Apple's TV Playbook

I’ve written a number of times about television. When I wrote what I thought Apple TV should have been, I thought things like a CableCARD DVR and a DVD player would be key features for me to buy it. If I could be Apple in 2011 designing a TV, I think I’d do it this way:

Industrial Design

Televisions are known for black or grey bezels with various curves, markings, buttons, LEDs, grills (for speakers) and technology brandings. Some of these are functional, while others are meant to distinguish them from the competition. I would think Apple will either borrow from the glass & white plastic bezel of iOS devices, or borrow from the brushed aluminum motif of the Cinema Display. The bezel itself will be clean; there might be one LED on it to indicate it is on, though I doubt even that. I’m guessing there will only be a power button, because you won’t need to control the device at the TV itself. Apple won’t need any branding on the device other than its own logo, and I think the rest of the design will be so clean for a TV that people won’t mistake it for anything but the Apple TV if it didn’t have that either.

Photo Frame

It used to be that people adorned their walls at home with beautiful art. Then, the television came along and ruined everything: the center of attention became a garish box rather than a piece of art. Considering the industrial design of the TV itself is likely going to be quite nice, it seems it would go to waste if it was off all the time. I could see Apple extending their iPad photo frame functionality to the television, where it automatically starts showing content while it’s on but not playing anything. Alternatively, you could manually start it by holding/touching the power button.

Inputs & Outputs

I would put four connectors on this device: power, HDMI in, HDMI out, and a network adapter. Unfortunately, no one has invented wireless power that can supply the wattage a television needs, so that one has to be there. HDMI out is an easy one: if you’re a home theater nut, you’ll want to hear the audio through your speaker setup. The network adapter is understandable for the case where wifi isn’t available or has low signal quality. Finally, when it comes to HDMI in, my logic goes like this: either you are a simple consumer that has a cable box and perhaps a DVD player, or you are a home theater nut and you have lots of components and a receiver. If you’re the former category, Apple wants to replace at least one of those boxes. For these people, Apple might automatically switch to the HDMI in signal when it detects something is on. That way, if you want to use your cable box or DVD player, you only have to turn it on and not futz with some other mechanism. If you’re in the latter category, you’ll use the receiver to switch between inputs.

Apple might throw in an IR receiver just as a throw back to people who have the old Apple remote.

Remote Control

I mentioned that there wouldn’t be any buttons on the device if I were to design it. I believe Apple will place remote command and control on iOS devices. iPhone and iPod Touch users will get a simple experience for command and control. It depends on the content service that goes along with the device, but if they provide a cable-style service, I could see a simple electronic program guide primarily driven by search. iPad users will get a better experience: a natural electronic program guide due to the device’s larger screen.


More importantly, Apple will recognize that discovery and consumption lie in two different places. The TV display is great for consumption, but the human interface for discovery has always been poor, especially on archaic cable boxes. Many people think Siri will be an important part of Apple TV’s value proposition, but I’m not convinced of it. Rather, Apple already has a great, reconfigurable remote control in iOS devices. iOS 5’s ability to use AirPlay wirelessly will enable Apple to create a discovery experience that leverages the TV so that the family doesn’t have to huddle around an iPhone or iPad, but the primary interaction will take place on one of those devices.


The only reason I could see Apple making the screen a touchscreen is for configuring its networking. However, I don’t think they will do that. This article sounds very prescient. Configuration over bluetooth from an iOS device would be understandable for so many people, it makes the most sense. Alternatively, for people who use wired ethernet instead, they’ll be able to use iTunes from their computer to perform the configuration and then disconnect the cable if they desire.


I honestly have no idea what Apple is going to do with content. Everyone is expecting some amazing cable-style subscription service. I have to question whether that will happen because Apple couldn’t compete on price with cable companies since the media companies are not going to be fooled into giving Apple preferential deal terms. At least, I would think they wouldn’t.