Apple's Tim Cook sets of HDTV rumour, again

Michelle Clancy | 07-12-2012

Fresh rumours are swirling around the fabled Siri-powered Apple HDTV thanks to an interview that Apple CEO Tim Cook did with NBC's Brian Williams this week, apparently hinting at the machine.

"When I go into my living room and turn on the TV, I feel like I have gone backwards in time by 20 to 30 years. It's an area of intense interest," he told the newsman. "I can't say more than that."

The words, which add up to fairly slim pickings in terms of comprising an actual product roadmap leak, have spurred yet another media frenzy around the possibility that Steve Jobs' oft-reported vision could come true. The Apple visionary is quoted in his biography as saying that the creation of an iOS, iCloud-enabled "integrated television set" was an ongoing development goal. Ever since the book came out last year, the industry has been breathlessly awaiting the set's appearance. Production line "clues" from Taiwan and China, and various Wall Street analysts' "what if" memos have added fuel to the fire.

Unfortunately, the economic and consumer environment may not be quite right for an Apple HDTV, which, if it exists, is likely to come in at the top end of a very price-sensitive market. And as a Trojan horse for apps, the interface has its limitations. Thus, as high-end connected, 3D, 4K Ultradef and other $3,000-$25,000 sets have shown, that business is not a volume game. And volume is certainly what Apple would be looking for to make the business case work for any HDTV. Add to the fact that replacement cycles tend to be much longer in the TV market than, say, for smartphones, and it becomes even less attractive for the company.

Over the summer, the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple was approaching cable companies to provide a specialised Apple TV set-top for pay-TV operators, giving it a way to gain a foothold in the living room under the auspices of partners that can leverage existing install bases. It's a strategy that worked for TiVo. However, it's also a strategy that flies in the face of Apple's ethos, considering that the company typically likes to control the relationship with the customer, offering its own branded interface and proprietary middleware. And that is something that most pay-TV operators are likely to be less than enthusiastic about.

In any event it's clear that Apple is eyeing the space closely, and it's likely that Cook is weighing his options just as much as all of the industry-watchers are before really settling on a strategy.