Apple's TV Innovation Will Be Unexpected

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Recently, a few articles have suggested that the window of opportunity for Apple's (AAPL) next generation TV project is closing. To make that assertion, it's necessary to have a comprehensive picture of the current technology, the roadmap for Apple's competition and keen insight into Apple's secret development work. Few have it all.

Even more ironic is that the very outcry for innovation by Apple is a call for something new and unexpected. How can one demand the unexpected and yet arrogantly claim that Apple's opportunity has disappeared? It's a contradiction.

Put another way, the window of opportunity for the Apple brand of exciting innovation, problem solving and elegant combination of hardware and software never closes. Ever.

Second Guessing Technology

In the past, we have seen how Apple provides solutions that seem oh-so obvious in hindsight. Yet when some observers write about Apple's future prospects, it's often in the context of competition and tech politics, not technology. Perhaps that's the only visible angle to approach Apple. That is, until the unexpected arrives.

That's why, when Apple does release a new product, the focus goes back, once again, to awe of the technical solution -- the very thing some observers hope Apple is working on but often neglect to explore.

A Technical Example

Here's a hypothetical example for how things could go, just for illustration. We start with the idea that Apple wants to control the whole TV experience and, perhaps, seize control of the final video feed on the display for technical and creative reasons. That means selling a full-size HDTV.

Who wants and can afford a large HDTV? Home and business owners. The home owners are older and have more available money (and space) than younger people. Older customers -- who appreciate well-crafted products -- aren't so adept at technology, so they have special problems, eager to be solved.

One of those problems is understanding how to set up and exploit all the apps and services that a modern smart TV can offer. Imagine this conversation with Siri.

  • Owner: I'd like to watch Netflix, Sherlock Holmes series three, but I don't know how to set it up.
  • Siri: I can set up Netflix for you. May I use your AppleID, credentials and credit card? I can create an encrypted, secure connection to Netflix.
  • Owner: Yes, please do that.
  • Siri: I'll email your new Netflix user ID and password to your iCloud email. Netflix is now launching. Searching for your show.

This is just an example. Apple starts with knowledge of the customer base, the customer needs and their typical problems. Then Apple applies technology to not only solve a problem, but create a better user experience. Remember, I'm not saying Apple would explore this particular idea. It's just an example of the process.

Thinking Deeply

Apple engineers think deeply about how to solve typical user problems. They try lots of different solutions and discard those that are unreliable or which create new problems. They have access to surveys like this one on consumer reactions to VOD. In contrast, remember the original Google (GOOG) TV in which we were expected to navigate content with a Chrome browser and an keyboard on our lap? It was laughable. And yet, Google TV was supposed to steamroll the current Apple TV product.

It could well be that a discussion of diminishing opportunity for Apple merely reflects a feeling of agitation and discouragement that a new toy from Apple isn't yet out there for the holidays, ready to be ogled, lusted for and written about.

Articles that talk about how some new product from a current competitor makes all unannounced efforts by Apple futile suggests that the competitors have done the hard work to solve major problems. Generally, they're not known for that.

Here's the difficulty. Without a broad understanding of the deepest consumer issues related to a next generation TV, anything that competitors throw out there seems to be a little better -- quite satisfactory really. It's all we have. Because it's difficult to imagine what Apple might do, and because Apple hasn't shipped yet, the competition's current products are often described by critics as sending Apple to its doom.

That is, until the unexpected arrives.

At the time of publication, Martellaro was long AAPL, although positions may change at any time.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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