While Apple is famous for the secrecy in which it develops new products, their manufacture involves hundreds of Asian parts suppliers, who can be a valuable -- if not always reliable -- source of information. These suppliers are currently gearing up for the launch of Apple's 32- and 37-inch television sets in time for the 2012 holiday sales season, according to reports in Taiwan's Digitimes.
In Apple suppliers to start preparing materials for iTV in 1Q12, say sources, Digitimes cites "media reports in Korea" for the information that Samsung Electronics has started producing chips for the iTVs and that Sharp will manufacture the LCD screens. (Not surprising, since Apple invested the thick end of $1.2bn to help Sharp expand its manufacturing capacity.)
Today, in More rumors about Apple TV, Digitimes adds that "Apple is expected to finalize hardware standards of its TV at the end of second-quarter 2012, and will place orders for the customized chips and other components directly with its contract manufacturers - same as what the CE vendor does with iPads and iPhones, the sources said."
This is extremely thin stuff, but the Wall Street Journal has been reporting Apple's negotiations with media companies to provide content. In Apple Plots Its TV Assault, the Wall Street Journal said Apple's TV would use "wireless streaming technology to access shows, movies and other content, according to people briefed on the project," and would "recognize users across phones, tablets and TVs".
Further, it may have features like the ones you get with Kinect and Microsoft's Xbox 360, which is offering an increasing amount of TV and other media content including HuluPlus, Netflix, YouTube, Epix, ESPN and Vudu. The WSJ says:
"In at least one meeting, Apple described future television technology that would respond to users' voices and movements, one of the people said. Such technology, which Apple indicated may take longer than some of its other ideas, might allow users to use their voices to search for a show or change channels."
It seems most likely that Apple TV will follow the same route as Google TV in being available in two formats: integrated into TV sets, and as a separate set-top box. Apple already has a separate box in the form of the Apple TV, launched in 2006. However, Apple TV has sold poorly, while Google TV has flopped.
It's not clear how much impact Apple can make in the TV market, which is now in decline in the US. As the late Steve Jobs pointed out, TV sets sell at lower margins than Apple makes from its other devices, and consumers don't buy new sets very often. The usual Apple approach of getting users to buy a thinner model every year or two is unlikely to work with a $1,000 TV set…
We don't know Apple's TV prices, of course, but the iPad 2, at $499, already costs more than the average TV set, and that only has a 10-inch screen. It seems inevitable that Apple will charge a higher-than-average price for what will be (if the 32- and 37-inch numbers are correct) smaller-than-average TV sets.
Still, Apple has been working on TV for a very long time -- the so-called MacTV lasted from 1993-95 -- and it was a topic Jobs discussed with his biographer Walter Isaacson. As quoted by The Washington Post (Jobs's final plan: an 'integrated' Apple TV), Isaacson said:
"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."
This could be taken to imply the use of Siri voice control, which Apple bought in April 2010 and used in the iPhone 4S.
Either way, what might be considered Steve Jobs's final product is certain to attract a lot of interest.