Apple does not care about your living room

Summary:Where is the Apple TV? Spoiler: It's not coming.

beovision11_intro_v2 jpg
Apple don't make televisions, but if they did it might look a little like this Bang & Olufsen BeoVision 11...

We're probably about due for another rumour about a "proper" Apple TV. It does the rounds every six months or so.

And yet it's a product that mysteriously fails to appear. What Apple currently sell as the "Apple TV" is the bare minimum product that they could get away with -- i.e. a simple, cheap device that lets you throw your iTunes stuff up on a TV screen.

I think there's a much deeper reason why Apple isn't bothering with the living room...

Stack

To think about how technology has evolved in the living room, we can start with the "wireless radio set". With its popularisation -- suddenly the living room had a piece of technology in it that people were expected to "give up time" in order to consume.

Over the next 80-odd years, that stack of technology gets more sophisticated, but the principle remains the same. As the technology gets more visual, the stack even becomes more of a focal point, demanding how furniture is configured in the room in order for it to be consumed.

But whether you're thinking radio, RF television, cable television, VCR, PVR, on-demand, whatever, the principle is still the same -- hardware is fixed and hard-wired in, and people are expected to come into the space and give up their time in order to consume content that comes out of it and into them.

Investment in that stack presupposes that people actually are going to continue to come together in that space to consume content. Are we as a society going to stick to that model?

The reason why we came together in that way way back in the day was because at a certain point in the evolution of our civilisation we only had one room in which to be in as a family where everything happened.

As we progressed and developed rooms, we continued to have a problem in that rooms were hard to heat and, perhaps more importantly, expensive and difficult to illuminate. This tended to keep people stuck together in the same room. Social mores also encouraged this clustering with the family expected to be around the patriarch.

Now we know that that "coming together" is starting to not happen. It's not unusual to find families where the children no longer spend the evening watching TV with the parents but squirrel themselves off to their rooms to spend time on social media.

This process looks like one of those classic cyclical processes. Before television, families would congregate and relate to each other, talking, playing games, etc. This is a very "relationship-centric" way of being together as a family unit. Television arrives and we spend the years 1960 through 2010-ish "plugged in" to content coming out of that stack of technology.

But how much of that time is spent "in relationship" with one another? We're certainly in the same physical space, but are we actually connected?

Now, post-PC technologies and social media give us a way of gaining access back out to relationships. The teenager in his bedroom not watching a cat documentary with his parents but having a laugh with his friends on Facebook is undoubtedly being more social, even if he's not being directly social with his parents.

Of course, the reason why television might have had such a consuming effect on families might be because it's not unusual to find families where the individual members are totally bored with each other, or even hate each other. Watching TV with a partner you don't like offers the significant advantage of not having to talk to them. This could be why as people start to gain alternatives to watching television they're using to develop extra-family relationships rather than intra-family ones.

OK, so what has all this got to do with Apple?

Winning

Apple's model with iOS has two strands -- apps, and content.

Apps don't belong on a TV at all, other than those that frame delivery of audio/video content. This is because apps are very intimate, very private affairs. Your Facebook stream is your Facebook stream, no one else's.

Tablets are consumed in the same way that people consume a good book. (In fact, tablets only became popular when we learnt how to make them about the same size, weight, and have the same level of simplicity as a book.) Think reclining on a sofa with either a tablet or a book -- both are equally pleasant.

In a living room on their own, no one is going to want to throw Twitter up on the TV screen X metres away when it's more comfortable right in front of your face.

And if you're not on your own, the medium is too private -- and I mean that from two perspectives. One, it may contain the occasional secret you don't want them whole family knowing about. Two, it might just be unbelievably boring to other family members. Would my kids want to read my Twitter stream? I'd like to think they would, but of course it's a dull as dishwater to them.

So apps on a TV screen make no sense in that context. What about pinning a live stream of Tweets to the side of "<InsertTvRightsTerritoryOfYourChoiceHere> Got Talent"? Same thing -- who's going to want to stop everyone watching TV whilst they reply to some particularly impactful tweet?

Content, as we know, works much better than apps, but Apple already do that with what is actually a great (albeit limited) product. And as Apple knows, simplicity is key. Apple TV is obviously not an iOS device, which means that no one expects it to behave like one. The upshot, no one gets confused.

Conclusion

The irony in all this is that Apple, through popularising post-PC and getting relationship-centric, always available, social networking services in the hands of everyone both through their own products and through their competitors, has probably done more to kill off the idea of the living room than everyone else. 

This is of course great for Apple as Microsoft and Sony and some other chancers splash around trying to keep the living room relevant, despite the fact that no one's watching.

And I think this is a fantastic thing. I personally believe that social historians in hundreds of years time will look back at the period of human existence where we spent 40 hours per week, each watching television  as quite a dark period.

It's much more fun to hang out together.

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Image credit: Bang & Olufsen

Topics: Apple, Emerging Tech

About

Matt Baxter-Reynolds is a mobile software development consultant and technology sociologist based in the UK. His latest book -- "Death of the PC" -- is available on Amazon now.

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