Apps Aren’t the New Channels

Since we first heard that Steve Jobs had ‘cracked’ the code for an integrated Apple TV set, rumors have been going crazy about what Apple has planned.

News came out this week that Jeff Robin, the guy who helped develop the iPod and iTunes, is currently leading Apple’s secret TV projectlet’s just call this Apple TV set the “iTV.” Our imaginations then started running wild at the prospect of a TV that could be controlled using Siri, or maybe even 3D gestures.

While there is no doubt Siri would be part of an iTV, one big question remains: how will the content get there?

Will it be channels, basically broadcasting content, in the same way we get channels via our cable providers today? Will it be apps, that would allow content providers to easily package their content and distribute it in a standardized format? John Gruber seems to think it’s the latter:

“We’re seeing the beginnings of this, with iPhone and iPad apps like [HBO Go], Watch ESPN, and the aforementioned Bloomberg TV+. Letting each TV network do their own app allows them the flexibility that writing software provides. News networks can combined their written and video news into an integrated layout. Networks with contractual obligations to cable operators, like HBO and ESPN, can write code that requires users to log in to verify their status as an eligible subscriber.”

I do agree that apps make a good prospect. They can easily be created, updated, but most importantly, they create a standard that content providers will be able to follow. It would then be much easier for Apple to get content from ESPN via an app, rather than negotiating a deal with ESPN to stream content to the iTV, in the same manner  ESPN today broadcasts content to your cable box. Technically, it would be extremely hard and cumbersome for Apple to get deals with all the TV channels in the US, let alone around the world.

There is one huge caveat to the “apps are the new channels” idea.

Why would Apple bother developing an actual TV set just to run apps. The jailbroken Apple TV as we know it today can already run applications. Heck, even a stock Apple TV kinda runs apps, such as YouTube, Wall Street Journal Live, etc.

So, will I fork over $2,000+ for a TV set that just does what my current Apple TV does, even if it comes in a pretty packaging? Well, yes, I would probably buy it, but I doubt my Mom or yours would. At such a high price, Apple knows they have to provide more than just apps on a TV.

What about Siri? Well, Siri is mainly just software. It’s not hard to imagine that Apple could eventually refresh the current Apple TV, bump up the hardware, integrate Siri, and create an App Store for the device, just like they did for books and magazines.

Something else comes to mind when I think about apps on a TV. When I sit down in front of my TV at night, I don’t always know what I want to watch. I want to flip through the channels and see what’s on. If the iTV was to run apps, you wouldn’t be able to do that. If you didn’t know what you want to watch, then you wouldn’t be able to watch anything.

Something tells me that this is the behavior of the average person. We just sit in front of the tube and wait for it to catch our attention, and there isn’t an easy way to do that with apps.

I disagree with Gruber and his concept of an iTV run by apps, mostly because it wouldn’t justify creating a TV set for something the current Apple TV can currently do, which is video on-demand.

I’m sure the iTV will run apps, there is no doubt about that. But I’m also sure that Apple has much better plans for enticing us to buy what will most likely be its most expensive piece of hardware yet.

What do you think?