Future TV Skepticism: Why I Don’t Think Apple will Conquer TV

It’s been a crazy week of reports on TV. It started with the extremists predicting nothing less than complete destruction of TV. They report this, of course, with tremendous glee – after all it’s good for your career to predict the demise of TV.

On the other hand, we’ve been fortunate to read responses from savvy TV watchers who observe TV with more clarity and better awareness of history. In particular, check out this post by Wayne Friedman of Media Post. (Link Here.) And I highly suggest you read this one about why internet HBO would cost far more than cable HBO cable – far more than anyone would pay. (Link Here.)

But that’s all prognostication. We’re told, now, that TV’s future will come from a predicted (but not confirmed) announcement of a TV set from Apple. But, as an Apple TV owner, I’m skeptical.

The Theory. Those who predict great things about Apple undertaking a TV revamp observe, rightly, that Apple has taken highly complicated worlds and reduced them to simplicity.

Agreed. And, that agreement comes from experience. I’ve worked with Apple IIe’s, Lisa, and Mac. I lugged a Mac luggable then bought one of the very first Apple laptops. And I own iPods, iPads, iPhones, and even several AppleTV’s (home and office).

From experience, if Apple delivered TV that worked with similar aplomb to many of those products, it would be a really nice product. But, I ‘m skeptical about this potential. Consider…

Apple works without serious use of market research to learn about the market they’re selling into. This has been irresponsible. But it hasn’t been a big problem for them…yet. Why? They’ve succeeded because they were the prime prospect for the products they created. So designing to their own wants delivered all that was needed.

This is true of the iPad, the iPod and the iPhone. And it’s true of every Apple success.

At the same time, each of those products has weaknesses built into the Apple blind spots – because they are poor at projecting what people “not themselves” need. And that leads to an Apple arrogance.

Apple arrogance. Apple arrogance is seen most clearly in how the former head of Apple retail is driving JC Penney’s into the ground (partly by eliminating their group that listened to consumers to evolve their strategy).

Sadly, this arrogance is becoming quite obvious inside Apple. Consider that graphic and video material have been critical to Apple’s success and drive consumption of their biggest products.

Yet, they dashed headlong into a Final Cut Pro disaster that has those of us who create TV for a living beginning to adopt “anyone but Apple” strategies. My own attitude here is formed by my experience after writing to Apple CEO Tim Cook about FCP. The letter resulted in a call from some low-level PR guy (I assume) whose goal was to tell me “we’re right and you’re wrong”. Horrid, absolutely horrid.

Why I’m Concerned About Apple TV Success. This combination of research ignorance and organizational arrogance is a bad mix for any company – look at what’s happened to Sony. In the area of TV, I think it leads to Apple failure for two reasons.

1. Apple designers are far, far different from the majority of TV viewers. TV succeeds on the viewership of people who are the antithesis of Apple designers and executives. So their research ignorance leaves them entirely incapable of creating something that meets the needs of the average 27 hours per week TV household.

In fact, when I listen (as I do very actively) to tech people talk about TV, I find that internet TV fans adopt the intellectual elitist TV attitudes we’ve seen for a half century. Primarily, they hate the circus of TV. But it’s exactly that circus that makes TV successful. Until designers learn to love the circus, they’ll never create a great TV.

I say this from experience that started when I was part of the process that led DirecTV from selling technology to embracing the circus mid-1990’s (via the NFL) and watched TiVO lose their opportunity for massive success when they never figured it out.

2. TV is a shared experience; None of the Apple products are a shared experience. Fundamentally TV is about a large or small audience sharing entertainment together. And that’s a far different design problem from an individual watching video or browsing YouTube on an App.

This reality was WebTV’s limit – none of us wants to read our email on a 56″ public TV screen unless we live alone. Can Apple learn to design for audience viewing? I doubt it.

This is Skepticism – not a Prediction. Stranger things have happened than for Apple to succeed despite its weaknesses. But it doesn’t happen often.

Apple makes some tremendous products. And if they really did find a way to get past their own limitations and create an exciting new version of a TV set, that would be really neat – I’d buy one pretty early.

But I’m skeptical. And it’s not just Apple. As a whole, the tech biz doesn’t understand the TV viewer and the TV reality. Until that changes, we’re all going to be poorer for it.

Copyright 2012 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved.

About Doug Garnett
Doug Garnett is an expert introducing innovative consumer products and services to market while driving higher return on innovation investment. His career has been spent in innovation and he is the president of Protonik, LLC - an innovation consultancy focused on marketing and innovation. Prior to founding Protonik, he was founder and CEO of ad agency Atomic Direct.

2 Responses to Future TV Skepticism: Why I Don’t Think Apple will Conquer TV

  1. rs350z says:

    i disagree with this. what makes apple successful is the user interface, the ease of use, and knowing what people would want to buy if a product is created. apple also has a closed (?) environment and this is very good in certain areas and bad in others. apple is also very secret about any of their products. if they would go out and survey 1000 people on what they would want in a phone/tv/tablet and try to build something that would meet all of these peoples needs, nothing will ever get done.

    i like you started with apple IIe, se30, franklin (apple knockoff), imac, macbook pro, ipads, iphones, apple tv, etc…
    apple products are also known for their ease f connectivity which is much different than what you state. the sharing of itunes, airprint, airplay, and more are technologies that apple came up with and are being adopted by major audio and printer manufacturers. go out and look at all the pioneer, yamaha, denon, etc.. receivers that support airplay, quite a few. apple tv, apple airport express, apple router, all of these products make it very easy to share content between all different kinds of devices.

    if apple would apply their GUI/ease of use/easy to connect technology into a tv for a reasonable price, i would probably buy 1. if it doesn’t do anything special outside of a google tv or apple tv, then i probably won’t.

    talk about failures, google tv has some nice features but was a failure. out of all the tech companies out there, based on what you see with droid phones, google tv, droid tablets, etc…,
    apple would be the 1 to have a breakthru product that would change the tv landscape, similar to the phone and tablet.

    • Doug Garnett says:

      I fully agree that user interface is what makes Apple successful (an obscure history in my career was doing quite a bit of work on user interfaces & design during the shift from command to GUI).

      So another way to consider my point is this. The best user interfaces are designed with a tremendously powerful, instinctive sense of the ultimate user of the product. So Apple’s done well when they are designing user interfaces for themselves where they have, obviously, tremendous instinct for their own needs. But that’s also their blind spot.

      When designing user interfaces for people you don’t have the instinct for, you have to figure out how to gain an instinctive understanding of them. That can only come through a very savvy and unusual consumer research program. But what’s Apple missing? A savvy and unusual consumer research program. Instead, they shout loudly about doing without research.

      Not such a problem for iPads, iPhones, and iPods. But likely (and I’m only guessing) to be a big problem for them with TV.

      Thanks for the thoughts…


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