Saying 'Apple Won't' is Always Dangerous
For years, there's been a persistent, as-yet-unrealized rumor that Apple will start making HDTVs. Received wisdom, however, has generally argued that it's not going to happen. TVs are too commoditized; TVs would have to come in too many sizes; TVs are too off message for Apple. Marco Arment, the smart guy who invented Instapaper, just made the case against an Apple HDTV.
Then again, another smart guy, Chris Dixon, warns against assuming that Apple isn't going to make HDTVs just because the current market doesn't look Apple-esque at all. He also tweeted an intriguing thought, which I learned about from MG Siegler, who also thinks that an Apple HDTV isn't unthinkable:
Herewith, a few blog posts from years past that confidently explained why Apple surely wouldn't release a phone, an iPod that worked like an iPhone, and a tablet. They're all examples of what I've come to think of as the "Apple will never" fallacy.
"Why Apple Won't Make a Cell Phone"
By: Jon Stokes, Ars Technica, April 12, 2003
The gist: Stokes says that he was convinced by an analyst quoted in a Ziff Davis story about why "Apple won't go near the cell phone business anytime soon." Sadly, he also says that "I won't try to summarize his arguments, here, but they're worth reading" -- but he links to an article that's turned into a dead link. I can't track down the story to see what rationale the analyst offered, but it was apparently compelling in its logic.
[UPDATE: With the help of an Archive.org link from commenter Mart, I found the story that Jon Stokes linked to. Turns out it's by my friend Ross Rubin, who cites the following reasons an Apple phone isn't in the offing: Apple won't want to squabble with carriers for customer ownership; a phone wouldn't have a clear connection to the Mac; competition is fierce; and Apple doesn't have the necessary technology. All plausible arguments against an Apple phone, and it did take Apple years to overcome them...]
The reality: Apple entered the phone market less than four years later.
Mitigating factor(s): The analyst apparently said that Apple won't make a phone "anytime soon" -- and in April of 2003, the iPhone was still years away. [UPDATE: Actually, Ross thought there wouldn't be an iPhone "at least as long as Steve Jobs stays as close to Apple's head as a black mock turtleneck."]
"Why an Apple Phone Would Suck, Leading Me to Believe it will Never Happen"
By: Alan Storm, AlanStorm.com, August 4, 2006
The gist: Cost-reduction had reduced recent Mac hardware to a level of unreliability that would be unacceptable in a phone. An Apple phone would have to run on an existing network, "dooming the iPhone to a shitty experience." Syncing wouldn't work well. And the phone market was too commoditized for a high-priced Apple phone to succeed.
The reality: A little over five months later, Apple announced the iPhone. It certainly isn't free of hardware glitches, but they don't seem to have hurt it in the market. Nor has its reliance on existing, far-from-perfect (coughAT&T) network infrastructure. MobileMe appears to have solved the syncing issue acceptably, and the iPhone had a major impact even at $599 before Apple brought the starting price down to $199.
Mitigating factor(s): Storm ends by saying that he thinks an Apple phone is "unlikely," rather than declaring that it simply isn't going to happen.
"Why you won't be buying an iPhone-like iPod anytime soon"
By: David Chartier, TUAW, May 28th, 2007
The gist: Apple would want to recoup its investment in the iPhone -- which, when Chartier wrote his item, hadn't yet shipped-by milking it for profits, leading the company to postpone an iPhone-like iPod "for at least a year or two, or possibly longer (and even then we might be subject to the fated Newton Syndrome, where Jobs banishes the design to the Cupertino Dungeon, never to be heard from again)."
The reality: Apple announced the iPod Touch -- an iPhone-like iPod -- on September 5, 2007, a little over three months after Chartier's story.
Mitigating factor(s): At the end, Charier sneaks a "likely" into his summary: "If you want to get fingers-on with your iTunes media, the iPhone will likely be your only shot in the near -- or possibly far -- future."
"Keep dreaming and hoping, we won't see an Apple tablet anytime soon"
By: Matthew Miller, ZDNet, February 3rd, 2009
The gist: An Apple tablet "would be a very cool device and would sell a few thousand," but it would likely be cost at least $700 -- too pricey in a world of $300 netbooks. Besides, tablets have only done well in niche markets such as healthcare, and people won't want to give up physical keyboards.
The reality: Apple announced the iPad a little under thirteen months after Miller's post. It started at $499. After nine months on the market, it had sold 14.8 million units, which presumably counts as more than a few thousand.
Mitigating factor(s): Um, Miller does say at one point that he "highly doubt(s)" an Apple tablet is on its way. And does thirteen months later count as enough time passing that the headline's flat declaration "we won't see an Apple tablet anytime soon" was accurate?
"My theory on the Apple Tablet: It doesn't exist, will never exist, and it is probably a 10-inch laptop"
By: Stefan Constantinescu, IntoMobile, August 3, 2009
The gist: Constantinescu ambitiously recaps seven years of Apple-tablet reviews -- far-fetched stuff like "the device will have a screen 7 to 10 inches large, cost between $500 and $700, and that the CPU running inside the iTablet would be custom built by P.A. Semi which Apple purchased a while back" -- and largely dismisses them as traffic-whoring "bullshit." An Apple tablet, he says, would be too heavy and, because its screen would be unprotected, too likely to sustain damage in a bag. But he does think that Apple will release a laptop with a 10-inch -- or maybe 11.6-inch -- display.
The reality: Less than five months later, Apple finally confirmed years of rumors by announcing the iPad (along with a case to protect its screen, although it used Gorilla Glass to make the display amazingly sturdy).
Mitigating factor(s): Constantinescu refers to his stance as a "theory" in the headline, but ends his piece in a defiantly definitive manner: "There is no Apple Tablet, there never will be an Apple Tablet, and just in case you were wondering: I am a PC." Then again, he was right about the 11.6-inch Apple laptop, which turned out to be the new MacBook Air that Apple announced in October of 2010.
It's worth noting that while all of these stories turned out to be wrong, that doesn't mean that the folks who wrote them were clueless. Some of their rationales, in fact, were darn logical -- they just happened to be wrong. Very few people outside of Apple have a knack for channeling Steve Jobs' thought process. And even if you understand Apple better than most people, it will surprise you at least some of the time. Declaring that it will never do something is always dangerous.
Which is why I'm taking the only safe possible stance on the question of whether Apple is going to sell an HDTV: it is. Or it isn't. I just don't know, and neither do you. But it is fascinating to see more Applewatchers warm up to the idea that it's a possibility. That's the same evolution that has happened in the past with other potential Apple products that seemed unlikely at first. Such as a phone, a phone-like iPod, and a tablet...