It seems to me that over the last few years, in trying to make TVs better, manufacturers have made them much worse. The hope that 3d would be the saviour of TVs has come and gone and now companies seem to be pinning their hopes on connected TVs. The flurry of rumours that Apple is planning to enter the television business has sent existing TV makers scurrying to prove that they can best anything that Apple can make. Without knowing Apple’s plans though, their attempts are at best a shot in the dark.
The current idea on how best to preempt Apple’s potential entry to the TV market seems to be the kitchen sink approach. In other words throw everything you can at it, in the hope of out-speccing any television set that might come from Cupertino. But consumers want less complexity in their TVs, not more.
Apple has had great success with reducing complexity and simplifying products, and yet despite that success, other companies still can’t seem to accept that simplicity in a consumer electronic product is a valid approach. In fact many don’t seem to even realise that it is Apple’s approach at all.
Samsung’s Australian “Director of Audiovisual” Philip Newton recently made disparaging comments about a potential TV from Apple:
When Steve Jobs talked about he’s ‘cracked it’, he’s talking about connectivity – so we’ve had that in the market already for 12 months, it’s nothing new, it was new for them because they didn’t play in the space. It’s old news as far as the traditional players are concerned and we have broadened that with things like voice control and touch control; the remote control for these TVs has a touch pad.
Clearly he’s just spinning the hype about a potential Apple entry to best serve his own company’s goals, but the remark also shows a clear lack of understanding about what has made Apple successful in the first place. It also demonstrates that competitors have no idea as to what Apple’s approach will be. If you understand Apple at all you will know that it won’t be just about “connectivity”. It is especially ironic to hear this from a Samsung executive, given how good Samsung is at copying Apple. (I’m sure we will see a dramatic change of opinion if Apple does release a television.)
But he is right about one thing: we have had these connected TVs for months, but consumers haven’t warmed to them. Adding voice and touch control won’t fix what is a bad foundation. Unless the underlying issues with TVs are dealt with, the current “connected TV” approach will just continue to annoy customers. Instead of asking what consumers want in a television, manufacturers are trying to shove content and services at consumers, while making it harder for people to get to the content that they actually want to watch.
The irony is that the more other manufacturers try to preempt what Apple might do, the more they create a market for an Apple television to succeed.
For example, I have a pretty nice Sony “connected” TV. It has a great screen and overall it’s a good set, but there are things about it that drive me absolutely nuts. For a start it has to boot up. Call me old-fashioned, but I want my TV to work the second you turn it on. I don’t want to have to wait twenty to thirty seconds before I can change inputs or switch channels. When you do get to operate the controls, instead of a simple way to switch between inputs there’s a complex menu that is slow, unresponsive and completely un-necessary. As for the connected elements, I tried them once, but they were so slow and clunky that I have never used them since. And seriously, do we really need to have splash screens on TVs ?
Already, there is at least one thing about my example that an Apple television would probably address. The company has already demonstrated that it understands that people don’t want to see boot screens, as it has gone to great lengths to create an “instant on” experience in both its iOS devices and its computers.
Will apple make a television? Who knows. It does seem likely, given that the amount of chatter about it is pretty much at the point it was before the iPad was announced. Then again, it might not. Considering the increasingly ridiculous attempts to “improve” televisions by traditional manufacturers, it will certainly be nice to see someone take a fresh approach.