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Apple's Vision Shreds Amazon Fire TV, Other Competitors

Unfortunately, when the business goal is get better at convincing the customer into spending more, there is a certain implicit callousness towards the consumer. There is a distinct difference between a beautiful instrument of creation that can be used for entertainment and virtually invisible hardware that caters solely to the frequent, shallow whims of the customer.

With all that in mind, what future options are available to Apple? With Google's (GOOG) Chromecast, the Roku systems and the Amazon Fire TV, should Apple be focused on a next-gen black box, indistinguishable from the rest? Is a race to deliver the most salivating content so that Apple can make nickels and dimes on movies and TV shows Apple's ultimate goal?

Apple has always had a reputation for encouraging people to do something creative with their hardware; this attitude is  fundamental in its marketing. The goal is to become more of an individual, to refine skills, to think independently. How can these next-generation set-top boxes, supremely tuned to lure the customer into thinking like the crowd, do that? They cannot.

Yet when it comes to next-generation TV hardware, Apple's traditional vision remains elusive. If personal entertainment and spending is the only personal goal, and the hardware means nothing, then one is not really encouraged to do something with that amazing device. Since day one, Apple has done its best to remind us that we should think about being good stewards of our computer tools -- and contributing. For Apple, the fundamental reason why it has declared the Apple TV as a hobby in the past was because there was no clear-cut path to develop hardware in line with its own vision, given the constraints of the TV industry. A black box was all that could be accomplished.

However, Apple has always demanded more from itself than that. And so do we. So the real question is, if Apple is going to make a leap forward, to make a piece of TV hardware that exemplifies Apple's traditional industrial design, what form will it take and how will we use it?

Is the goal merely to help the customer find and pay for video content more easily? Will the goal be to extract the maximum amount of revenue from the customer when, consensus thinks, Apple's real interest lies in hardware profits derived from fulfilling a fundamental human need?

At first, one might be concerned that the flood of set-top boxes will overwhelm Apple's TV efforts into insignificance. But I somehow doubt that Apple's ultimate goal is to merely build another, slightly better little black box.

Apple -- if it is to remain faithful to its corporate vision of empowerment instead of the enslavement its critics (and competitors) imply -- is thinking (I hope) about something more inspiring, more grand than just another tiny box to deliver addictive visual dazzles.

Can it be done? It may be the very toughest challenge in the media and technology sectors. The solution seems to be taking its sweet time. Perhaps we'll soon see.

At the time of publication the author is long AAPL.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

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