Apple Event: Why iTV isn't a Game-Changer
So now that we have a date for the next Apple event (next Wednesday, September 1) let's sum up what's going on over at Steve Jobs' house.
The invites imply music (they feature a picture of a guitar), and that fits with the pattern of years past. September is iPod month. Aside from a new iPod Touch with Retina Display and front-facing camera (kind of a no-brainer, really) I haven't heard a lot about iPods in this run up to the next event. It's safe to assume there'll be a refresh, but no one seems to be expecting any radical changes. (And just to be clear, a front-facing camera is just a prediction; I don't have any inside sources.)
Now iTunes is another story. It's been nine months since Apple bought streaming music service Lala.com and so far we haven't really seen anything come of that. The time seems right for Apple to roll out a version of iTunes that supports some kind of 'cloud streaming' service. Is that vague enough for you? Whether this means we'll upload our own content to Apple's servers for streaming anywhere (they've already taken some steps in this direction with iDisk), or a subscription based streaming service isn't clear. Pundits seem very confident that Apple is doing something with iTunes and streaming, but the details are still very hazy.
Of more interest to me is another announcement that we might hear next week: iTV. That's Apple's reboot of Apple TV, using iOS as an operating system. Digg's Kevin Rose wrote a post on his blog claiming that he's heard iTV will have a September launch. That fits, given Google's launch of Google TV in the same time frame. It just makes sense that Apple would want to be there to steal some of Google's thunder. Rose claims a $99 price point (a number we've heard before) and support for iTV apps (which in some cases would presumably be the same apps you have on your iPhone/iPad; time for some Angry Birds on the living room TV).
Bolstering this rumor is all the talk lately of Apple making deals to offer 99 cent TV episode rentals. Bloomberg reports that Apple is in talks with Fox, NBC, CBS and Disney (ABC). The Fox and Disney deals are closest to fruition and could be announced at the event next week. Episodes would be available within 24 hours of the original air date, will be commercial free, and will play for 48 hours after the time of rental.
People seem pretty excited about this, seeing it as the first step in throwing off the shackles of cable TV. I'm not as sure. In my experience there are two kinds of television watcher: those who pay and those who don't. The ones who pay have cable. They might gripe about the cost, but they pay for it. For these people iTV could arguably be a way to catch up on the odd missed episode, but there are already services like Amazon Video-on-Demand and Hulu for doing that.
As to the people who don't pay for TV, they're going to keep getting their TV the way they do now: via torrents and services like Hulu or SurfTheChannel.com. They've been getting by on these services until now...why should they suddenly start paying? If you watch a show every night, that's $30/month that they aren't spending now, and for no extra benefit to them.
Until iTV (or some other service) can completely replace cable (and what that really means varies from individual to individual), the paying folk aren't going to switch and iTV will remain a 'side service' to the feed coming in from the cable company. I'm not saying it'll never be a big deal, just that the launch is only the first step of a long journey.
All that said, for me it might be worth $99 to play Angry Birds on the big screen. (OK, that's a bad example since Sony announced that Angry Birds was coming to the Playstation Network as a "Mini", but you get the idea.)