Speculation regarding the mythical Apple TV set has quieted down in recent weeks. Apple has long been rumored to be working on a full-blown television, but the product has yet to materialize.

According to a new report, that may be because Apple’s TV plans have changed direction. The Wall Street Journal is claiming it has learned that the company is now working on a cable box…

The WSJ reports:

“Apple Inc. is in talks with some of the biggest U.S. cable operators about letting consumers use an Apple device as a set-top box for live television and other content, according to people familiar with the matter.

The talks represent Apple’s most ambitious crack at infiltrating the living room after years of trying. Apple doesn’t appear to have reached a deal with any cable operators. One obstacle may be the reluctance of operators to let Apple establish a foothold in the television business.”

The set top box idea is actually rather interesting. As the article points out, the strategy would be very similar to the one Apple used to enter the cell phone market: convince existing service providers to marry their services with Apple’s hardware. And that worked out pretty well.

At this time, it’s not known whether the set top box is an iteration of the current Apple TV, or a new piece of hardware. But according to the author’s sources, Apple has been working on it for a long time:

“Apple contemplated building a cable set-top box more than two years ago before it launched the latest version of its Apple TV, according to a person familiar with the matter. At the time, Apple’s then CEO Steve Jobs was dismissive of the idea, believing working with cable operators was problematic because they didn’t have national reach…”

We’ve seen plenty of evidence of these efforts over the past few years. Just recently we saw a patent application that covered functions like cable TV input and DVR (Digital Video Recording). And don’t forget about this circa-1996 Pippen prototype that had a coax (cable) input and ethernet port.

The key here will be gaining cable provider support — which we all know is much easier said than done. We’ve already heard from a few studio heads that say they’ve turned down Apple’s streaming TV partnership queries due to their inability to agree on terms. So in other words, money.

But Apple’s executive team is known for its ability to negotiate, and I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one with my fingers crossed that this happens (the UX on my Comcast box is terrible). And who knows, maybe these efforts will eventually lead to some sort of Apple TV set. Baby steps.

What are your thoughts on an Apple-branded cable box? Would you buy one?

  • I would love to have Apple make cable set-top boxes. Since comcast switched to these new HD digital set-top boxes, I at least have to unplug the damn thing a couple of times a month and it also wigs out in the middle of a show saying, “You are not authorized for this channel, call blah blah” Meanwhile, it’s Discovery channel or even regular like NBC or FOX. It would be nice to have a company that is known for quality products come and rescue cable customers from our nightmarish experience.

  • considering cable is in the decline, id be surprised actually

  • This actually makes a lot more sense really. They’ll be able to price a STB a little more reasonably with integration into cable providers (possibly satellite, too?) and sell a lot more products to the average consumer vs. a probably fairly expensive entire TV set where most folks aren’t going to invest the money to change up all their entertainment equipment, etc. With a STB they can simply buy it, plug it up with their existing service plus Apple goodies (apps, etc.) and bam, they have an awesome new experience with a new product that works with their service already.

  • One obstacle may be the reluctance of operators to let Apple establish a foothold in the television business.” are you joking? They can buy a network they don’t need any help or permissions to do anything in any business who wrote this article a fifth grader?

  • It would be a great idea because the all the cable boxes I get with comcast and Verizon are horrible.