The latest details of Apple‘s television whims give us a better idea of what the company hopes to create, which just happens to fit into the TV code Steve Jobs said he had “cracked” before his death. After getting sources saying Apple is in talks with cable companies to make Apple a cable-plus-Internet viewing box, The Wall Street Journal‘s Jessica Vascellaro and Sam Schechner have more information on what exactly Apple wants this thing to look like. Here’s what we get: Everything , live or not, will be on-demand, available for viewing whenever, with an Apple-esque interface, with the same icons, it will have social media integration, and it will all come from the same box. These might be pipe dreams that never make it to reality, but they are Jobs’ pipe dreams.
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When Jobs said he had “cracked” the TV mystery, that is pretty much what he described, as told by Walter Isaacson in his Jobs biography:
“I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use,” he told me. “It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud.” No longer would users have to fiddle with complex remotes for DVD players and cable channels. “It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.”
Jobs’ main motivation here (and in all designs, really) was to reduce clutter, simplify, and remake products in his own version of beautiful. The television box described above does just that. It puts all your watching — streaming and cable — into one Apple-designed box. The DVR WSJ describes is cloud based. And that box will have Apple’s signature software: “The simplest user interface you could imagine.” It even reduces “complex remotes” by integrating social media.
Now, just because Steve Jobs wanted it, doesn’t mean Apple will get it. AllThingsD’s Peter Kafka, for one, is doubtful. “Wsj’s update on what apple is asking of tv guys is fairly modest – basically some tweaking of windows. Which doesn’t mean they’ll get it,” he tweeted, following the news. In the future of television negotiations, the cable companies haven’t liked the idea of changing the way the living room works. Their business model works for them right now and innovation could push people away from cable subscriptions, which these companies obviously wouldn’t like. However, Steve Jobs didn’t imagine a cord cutting machine (as one might have hoped). What we have above requires cable. It just makes it “simple,” as Jobs would have wanted. So maybe it will happen.
But, even if it does work out, do we want what Jobs wanted? Going from past experiences (and sales figures), we would say yes. (Think: iPod, iPad, iPhone.) But, in the television world, we’re looking for more cost effective ways to watch the shows we want, without paying for the ones we don’t want. We want to cut the cord to cut the fat. (Some of us don’t like subsidizing your ESPN habits.) This thing, however, might be more expensive than cable, say Vascellaro and Schechner, with more options, not fewer. It will be pretty and easy, but it doesn’t sound like it will do what we want.