As reported in his newly published biography, the late Steve Jobs revealed to Walter Isaacson in one of his last interviews that he wanted to do for television sets what he had done for computers, music players, and phones: make them simple and elegant. “I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use,” Steve Jobs told his authorised biographer. “It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud.” He said: “It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.”
That enigmatic line leads one to wonder whether Steve Jobs left Apple with plans for a new television product, which has long been the subject of much speculation.
The Apple TV has so far failed to ignite the same level of interest as the iPhone or the iPad. The product does not even feature in his biography. Steve Jobs famously described it as a “hobby,” a reminder perhaps that his company started out catering for homebrew hobbyists with the original Apple computer.
Ironically, Steve Jobs originally fell out with co-founder Steve Wozniak, who stopped working at Apple to create a programmable universal remote control designed to manage television and other devices. Steve Jobs insisted that his appointed design firm, Frog Design, have no part in its creation. The company that Steve Wozniak created, CL 9, short for Cloud 9, named after a restaurant, and the remote control was originally called Core. The product was not a success and the company was sold in 1988, unable to compete with cheaper products from other consumer electronics companies.
So could Apple finally come out with an integrated television set that incorporates the features of Apple TV in the display and seamlessly synchronises with iCloud? The technology pieces are already in place, they simply need to be brought together, with an interface that works for the large screen in the living room.
The Apple ecosystem could be the key to unlocking this puzzle that has consistently challenged companies that have previously tried to break into the world of television with new products. Television, as we currently know it, may only be a supporting feature.
The television market is ripe for disruption, much as the mobile phone industry was when Apple entered it to considerable scepticism from many quarters. While it has much of the mindshare, Apple has a relatively small share of the mobile phone market, with around 5% of sales, but among the top eight mobile manufacturers makes around 50% of the profits from handsets.
The iPhone is not a great phone, but it is a highly desirable device with tremendous utility. The secret to transforming the television set may be to create a great screen that simply unifies a world of media and entertainment experiences.
Apple could yet revolutionise television, further adding to the lasting legacy of Steve Jobs.
Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography by Walter Isaacson, is published by Little, Brown.