Opinion: Why Apple won't make a TV/DVR

Analysts like to make predictions—that’s what they get paid for. And sometimes making wild predictions is more about getting noticed than about getting it right.

Take, for example, Piper Jaffray senior research analyst Gene Munster. For a while now, he’s been talking about how Apple is going to release an Apple-branded TV with digital video recorder (DVR) functionality. And a new piece of information has given him more fuel for his fire.

On Monday, an SEC filing showed that Rovi Corporation—which focuses on digital home entertainment technology and interactive programming guides—announced it “has entered into a multi-year agreement with Apple Inc. whereby Apple shall license intellectual property from the Company. The specific terms of the license agreement are confidential.”

Munster took this announcement as proof that Apple is planning The Next Big Thing in TV. According to Business Insider, Munster wrote:

We believe this announcement is further evidence that Apple is developing live TV and DVR features for its Apple TV product, and will likely launch an all-in-one Apple Television in the next 2-4 years. Following its deal with Rovi, Apple would be clear to add live TV, DVR, and guidance features to its Apple TV product, which we believe is a critical step towards an all-in-one Apple Television.

and

We continue to expect Apple to launch an all-in-one Apple television in CY12. As consumers gain comfort with connected TVs and apps on their TVs, we believe Apple will eventually take its all-in-one philosophy to the digital living room like it has with the iMac and the iTunes ecosystem.

Putting aside the fact that 9to5 Mac points out that Rovi already provides metadata to iTunes, the whole notion seems crazy and un-Apple.

As I mentioned in the Apple TV point/counterpoint article I wrote with Macworld contributor Lex Friedman:

Apple isn’t going to sell a DVR, period. Some part of that is to protect the Apple Store, sure, but there are much larger issues at play. All digital TV delivery (including over-the-air) requires some sort of decoder to play. TiVo supports CableCard, which means you can plug devices provided by your cable company into a TiVo so that it can decode shows and record them. The problem is, that only works with cable (and only because Congress forces those companies to support it)—satellite providers such as DirecTV and Dish Network aren’t required to do so, and they don’t. So that leaves out millions of potential customers. The solution, as products such as Elgato’s EyeTV HD employ, would be to connect to your decoder box (via analog component only, because HDMI uses copy-protection) and then have an IR blaster that would relay commands in order to change the channel on your receiver. Talk about a bag of hurt—does that sound like something Apple would want to get involved in?

In order for an Apple television or Apple TV with DVR in it to be a hit, it would need to work—simply—with every major cable and satellite system, and that’s just not possible now. New technologies such as Downloadable Conditional Access System (DCAS) could make things a little easier, but even that is years away from implementation and requires a lot of puzzle pieces to fall into place that frankly may never match up perfectly.

Also, Apple would have to shift its focus almost entirely from providing content via the iTunes Store to just being another generic way to access traditional content.

And of course an Apple-TV-as-DVR would need something Apple just removed from it—a hard drive—in order to store content. Apple has made it pretty clear that streaming is what it’s interested in these days, and that doesn’t jibe with Munster’s predictions.

The bottom line is, I don’t think Apple wants to go down this road—and I’m not sure I’d want the company to do so anyway. There are too many elements that are out of Apple’s control, and that means anything it could come up with would be severely compromised and of limited appeal.

Hmm, that sounds a lot like the original Apple TV, doesn’t it?

[Jonathan Seff is a Macworld senior editor.]

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