Apple introduced a new version of its Apple TV set-top box, in addition to a new iPad, at its media event Wednesday. It was not, however, the Apple-branded television set that many Apple watchers have been predicting.
While an Apple television would certainly be an attractive piece of consumer electronics, such a device is inconsequential to Apple's plan for world domination. An Apple television would not define a new market, the way the iPod, iPhone, and iPad each did. It would merely be an extension of Apple's existing ecosystem.
Apple already has a small screen TV: The iPad, not to mention the company's Apple TV set-top box, which can convey content from the iPad to legacy televisions.
The iPad is not a TV in the traditional sense: It does not come with a broadcast tuner to receive TV signals. But TVs in the traditional sense are all but dead.
[ Which tablet is right for you? Read iPads Vs. Android: 3-Way Tablet Shootout . ]
TVs are endpoints for content, and broadcast content is an afterthought compared to broadband content and paid TV content--and there's an app for that. Less than 10% of American homes rely exclusively on broadcast TV signals; 90.4% pay for cable, telephone company-provided TV, or satellite, according to Nielsen.
Perhaps more significantly, a small but growing group among the broadcast-only set--4.5% of U.S. homes, up 22.8% from last year--stream twice as much content from the Internet as the general population and watch half as much TV.
Streaming is the future. Apple knows it: You don't build a billion-dollar data center and launch iCloud merely to compete with Dropbox. You do it for the same reasons that Amazon, Google, and Microsoft have gone into the cloud storage business: customer lock-in, middleman fee opportunities, and control of the border around your platform kingdom.
Really, TV as a term should be retired. "Display," "screen," or "monitor" would be better because they're more neutral; they don't imply a particular programming source.
Looking ahead, it's the major consumer cloud and software platforms that will become the most important players in the content business. It will be Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Perhaps Samsung and Sony, too. They will be the kingmakers in terms of digital content distribution. Hollywood is fighting back, with lame initiatives like UltraViolet. But video companies, like publishing companies, will face an increasingly bleak landscape of choices if they want to be seen on consumers' home screens.
The cable and mobile companies may be able to adapt and become part of the new regime, too, if they can build their own content and development ecosystems or ally with one of the platform players. But the old guard is more loathed than loved by consumers. They thrive because of lobbying and lack of competition. They are vulnerable.
If you look at the iPad peripherals market, you can see the change coming in the form of iPad wall mounting kits. People are installing iPads in kitchens and on walls in other rooms, where small TVs have been thriving. Given that you can stream TV content from an Apple TV box to an iPad, it hardly seems necessary to have both a small TV and an iPad to watch.
The new iPad can stream video at up to 1080p through one of the third-generation Apple TV boxes. That's as sharp as a most HDTVs today. The screen is the new TV.
Here's to imagining a 50" iPad.
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