The iTV? It’s the Apple TV

I could be proven very wrong come December, when the supposed iTV is rumored to be launching, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Apple is not entering the TV set business anytime soon.

That’s not to say that the industry isn’t ripe for disruption; it is, but I don’t see that being the case on the hardware side of things. Television sets themselves are increasing in quality and decreasing in price rapidly, and if 3D taught us anything, it’s that the TV is one device people aren’t looking to replace as often as, say, a smartphone. Again, the sets themselves are good in terms of hardware. It’s the user interface that no one seems to be able to get right, and that’s not just the fault of TV manufacturers, but of cable and satellite set-top box manufacturers, too.

But why should Apple get into the low-margin TV hardware business to fix that when it can sell TV owners a better experience for $99?

The current Apple TV is plenty capable in terms of hardware; it just hasn’t had the software in place to start a revolution. The new UI upgrade that came with the March model is a step in the right direction, but there’s no arguing that, at this moment in time, the Apple TV actually offers less than competing boxes like the Roku. There are fewer content sources available by default, and there’s no system in place to add new ones.

I think this will be rectified in a few weeks at next month’s Worldwide Developers Conference, a place where Apple regularly unveils important chances to the iOS platform that powers devices like the iPhone, iPad, and, yes, the Apple TV. Here’s what I’m expecting for the Apple TV:

  • App Store (finally)
  • Siri voice control through Siri-enabled devices like the iPhone 4S… and the 3rd generation iPad, which I believe will be blessed with Siri in the next iOS version
  • Partnership announcements with cable TV providers where the Apple TV acts as a IPTV set-top box (much like the Xbox 360 is doing with Comcast and Verizon FiOS) — the perk here being that Apple controls the user interface

Three big upgrades and three ways for Apple to finally assert itself with the Apple TV. No more playing around. Support for applications that can finally begin to tap the potential hidden inside the Apple TV for years. Siri to give you a faster way to navigate through your content (“Play ‘Quantum of Solace,’ please”), both from the Internet and from your cable TV provider. And yes, cable. An Apple-designed interface to smoke the user interface on that Motorola box you rent from your cable provider. I hope this is the area that Steve Jobs cracked, because it’s been very bad for a very long time.

To me, it would make sense when adding Siri integration for Apple to also put out an upgraded remote with an embedded microphone (keep in mind — the 3rd generation Apple TV has a Bluetooth chip!), but Apple could also decide to leave that as a perk for users who are part of the mobile iOS ecosystem.

WWDC isn’t too far away (June 11), so we’ll find out fairly quickly how right or wrong I am with these predictions. I just don’t see the TV set industry as one Apple would jump into when it can insert itself into the conversation with its $99 “hobby” box, an OS upgrade, and the tireless work of its innovative developer community.