There is lots of speculation that Apple's (News - Alert) next big foray into device markets could be a television.
But a recent study by NPD Group suggests why it might not be so easy for Apple or any other suppliers to radically reshape “the TV” and create a big new device market. The study found, not illogically, that what most people do with an Internet-connected TV is “watch over the top video.” That just makes sense.
But that behavioral pattern also suggests the potential difficulties any would-be “TV device disruptor” will face. Looking only at Apple, it has succeeded when it has tackled “personal” devices.
But a TV isn’t a “personal” device. It is a shared device, more like a refrigerator, stove or microwave compared to a personal device like a smartphone, MP-3 player, notebook or even PC. “Just” making content discovery and navigation easier, across linear subscription TV and online sources, is nice, but doesn’t to me have the feel of a huge unmet need.
Some might argue the key is changing the “lean back” nature of TV viewing, but so far there seems little evidence to suggest that is what people actually want to do. NPD’s study only confirms that “lean forward” activities are not actually big activities on an Internet-connected TV.
In fact, those lean forward activities actually are better suited to tablets and smartphones, and studies universally find that multitasking now is such a big behavior precisely because a smartphone, tablet or even notebook does fine for lean-forward activities. The TV just doesn’t seem as natural a venue for such activities.
The other observation is that, in many ways, the “best” architecture for a display is just that: the dumbest-possible screen, with the intelligence added by add-on devices, whether that is a video subscription service decoder, a smartphone or tablet or Wi-Fi-connected PC able to throw video onto the screen.
The same goes for game controllers and other devices that can provide Internet content feeds to the TV.
As with a component stereo, the “best” architecture would be an adaptable display that takes input from a range of Internet-connected devices able to provide content to the screen.
TV manufacturers consistently oppose such architectures, in large part because such an approach reduces the amount of money a supplier can charge for a TV appliance. In fact, TV suppliers are always on the hunt for some new killer feature that would supply more value, and hence allow higher retail prices.
To be sure, it always is possible that some new supplier will succeed, as Apple has in the past, not by asking people what they want, and then giving it to them, but by uncovering some huge unmet need.
The problem with TVs is that some of us still cannot see how the experience could be qualitatively improved so much that a big new market is created, along the lines of the MP-3 player, smartphone or tablet.