Tim Cook's convergence remarks and the Apple HDTV
There it is. With those two sentences, Tim Cook explained why the iPad couldn't have been just a MacBook nano. And he pretty much ended any speculation that iOS and OS X will merge into a single "unified OS" for all Apple computing devices. What a relief.
"Anything can be forced to converge, but products are about tradeoffs.
You can converge a toaster and refrigerator, but those things are probably not going to be pleasing to the user."
- Tim Cook, 4/24/2012, on FYQ2 earnings call
If a desktop OS really were perfectly OK on a tablet, Microsoft's slate concept would have taken over the world. Didn't happen. And if laptop and pad hardware could have been converged successfully, Axiotron would be a world power. You remember them, right? The guys who made the Modbook. The touch-screen MacBook with no keyboard. No, really: Axiotron Modbook - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
But this is the iTV forum, so let's get back on track here. Tim may very well have been hinting at Apple's approach to their HDTV project with his anti-convergence statement. Pretty clear that you can't converge big-screen TV hardware with either an iPad or a Mac. But what about the software? The OS, games, apps, App Store, and infrastructure?
The technology question
Can anything from iOS or OS X be brought to the Apple TV as it is now or the potential future Apple HDTV? Probably not a whole lot of either OS' user interface. OS X's desktop, finder, and dock have no place on a TV screen. And iOS' Springboard is also persona non grata. We've seen a preview of the Apple television interface: the current Apple TV home screen. Looks superficially like iOS' home page. Simple is better. Fine.
But what about apps? How many of the 600k+ apps on the App Store would actually work on a big-screen TV? Again, probably precious few. There are huge usability issues. It's just a small matter of programming to port Angry Birds to 1920 x 1080. Easy. But then how would you control it? Not with the Apple Remote. Not by standing next to your TV and tapping the screen. Not with Siri.
Sure, it might be possible that Apple is developing a gesture recognition system like Kinect. The Apple HDTV might have a FaceTime camera that doubles as a gesture- and user-recognizer. You could pinch the air with two fingers to grab a bird, draw back the slingshot by moving your hand down and to the left, and release the bird by un-pinching your fingers. So maybe gestures are the way to control games on the Apple HDTV. (By the way, tiny gestures like finger pinches are something that Kinect can't detect because it projects dots of infrared light throughout a room to detect motion, which doesn't give it good enough resolution to read small finger gestures.)
But then how would Rovio code Angry Birds to handle real touches from an iPhone / iPod touch / iPad as well as virtual "gesture" touches as seen by the iSight camera? Would there be separate builds for mobile / TV versions of the game? If so, Tim may have been hinting at this lack of a unified, or "converged" if you will, programming environment for mobile and TV apps. And if the apps aren't unified, the App Store won't be unified either. There would be a totally separate Apple HDTV App Store, with TV-only games, pre-recorded content to rent or purchase, and live subscription (CNN) or pay-per-view (McCartney concert, Olympics etc.) content. No App Store convergence.
The experience question
At an even deeper level, can the "lean forward" computing experience be converged with the "lean back" TV experience? There is huge friction between browsing / communicating / social networking apps and the living room TV experience. In most households, the living room TV is a shared resource. The family gets together to watch "Wall-E" or "Toy Story 3." Dad won't be allowed to switch to Safari to check DeWalt 14.4V drill prices on Amazon.com. Mom won't be allowed to check tomorrow's engineering team meeting schedule in iCal. Little Billy won't be allowed to tweet what he had for dessert. The individual computing experience won't be allowed to intrude on the communal TV experience. No living room convergence. (And besides, Apple wants to sell iDevices to each member of the household for all that "lean forward" stuff.)
That means that even if they could be ported to Apple TV and the Apple HDTV, and even if it were easy to control them, it still wouldn't make sense from an experience standpoint to port most apps to the Apple HDTV App Store. After the first day or two, the novelty of tweeting from your TV would wear off, only to be replaced by the realization that #tweetingfromappletvsucks.
Sure, there will be games. And yes, there will be app-ified pre-recorded TV streaming channels, app-ified movie streaming services, and app-ified live news and live event streams. Apple has already app-ified the web experience. Maybe the TV experience is next.
For decades, computer and TV executives and media types have wondered "How can we converge the TV and computing experiences?" Solutions were launched at the problem: Macintosh TV*, Web TV, Google TV. And they all bounced off without making a dent. Now everyone is expecting Apple to reveal their answer to the age-old problem.
The (possible) answer
Maybe Tim is starting to prepare us for Apple's answer. Gradually, carefully, because maybe some of us won't like that answer. Maybe the computing and TV experience won't ever fully converge, and Apple knows it, and they're waiting for the right time to explain why.
Tim could be conditioning us all, especially the media, by repeating his anti-convergence statement in the context of iPad vs. Mac. Planting that sound bite in our memory banks for when he's finally able to say "No, there won't be any apps on the Apple HDTV other than content consumption apps and game apps, and here's why..." And he'll break into the same anti-convergence statement, but in the context of iPad vs. TV.
Of course, we could have a much better picture of Apple's television plans in a few days. Apple just might be secretly preparing a slew of Apple TV app development sessions for WWDC, plus a big presentation with a demo. There are a lot of TBA's in the WWDC schedule...
* - Macintosh TV was Apple's first attempt at computing / TV convergence, and it was quite a monstrosity: Macintosh TV - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia