Apple TV's Future Comes into Focus

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The good news: Apple today set May 28 as the great international day of the iPad -- the company will introduce the product in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Switzerland and the UK that day.

Meanwhile iPads are selling out across the US with Apple retail stores in 13 US cities already out of stock. "Demand continues to exceed supply," Apple's Natalie Kerris said. Apple has sold over a million iPads so far.

The bad news: Millions of consumers anxious to buy Apple's user-focused product immediately noted that they will have to pay more for the device outside of the US, even if sales tax is taken into account.

"iPad will be available in the UK for a suggested retail price of £429 (inc. VAT) for 16GB, £499 (inc. VAT) for 32GB, £599 (inc. VAT) for 64GB for Wi-Fi models and £529 (inc. VAT) for 16GB, £599 (inc. VAT) for 32GB and £699 (inc. VAT) for 64GB for Wi-Fi + 3G models," Apple's UK press release informs.

Cooking the books

Interesting news: Apple has confirmed it will introduce the iBookstore application in most of the nine new countries on May 28, suggesting deals with some publishers for the provision of e-books via the service have been reached.

US publishers have seen strong sales of e-books via Apple's Amazon-competing bookstore. In some cases, these strong sales tripled on last week's arrival of the 3G iPad in the US. Apple has claimed over 1.5 million book downloads via its store so far.

Publishers Marketplace claims iBookstore sales made up 12-15% of all e-book sales before the 3G models arrived, driving Sony into third place in the e-book sales charts.

OUP's vice president of global business development Evan Schittman told The Bookseller, "A lot of publishers are not only in the middle of negotiations with Google, but also with Apple and Amazon - this is the new world order," he observes that having three major firms involved in the industry is energising discussion.

Big on TV

All this activity is driving content providers in a migration to support the browser-based open standard, HTML5. Multiple broadcasters are tweaking their online services to support this standard, as well as the iPad.

Netflix already offers its content to iPad owners running an app on their device. Online video giant, Hulu, is expected to introduce its own iPad app later this month, bringing the second-most popular video streaming service after YouTube to the Apple device.

Anthony Soohoo, senior vice president and general manager of CBS Interactive today made his promise that will offer all the video it offer online iPad-compatible.

Speaking to Salon, he notes that HTML5 lacks some of the tools big publishers expect from Flash, including those for ads tracking or encryption. That's made up for by the iPad's support for touch technologies, which may open up new opportunities in advertising, Soohoo said.

Giant broadcaster Sky also seems set to invade the iPad garden, with its Sky Deutschland provider in Germany planning to offer its own iPad app when the device launches there at the end of the month.

HTML5: The evolution of broadcasing

This move to a connected future for broadcasting is more than simply an iPad-driven gold rush. A move to embrace HTML5 in available television programming online will also open up wider opportunities for new business models.

In-Stat this week noted shipments of digital televisions with Wi-Fi will grow more than ten-fold, from under 5 million units in 2009, to more than 60 million units in 2014

"Wi-Fi swept through the computing market, driven by the need to access and share broadband connectivity," said Frank Dickson, In-Stat's Vice President of Research in a press release from the analysis firm.

"That same consumer desire is now resulting in Wi-Fi adoption across the entire range of connected consumer electronics," he added. (The same research notes sales of Wi-Fi-equipped Internet tablets such as the iPad will reach nearly 50 million unit shipments by 2014.)

Apple has craftily jumped ahead here, as it already offers consumers a range of solutions equipped with Wi-Fi which can access a user's iTunes content.

As broadcasters re-tool their content for the relatively undemanding (to device power) standards-based HTML5 for video, then more opportunity will emerge for Apple and other players in the digital home and entertainment space.

Enter Apple TV, or more precisely, the Apple TV to come...

Apple COO, Tim Cook, speaking at a Goldman Sachs conference in February 2010 noted that Apple TV sales had increased by 35% compared to the same quarter last year. "Apple TV is still a hobby. We've been very clear about that," he said. "We're continuing to invest in it because our gut tells us there's something there."

Not just Apple's gut, but sound business planning.

Apple TV on steroids

Think what an Apple TV -- an actual Apple television -- could do. Equipped with USB slots to insert an appropriate digital TV tuner, you could sell the same physical product internationally, without requiring support for different video standards (PAL etal.) be built-in.

The system would have Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and ship with a remote control. It would be controllable by an iPhone or iPod touch or iPad. It could support every form of content available on the iTunes Store. Conceivably this might include games.

This isn't just a pipedream. We know Google is already working with Sony and Samsung to offer Android-powered TVs. Apple -- with its long-standing relationships with display makers and its tense relationship with Google -- is unlikely to let this sector go unchallenged.

Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster last year predicted an Apple-branded television set equipped with Apple TV-like features by 2011.

"With its iTunes ecosystem, Apple could develop a unique TV without any set-top-boxes or devices attached," he said.

Sure, there's plenty of speculation in this report but it is undeniable that this new connected opportunity is open to all the players in the digital home space. A space in which Apple holds a strong stack of good cards it could choose to play to make its front room invasion .

Even Nintendo has begun to realise it has one huge fight on its hands, as its senior execs are warned to regard Apple as 'the enemy in waiting'.

This story, "Apple TV's Future Comes into Focus" was originally published by Computerworld.

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