We've all heard the story. It's become a sort of legend in the tech world, an ongoing epic narrative that will split Earth and heaven asunder like Ragnarok: The late Apple (AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs, before he died, swore to destroy Google's (GOOG) Android operating system, calling it a "stolen product" and promising to spend every last penny that Apple has to bring it to the ground.
Since the story was made public last October in Walter Isaacson's biography of Jobs, investors and tech geeks alike have kept an especially close eye on products that both companies appear to be developing concurrently, and right now that means television. In an interview with Brian Williams, Apple CEO Tim Cook hinted strongly that Apple plans to redefine the television, sparking widespread speculation that the company would replace its current set-top box, Apple TV, with a full television set.
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This comes on the heels of news that Google's competing system, Google TV, has pretty much flopped due to a combination of factors: lack of development, low consumer interest, and a failure to get big content providers like Fox (NWSA) and Hulu on board from the get-go. Google's been far more concerned with its position in the smartphone wars than it has been with its televisions or set-top boxes, and the product has suffered accordingly.
One thing that separates Apple from its competitors has always been its incredible focus. Once the company introduces a product, it develops the absolute pants off it; just look at what Apple designers have done with the all-in-one desktop or the portable MP3 player. This should make Apple fanboys and girls optimistic that their corporate sweetheart might succeed where Google appears to have failed.
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There are several caveats, however.
The first is price; one of the main problems that people who aren't already on the Apple bandwagon have with the company is that its products are often prohibitively expensive, and Piper Jaffray (PJC) analyst Gene Munster believes that Apple's set would run between $1,500 and $2,000. If Tim Cook wants to change the way we all think about television, he should probably focus on not making us choose between an Apple TV set and, y'know, rent.
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Another hurdle for Cook to jump is consumer interest. While the Apple head may claim that TV as we know it is antiquated, the way we watch TV has evolved in a fairly linear way since the medium began: First we added remote control, then cable and satellite, then digital TV and DVR. Each of these developments—adding channels, streamlining processes, allowing greater freedom of choice—has been built into the existing framework of television. The system is so ingrained in people's minds that changing it could simply be a non-starter.
One factor Apple may not have to deal with is competition. What company has the resources or the operating system framework in place to create a similar product? Unless Google reboots the Google TV project, Apple may be the only company that can create both the hardware and the operating system for such a device. One possibility is that Microsoft (MSFT) might enter the television game if Apple does, but it would have to completely redesign its old Microsoft TV systems. In Steve Jobs' never-ending, Beowulf-like quest to destroy Google, Apple may just have a win on its hands.