Steve Jobs might have 'finally cracked' the simplest TV UI, but here's a problem he didn't solve

When it comes to TVs, UI isn't everything.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

The blogosphere is in an utter frenzy over the possibility that Apple has a TV in the pipeline.

My ZDNet blogging colleague Ed Bott says that 'high-definition TV is the inevitable next step in the natural evolution of the Apple ecosystem.' Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster (who has been going on and on about Apple making TVs for years now) says Apple is already building prototype TV sets and will be going all the way up to 50-inch TVs. Bloomberg is convinced that Jeff Robbin, who helped create the iPod and the iTunes media store, is working on TVs.

All this hyperventilation has been triggered by a claim made by Walter Isaccson in Steve Jobs' biography:

"'I'd like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use,' he told me. 'It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud.' No longer would users have to fiddle with complex remotes for DVD players and cable channels. 'It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.'"

Let's ignore a few things shall we. Let's ignore that the TV market is highly competitive and hugely cut-throat. Let's ignore the fact that TVs are low-margin commodities. Let's ignore that fact that Apple is highly secretive and it's highly unlikely that Jobs would have given any hint as to what Apple was working on. Let's ignore that fact that people don't get excited about TVs any more. Let's ignore that fact that big names like Google have tried, and essentially failed, to make any headway in the living room. Let's also ignore that fact that Apple already has a product with a simple interface that connects to any TV with an HDMI port. Let's ignore all that and focus on just one issue ... screen size.

Specifically, what screen size (or sizes) would Apple go for? See, Apple is all about simplification of the inventory channel ... there's three screen sizes for the MacBook Pro (13-inch, 15-inch and 17-inch), two screen sizes for the MacBook Air (11-inch and 13-inch), two screen sizes for the iMac (21.5-inch and 27-inch), one screen size for the iPad, one for the iPhone. It's simple. And that's the problem. When it comes to buying TVs, people have two metrics - How much is it, and will it fit in the space I have for it? This is why TV makers make TVs is a huge range of sizes. For example, if I confine my search to Toshiba LCD TVs, the company makes twenty different sets ranging from 22-inch to 55-inch. Samsung makes twenty-one different LED TVs ranging from 22-inch to 65-inch.

Conclusion ... people are fickle when it comes to their TVs. Now, I've no doubt that Apple could simplify things hugely, but even then you're looking at what, six or so screen sizes for each screen technology minimum. If Apple was willing to operate like that, we'd have a range of iMacs with different screen sizes. The fact that we don't have that speaks volumes.

See, I don't doubt that Apple isn't tinkering with TVs internally. It makes sense for the company to be doing that and filing patents along the way. It is more than possible that Steve Jobs came up with the perfect UI for a TV, but I find it hard to believe that he figured out a way to make people less fickle and size. Given everything I've outlined above, I find it hard to believe that Apple will come out with a TV in the next three years.

What do you think?

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