The company that reinvented music players, smartphones and tablets may be getting ready to do the same thing for TVs. Several new reports indicate Apple is preparing to launch a Smart TV, perhaps as early as this year.
In a note to investors released Wednesday, analyst Brian White from Ticonderoga Securities said "data points" picked up the same day at a China electronics trade suggest "a Smart TV launch by Apple could occur" toward the end of 2011.
'Well Beyond' Apple TV
The Smart TV product that White is predicting would not be the same as Apple TV, a low-profile device that allows users to watch streaming content on a TV. The company has steadily added features to Apple TV such as Netflix, YouTube, Flickr and MobileMe.
White wrote that his research indicates the new Smart TV "would go well beyond the miniature $99 second-generation Apple TV that the company released last fall," adding that the new product would "provide a full-blown TV product for consumers." He noted that Apple could become a "powerful force in the TV world," given its "powerful ecosystem, industrial design savvy, powerful brand, and ability to reinvent product categories."
His research firm has predicted in previous reports that Apple would "eventually enter the $100 billion LCD TV market." But White isn't the only analyst who has been suggesting this move by Apple. Oft-quoted Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster has, on more than one occasion, similarly predicted an Internet-connected TV from Apple, although he doesn't expect this product until the end of 2012.
The time might be ripe for a reinvention of TV. Google has been active in developing its Google TV, and web-connected TVs were more than 20 percent of all TVs sold last year.
But not all industry observers are convinced this is Apple's next big move. Michael Gartenberg, research director at the Gartner Group, noted that "an Apple-branded TV is one of the longer-running digital unicorns."
Gartenberg, while admitting that "anything is possible when it comes to Apple," said the company would need to be able to do for TVs what it has done for, say, phones -- that is, "redefine the market."
But he views that as an "unlikely scenario," given the high cost of TVs, the fact that they aren't high-turnover devices -- as smartphones are -- and Apple's interest in high margins and platform control.
Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis for consumer technology at NPD Group, pointed out that "the TV business is a tough one, but so is the handset business."
He agreed the rumors of Apple entering the TV market to "bolster its three-screen strategy" have been around for a while. But, he noted, the company's iOS platform "could be embedded into televisions and used with TVs," similar to the way "Sony is using Android." Among other things, Rubin said, games "are emerging as one of the key apps on smart TV," which also plays to iOS' strength.