Apple to Dominate the Living Room? I Don’t Think So

How Will Apple’s Marketing Maestro Marry the Computer and the Home TV? – New York Times

“Asked about Apple’s interest in selling Macs that could serve up the video recording abilities Microsoft offers with its Windows XP Media Center Edition, Jobs joked that Apple was instead focused on melding the computer with a toaster.

“I never get mine quite brown,” said Phil Schiller, vice president of marketing. “We can do an up-sell for bagels.”

Jobs said that he doesn’t see such products creating a big market.

“We’re not going to go that direction,” Jobs said. “There is a small audience that likes this.”

CNET’s News.com, 2003

And so this morning almost three years later The New York Times asks the question, “Has Apple Computer’s chief executive, Steven P. Jobs, found a way to connect the PC to the TV?”

The Times speculates that perhaps the Mac Mini is poised to be Apple’s anchor into the living room. Combined with it’s Front Row software and possibly using Wi-Fi to stream content to the living room the speculation goes that Apple might have a chance.

I say no way in hell. Apple is way too late to the party at this point and while the Times touches on some of the problems with an Apple strategy they still miss the siginificance of the biggest issue still facing any digital hub of the future. HDTV.

Without HDTV (and by HDTV I mean cable or satellite HDTV) any strategy going forward is going to be dead in the water. HDTV sets have finally moved beyond early adopter status and are now hitting the mainstream. Unless Apple has gotten some kind of secret approval for a CableLabs certified HDTV CableCARD PC then people are not going to buy a Mac for that hot new plasma that they just got in the living room. And getting a CableLabs approved PC is no easy task. Microsoft and TiVo have been working on it for years.

If Apple did want to make a serious push into the living room at this point they would be much better off acquiring TiVo (who trades at a mere 1% of Apple’s market cap roughly) who already has CableLabs approval for their TiVo Series 3 device. Apple could then turn this dual tuner device into a true home media behemoth combining their Front Row software, TiVo’s brand name TV recording, and a video on demand service all combined with both the reliability that TiVo and Apple are known for. Now that could be a winning combination.

But as for Apple making a go at it on their own at this point I think this would be unlikely. It would be a failed strategy to try and do it without HDTV at this point and I’m not sure that Apple has their ducks in a row with regards to the approvals needed to make this happen.

Apple could of course continue to try and sell video downloads, but I think these are still mostly poor video quality novelties that still get watched on PCs or video iPods and not on the family television set.

If Apple is to make the next jump to the actual living room they would need much better quality TV which also makes wireless even more problematic than it might be otherwise.

In the meantime, look for Microsoft to make their even bigger push with CableLabs approved Media Center PCs early next year. Especially with the infiltration of XBoxes in the home, Microsoft has an interesting opportunity to convert a natural desktop PC Vista upgrade into an interesting home media push next year.

Their biggest obstacle of course though will be that they are still Microsoft and, relatively speaking compared to Apple and TiVo, nothing ever works. If they can get the stability of Vista to the point of a Mac though they may have something.

In the meantime, my prediction is that you see that Mac Toaster that Apple was pitching for your kitchen before you ever see a serious entry by the company into your living room.

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8 Comments

  1. Messrs Jobs and Schiller are the same guys who earlier said a video iPod was not something they were going to do…

    We have cable video coming into our Design Display right now. Have for about two years. I would LOVE Infinite Loop to help

  2. DANGIT!!!

    I would LOVE Infinite Loop to help close that gap between my computer and my home entertainment system.

    (sorry for the incomplete post above).

  3. Anonymous says:

    People have such short memories.

    http://www.macworld.com/news/2006/04/27/sharehldrmtg/index.php?lsrc=mwrss

    See this quote from back in April.

    “Another shareholder requested that the company make “the ultimate media center,” a personal video recorder that could record television programs and share media on his computer. We hear you loud and clear,” Jobs responded.”

    This IS going to happen. Tomorrow.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Thomas, I love your blog, and I think you’re a very articulate guy and a talented photographer. That said, I cringe every time I see you confuse “it’s” with “its”, which tends to happen in virtually every one of your blog posts longer than two paragraphs.

    “It’s” is a contraction for “it is”, while “its” is the possessive form of the pronoun “it”.

    Repeat after me:

    “IT’S unlikely that Apple will overtake Windows XP Media Center with ITS Front Row software in the near future.”

    And so forth.

  5. I agree, Apple’s success as an outsider coming into the living room/TV market is unlikely.

    But all market disruptors appear unlikely to be successful. Apple was an outsider to the music business when it launched iPod, but was the only company that managed to create a real business at $1 a song online. Being in the music business, which Sony was, proved to be a handicap.

    One question is whether this new ‘Showtime’ product from Apple is disruptive?

    When details come out, check how you rate it using the Disruption ScoreCard, at:

    http://www.ondisruption.com/my_weblog/2006/09/is_steve_jobs_d.html

  6. Ade says:

    I have a Mac Mini sitting under the TV in the living room. It works great as a media centre for me. I mostly use it with iTunes, VLC, and as a DVD player. And more recently with Democracy – highly recommended (Mac or PC).

    I’m not familiar with TiVo but I don’t think it’s available here in the UK. And to be fair, I’ve not tried Windows XP Media Center.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Time to eat those words Tom!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Time to eat those words Tom!