Forget Apple TV, Microsoft and Game Consoles are the Future of Television
Apple TV is coming. Just like Apple reformed the stagnant music business, so will Apple save us from the corrupt cable companies.
Apple’s stock is sinking, says this point of view, because Apple thrives on redefining entire industries and it hasn’t done that in a little while. But just wait, because Apple TV is coming.
We’ve been hearing that for years, and it’s getting old. In the meantime, longtime rival Microsoft has actually been building the future of TV. Its Xbox 360 may have begun its life as a gaming console, but now it’s truly come of age as a multimedia set-top box, and it’s continuing to push forward the idea of a new way to watch TV. It hasn’t come with the explosive fanfare of an Apple press event. But it’s revolutionary just the same.
“In the last few years, we have been achieving really good progress in terms of how to we make the box appealing to more people in the house, be used by more people for more hours and for more types of entertainment. We want to transform TV,” says Jose Pinero, senior director for Xbox Live.
“We have all these companies trying to figure out what is the future of entertainment. We want to win the entertainment platform war.”
In March of 2012, Xbox users passed the threshold for using their machines for video more than games. The future of television may not be so distant.
In June, Forbes’ David Ewalt wrote a cover story on how Microsoft was poised to win the war for the living room . He wrote:
“So the Xbox has become Ballmer’s weapon of choice, one that his company has aggressively moved to position as something more than a toy used to play a little Call of Duty or Madden NFL. Over the last ten years, while its rivals have dithered and misfired, Microsoft has been feeding its living-room secret weapon a nonstop diet of software updates and hardware upgrades.”
Content continues to be one of most commentators major concerns with any Apple entry into TV. This isn’t the music industry, where failing labels were looking for a lifeline anywhere they could find it. Cable companies are strong, and they aren’t interested in handing over their revenue to Apple. And Apple’s need to be the alpha dog in any deal makes the prospect of friendliness even less likely.
Microsoft, on the other hand, breathes partnerships. It formed an empire by bundling its software on other people’s machines. And while that empire has waned considerably, that desire and ability to play well with others is baked into the company’s DNA. Xbox already has 90 TV and entertainment apps worldwide, and Pinero says that number is still growing considerably.
On top of that, the Xbox brings with it a level of interactivity that’s only natural for a machine with gaming at its center. Interactive TV is a moving target – nobody really wants to decide what jokes Michael Bluth will tell in Arrested Development. Small applications like polls built into the Xbox’s presidential debate streaming are closer to the mark. Simple applications go a long way – things like voice and gesture controls or extra info on a second screen with phone and tablet-enabled “smart glass.”
Microsoft isn’t alone here. Nintendo’s Wii U has made TV a central piece of its launch window with TVii – despite some notable hiccups, the software is coming along, and it’s already coming into its own. Watching sports with stats displayed on a small screen in your lap is just one glimpse of what TV is capable of. Outside of game consoles, devices like the Roku have made their way into homes across America primarily as Netflix machines, but they’re going to be part of the evolving landscape just the same. Already extant-Internet-enabled TVs streamline the process even further.
And that’s discounting the world of just plugging your computer into your TV – something that Steam Boxes and Shields alike will encourage.
Every year that Apple delays entry into the TV market, its competitors grow stronger and the bar for “revolutionizing” the industry gets higher. Aside from offering a la carte channels, which I doubt cable companies are quite ready to do, it’s hard to imagine how Apple could reshape TV the way it did music. Meanwhile, it’s already happening elsewhere.
“The beauty is that the technology and the platform is there today and we have it today. That’s not a far-fetched idea,” says Piñero. “We already have the idea, and we already have some things in place. That’s a great opportunity that’s going to be a great area of growth.”