Waiting on the Real Apple TV

There's a reason I haven't been talking about Internet-ready TVs and its name is Apple TV, and no, it's not the box you may already have on your TV.

You may have noticed that when I talk about TV over the Internet, I haven't been talking about Google TV or the like. Instead, I've been focusing on “media extenders” like the Apple TV, Roku, and the various Internet-equipped Blu-Ray DVD players. The main reason is the elephant in the room: “When will Apple announce an iTunes-empowered TV, aka a 'real' Apple TV?" We still don't know when, or indeed if, Apple will make its move, but the possibilty, probablity, has everyone waiting to see what happens next in Internet TV.

Oh sure, the Leichtman Research Group claims that Americans report that 38% of homes already have an Internet connected television (PDF Link), but only 4% of them say that their Internet TVs are actually hooked up. Yeah, right.

I think most people still don't have a clue about how to get the Internet and their televisions in sync. Today, people who watch TV via the Internet are like me: Electronics fans and network savvy geeks. The current generation of Internet TVs is part of the reason why that's so. None of them are all that user friendly.

Heck, even the media-extenders are still a pain to use. Does every online TV provider like Netflix and Hulu Plus really need its own interfaces? At least when you're using a device, if one doesn't work for you, you can always get another one for a hundred bucks or less.

TVs? Well, big HDTV sets are a lot cheaper than they used to be, but they're still not something Joe Couchpotato is going to run out and buy on impulse. No, what Joe, and the mass market needs is a easy-to-use Internet-enabled TV that looks good and delivers a consistent Internet TV experience. Someone else may yet deliver a killer Internet TV, but the smart money is betting on Apple to deliver the goods.

Think about it. There were MP3 players long before Apple introduced the first iPod in 2001. None of them made it big. Apple delivered an excellent product that everyone loved immediately. Perhaps even more important though was that, via the iTunes store, Apple could deliver new content to its customers in a consistent, affordable, and easy way.

Fast forward to 2012. Sure, we have Internet TVs. But, they certainly don't deliver a consistent experience or even a single universal interface. Instead, we have a hodge-podge of interfaces. And what is Apple doing? Besides seemingly moving slowly to delivering an actual Internet-empowered TV, they're seeming in talks with content providers like Disney.

Would Joe buy an Apple TV for a grand or two if, in addition to Apple's usual attention to fit and polish, it came with a pretty, easy-to-use interface to all of the iTunes Store video content and say a subscription option for ESPN? You bet he would! But until Apple makes this move, most users are going to be waiting on the “real” Apple TV. And even people like you and me will probably keep looking for the perfect media-extender instead of buying an Internet-ready TV.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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