command technology Siri that's been amusing the heck out of iPhone 4S users. Jobs is quoted in Walter Issacson's biography saying, "It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it."
Well, with more than a little help from some of his employees, like the highly prized Jeff Robbin. He's the software engineer who developed the SoundJam digital music player - a technology bought by Apple and evolved a decade ago into iTunes. Robbin now heads the next generation Apple TV project.
Ever one to pump up Apple (and its stock), Bloomberg quotes industry analyst Gene Munster (Piper Jaffray) that a full-fledged Apple TV set could be marketed by the end of 2012 or 2013, based on "meetings with contacts close to Apple's suppliers in Asia, industry contacts and Apple's patent portfolio."
But on the dark side - Apple's recent efforts to contract current broadcast and cable programs for low cost, a la carte purchases through the iTunes store have largely come to naught. The content providers' sweetheart deals with cable and satellite TV companies and their success in selling complete seasons of shows via disc and downloads are still major stumbling blocks to any visions of ruling the TV universe which Apple, arch rival Google (with Google TV) and Microsoft (via Xbox 360) have been going after.
Also, the cable/satellite rivals are not sitting idly by, letting Apple eat their lunch as the company did with the music industry's stock-in-trade. Comcast recently showed me its next generation cable box operating system, currently being tested in Augusta, Ga. Branded as both "Xcaliber" and "Spectrum," this 2.0 system nicely integrates traditional cable-fed and internet streaming content. In fact, I was told that a lot of second-tier specialty channels currently carried system-wide could more efficiently be delivered over the Internet, on demand, unclogging the cable "pipe" for other purposes.
Comcast 2.0's on-screen guide display is flashy and smart, the search engine works like a charm and also pulls in videos from YouTube, music from Pandora, and connects to Facebook and Twitter.
Oh, and while not currently activated, there's a small microphone icon and companion button on the 2.0 remote control, plus a speaker on the remote's backside, suggesting you might soon be talking your way into "find me movies with Johnny Depp" or whoever. Siri-ously, could it get much smarter than that?
Getting Comcast to implement this tech is quite another matter - like turning around a battle ship. My demonstrators said "all our HDTV boxes installed in the last two years" have the brainpower to support the new hybrid cable/internet protocol TV system. But upgrading the rest of Comcast's cable box universe will be very expensive (think billions) and will not be accomplished overnight.
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