The One Reason Apple Hasn’t Solved TV’s Cables and Remotes Problem
How many remote controls do you have for your TV? Do you care to describe the tangle of cables and wires connecting your various components?
If you’re like almost everyone I know, the answers are “at least three, probably five” and “No!”
Have you had a housesitter recently? How long did it take for you to explain which remotes to use, in what order, to watch TV or switch to a DVD or Netflix? Change the channel? Adjust the volume? Did they take notes?
If you’re like everyone I know, the answers are “at least five minutes” and “Hell yes they took notes.”
Nobody these days can walk into a friend’s house and watch TV without detailed instructions. If you’re like everyone I know, even you need to pull out various manuals and flail around at least once every year or two.
I’ve wondered for years: why hasn’t Apple solved this? Imagine a TV that includes everything including a quality sound amp, with one remote and an elegant user interface. The only things plugged in are cable (maybe), ethernet (maybe), and surround speakers (maybe).
Doesn’t that seem like the kind of thing Apple could do brilliantly?
They could be selling tens (hundreds?) of millions of 30-, 40-, 50-, 70-inch TVs at very high tickets. Yeah, the margins on TVs suck, but that was true of cell phones too, wasn’t it? Ditto desktop and laptop computers.
Apple knows how to add value to otherwise-commodity items, and charge serious money for it. People pay the premium, and Apple gets its unheard-of margins, because their elegant integration is worth it.
So why haven’t they done that for TVs?
My answer, in two (or three) words: set-top boxes. That box is the only thing maintaining cable companies’ ever-more-tenuous control over viewers’ content choices — in particular, controlling access to quality feeds of live sports.
The big breakthrough of ITunes wasn’t (just) the user interface. It was the deals that Steve Jobs cut with content providers, making any content from any of the providers simply and intuitively and instantly accessible.
It’s hard to imagine that the cable companies will cede that kind of control to Apple, at least until straits get as dire as they did for the music industry. Unless Tim Cook is a much more brilliant negotiator than I think he is (or than Steve Jobs was), we’re stuck with set-top boxes for the duration. So we’re stuck in component world, with multiple remotes and cables and multiple interacting user interfaces.
If Apple can’t integrate the set-top box and its UI, and the control over content that goes with it, into the TV, they can’t provide a seamless user interface. No seamless interface, no big margins. And the Apple business model is, in two brief words, “high margins.”
So if you’re reading some article among the endless stream of articles over the years about Apple selling TVs, ask yourself one question: what’s with the set-top box? Has Apple managed to cut a deal with the cable companies?
Cross-posted at Asymptosis.
So who is still using cable or satellite?
There exist universal remote controls such as this one: http://www.logitech.com/en-us/universal-remotes.
Also at least with dish network if you set it up correctly you can control everything with the dish remote, (it has buttons on top to tell it whom to talk to satellite, TV, dvd and aux
I’ve used Harmony remotes for years. It combines the TV, satellite DVR, DVD, Xbox, and Apple TV remotes all into one. I do have to manually switch audio feed between the Xbox and the Apple TV, and the manually switch the video feed when the auto switch does not work. (only one HDMI input on the TV).
You can get pretty close to that if you ditch cable. Then it’s just: TV + AppleTV. Stream your television.
@carolannie1949: Somewhere north of 50 million households.
This is really the FCCs fault. They had a standard with CableCard which allowed third party manufacturers to tune cable TV content with third party hardware. The big knock on that was that it was one-way communication, meaning you can tune incoming TV but it wouldn’t do things like on-demand (a huge growth market for cable).
They eventually passed the rules for Tru2Way which would allow bidirectional data exchanges on non cableco supplied hardware with a standard CableCard, but the cable companies succeeded in persuading the FCC to allow them to enforce a rule with this standard in which cableco’s own screens and software was required to be supported for the on-demand type applications, effectively neutering the functionality. And they somehow also got away with the FCC never enforcing that it was mandatory to support the protocol.
The FCC finally realized their mistake in 2012 and solicited feedback for rules for AllVid (the new replacement), but it appears to be floundering and also suffering from the same problems.
If Apple is to solve the problem, they simple need the FCC to stop being a captured regulator and enforce the rules as they were intended and not constantly bend to the cable industry. A single protocol that can be supported by anyone, and access all cable content piped through the wires (excluding internet streaming) would provide the opportunity for any company to come in both at high end (apple-like) experiences described above, or simple bare bones cheaper boxes to reduce fees cable subscribers pay while delivering the same services.
You do NOT need a cable box. Tivos use CableCard (as mentioned), and CAN do On Demand (currently on Comcast).
There is a Tivo that works with DirecTV too.
THANK YOU. So nice to hear the details from someone who actually knows them.
I was thinking Apple could provide a plug-in hardware format (USB stick?) with a standard API, so you could get the dongle from your cable co, and Apple could wrap their interface in a window or something. Still kind of kludgey, and still requires to Apple to get all the cablecos on board…
So okay that’s an only somewhat-patched-together solution, cuts the number or boxes and remote controls.
Separate DVD, though.
How about controlling your surround amp? And your TV, of course.
But it does mean Apple could make a similar arrangement with cable providers…
I have one controller for all things; but, I still have multiple cables on the back side.
And you got this out of the box, right, all from one vendor? Plugged it in and turned it on, no wiring or configuration required?
I believe I said cables in the back hooking us up to Cable Company and the Cable Company box, plus DVD, Panasonic LED TV, Yamaha Surround-Sound which can make the water vibrate like in Jurassic Park, and tuner for radio. The Logitech Harmony 700 handheld controller can be configured for all the different devices by pointing and holding certain buttons or inputting codes. They are not to the point of point and shoot so there is some reading, knowledge, and work involved.
And anyone could just use it with no instruction required?
Right. Why I think there’s a gaping hole for Apple to fill.
🙂 Hey, it beats explaining what to use and how to use it!
At some point, all components will be wireless. They are getting closer.
They already are or could be. The controller is wireless. There is no reason for the tuner, dvd, cable box, etc. to have cables. They just need to standardize the methodology and do it. They shouldn’t even have cables bringing everything into the house.
All these comments point to this-and-that partial solutions. None do what Apple could do — what Windows could never do (but the Mac did) because of the mutli-vendor, multi-component reality.
There’s a reason Jobs hated the Mac-clone idea, and killed it as soon as he came back to Apple. Control of the user experience. It’s the same reason CableCos would be very uncomfortable ceding any control to Apple. Control the user experience (well enough), and you control the market.