Building notes, projects, and occasional rants

Smart TVs

Since the Isaacson's Steve Jobs biography was released, a lot of articles were written about this one single passage on the topic of TVs: "I finally cracked it."

From that, an explosive number of articles sprang up about Apple doing a integrated TV set, a smart(er) TV. The term disruption has been in almost all of those articles. I'm sure everybody would love to see what Steve Jobs and his team would come up on that space. I have to wonder though, if this was not the last grand-master chess player move against his competitors.

Wouldn't it be very Jobsian to send all of Apple competitors in one last great wild goose chase?

To explain my rationale (and tackle that overused "disruption" term), let me start with a question: please point me to a recent (lets say since 2000) disruption that took hold of a market (and not just a figure of imagination of pageview-whoring tech pundit), that was not accompanied by, or based on, an explosive growth of that market? I'll wait.

You see, I could not remember of any. I'm sure there are some, and I'm hoping that someone will point them out to me, but I though about this for a day and I could not remember a single one.

The last two great disruptions, smart phones and tablets, are still seeing close to 100% growth rates. Maybe Square is sitting on one, with their gorgeous simple payment interface, but they are US-only for now, and they still use VISA and MasterCard, so I don't think they even qualify as disruptive, given that they are not defying the incumbent.

But back to the disruption thing. I don't think it is possible to be disruptive on the TV space.

First, you don't have explosive growth on TV set sales. And without explosive growth, the incumbent has time to adjust to the changes introduced by the contender.

Second, the TV space is filled with big players, with huge financial interests at stake. They form a interlinked web, that is much stronger than any of them standing alone. Apple may have (had?) an influence on Disney, but those are just one single player.

Another example: look back to this 18-week periond in the spring in the USA, with the NFL labour dispute. The entire sport is supported with over one billion dollars TV revenues. I don't know about you but I would be weary of telling 32 times 50 players, each one showing about 2 square meters of hardened muscle, that their business got disrupted (apologies to all NFL players that might be reading this and take it the wrong way, I'm a big fan, and watch your games regularly; I'm sure most of you are cuddly, and friendly to kids and animals).

Third, the fact that the current TV sets are passive. It allows TV programmers to play with the ratings and follow a hit TV show with a less popular one in the hope that the audience is too lazy to change channels (Nielsen tells us, yes, they are...). And this helps them push more ads. The entire business and operation is hoping that the user turns the box on and leaves the remote alone, dozing over average (at best) quality content while you wait for your hit show.

So no, I think disruptive is asking too much. I believe subversive is the best the internet technocracy can expect in the near future.

They will slowly take over functions that current contenders in the same space are doing. For example, the AppleTV with AirPlay, could take over casual gaming from the Wii. Both Google's and Apple's offers, specially teaming up with Netflix, will slowly kill the DVD/BluRay player and the cable operator pay-per-view services, not because they are better at providing movies and TV shows on the TV set (at best they slightly better, and only because the cable operators have been slow to or bad at reacting to the threat; technically the operators are better placed to provide that service), but because they can integrate better and faster with other methods of consumption, from tablets to smart phones to the Web.

And that is what the current TV add-ons boxes (like Google's and Apple's current offerings) are already doing, starting with the basics, moving into games, and soon small apps controlled via smart phones or tablets (and solving the user interface problem in the process).

Given all this, we can allow a different interpretation on Steve Jobs quote: maybe he hasn't cracked the problem, maybe he just finally understood the size of it, and that it would take a long time and effort to slowly chip away at the wall.

And maybe, just maybe, with that final hurrah, he could just send his competitors into a all out race against that same big strong wall.