Apple TelevisionThe web was all aflutter this week as outspoken Apple analyst Gene Munster shook his (liquid) crystal ball and said that the reason why we didn’t see an Apple HDTV this year is that they were having trouble sourcing a new type of LCD for the screen.

This is a pretty ridiculous explanation. Since there seems to be zero accountability when it comes to Apple rumors, we’ll explain why this latest one is unsound, and we’ll make a few predictions of our own (hey, why not?).

The first issue at hand is whether or not Apple is actually planning on releasing a TV (and just so we’re clear, I’m not talking about the current “Apple TV,” but some mythical, actual, Apple-branded television). Apple, of course, has made no public announcement about an HDTV. Rumors about one have been circulating for years, and every few months someone pokes the smoldering fire with a story they heard from a guy who knew a guy that does this thing in China.

This latest rumor surrounds a new LCD technology called IGZO, or indium gallium zinc oxide. This is a new material the allows for smaller pixels, and/or faster changing pixels. It’s worth noting here, because most coverage of this technology won’t, that “faster changing” is only one aspect of the motion blur with LCDs. So IGZO-based LCD displays are still likely to have motion blur. Because IGZO is more light-efficient than current methods, it also means brighter or more energy efficient displays are possible. The “smaller pixels” aspect means higher resolutions are possible for a given screen size. Since at normal viewing distances and a current average screen sizes, all 1080p TVs are “Retina displays,” the need for this added resolution is dubious at best (but good luck finding someone who will turn down 4K, even if they can’t see it).

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Here’s the thing, because IGZO is so new, it’s expensive. Sharp’s 32-inch 4K IGZO-display is expected to cost $5,500. From the Wall Street Journal: “Sharp has struggled with low production yields for the IGZO displays, limiting the availability and increasing the manufacturing costs of the screens.” And even more troubling for this Apple rumor: “So far, Sharp is the only company manufacturing displays using IGZO.” Think about that for a second. Do you think Apple would put all it’s digital eggs in the basket of a company that is actively trying to shed assets to stay afloat?

Keep in mind, one of the previous rumors was that the Apple “TV” would be OLED. Then it was that the next iPad would have an OLED screen (they haven’t… yet?). Don’t get me wrong, I think IGZO is a fascinating technology, and I hope we see TVs with it soon. But to assume Apple would be a trend setter in this regard is folly.

And that seems to be the thing missed by most of these analysts. On the hardware side, Apple is not an innovator. They take established technologies, perhaps press them forward a bit, and create a compelling product from the result (then market the hell out of it). The Retina display in the iPhone and Macs is higher resolution than you can get from most laptops, but it is still an LCD screen. The original iPod didn’t invent the portable audio player category, nor did Apple create the small hard drive that was its spinning heart. No, they took what was already on the market, had their vendors push the limits of what could be done, then sold it.

So for Apple to enter a new market, with a new technology, would be shockingly out of character for the company. It would also be very risky, and you don’t get to the most profitable tech company by being risky.

And for that matter, the market for high-end TVs is scarce. Could Apple sell a TV at a 20 or 30% premium? Sure. 50%? Maybe. But more than that? I’m sure there will be Apple fanboys lining up for it, but there’s only so far the name will go.

My guess – and this is what I love about Apple rumors, no one remembers you make them – is that if Apple does come out with a TV, it will be an edge-lit LED LCD, likely from a company you’ve heard of. The design will be all swoopy and cool, the interface will be simple and fantastic, and the current Apple TV functionality will be built in.

And maybe, just maybe, there will be some new way to get content. That would be FAR more interesting. The TV itself will be routed in the same LCD manufacturing world the rest of the TV industry is in. The content however, could easily be a game changer. That is something we have seen seen before from Apple (as in, iTunes).

So that’s my prediction, Apple Television Performance: Average-to-decent. Apple Television as a television: potentially very interesting indeed.


Geoff Morrison @TechWriterGeoff
Geoff’s book is now in paperback


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