For me, the debate over whether Apple ships an actual TV set and introduces some updated iTunes video package is a complete sideshow for a broader and bigger phenomenon -- a transformation in how we all use TV which is already being rolled out by Apple.
Reconceptualising TV as an application platform
To understand where I think Apple is headed, one really needs to step back and re-conceptualise how one thinks about TV. Simply put, a TV is a large, high-definition audio/video rendering device that plays a role in displaying content and related data. It is also the largest computer monitor in our lives, and one that very often presents in a social context: the living room, conference room, university halls, classroom, the retail shopfloor and shop window.
And in recognising the broader role that these monitors play in our lives we can begin to re-define TVs as not just screens for video, but as a rich-computing surface for viewing information, playing games, communicating, learning, shopping and so forth.
It is precisely with this re-defining of TV in mind that I believe Apple has ‘cracked the code' on TV. Specifically, Apple sees that TV monitors are just that -- high-quality audio/video rendering devices -- and that the real power lies in application platforms, and user interaction devices that can be easily brought to bear on those monitors.
The iPhone and iPad as next-generation TV computers
So rather than putting Apple software directly into TVs, they will be bringing existing Apple devices and applications to the TV set without requiring users to buy a new TV monitor. The iPhone and iPad are next-generation TV set-top boxes capable of bringing hundreds of thousands, and soon millions, of rich interactive applications and experiences onto the TV.
And this is where Apple AirPlay comes in. Allowing a user to easily beam any content or application to an Apple TV device means users can browse and discover any media on an Apple iOS device and experience and enjoy it on a TV.
But AirPlay is not just for video -- increasingly it is for ANY kind of application. Apple introduced two new and inter-related concepts to Airplay last year: Mirroring, which allows you to mirror your iPad (or iPhone) screen on your TV monitor, and Dual Screen, which essentially turns it into a powerful TV apps platform.
To fully take advantage of this capability, developers need to create ‘Dual Screen Apps' that are aware of AirPlay and of the TV screen and the local touch-based iOS screen. And it's already happening. TV appsare here and they're all about building dual-screen iPad Apps that interact with AirPlay-enabled Apple TV devices.
The next generation Apple TV device(s)
So what will Apple's next-generation TV-device products encompass and enable? I believe that the core focus for Apple will NOT be on its own TV monitor product, but on continuing to advance a device platform for extending iOS onto TV sets easily, while dipping its toe into the actual TV monitor business as well. What's critical is that they're able to sell a massive volume of TV add-on devices to consumers who already own HD TV devices. Because, at the end of the day, the core focus is on extending the iOS and iTunes ecosystem onto the TV, and the fastest way to accomplish this is with a commodity add-on peripheral.
Jeremy Allaire is CEO of Brightcove