Sunday, October 30, 2011

In book, Steve Jobs hints at plan for Apple to reinvent TV

LOS ANGELES — Now that Apple Inc.’s chief visionary is gone, the company is facing a billion-dollar question: Will it be able to conjure another pioneering product without Steve Jobs?

Perhaps fittingly, a possible answer came posthumously from Jobs himself.

The television set, the quintessential squawk box of the 20th century, is ripe for a reinvention, the Apple co-founder said before he died Oct. 5.

“I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use,” Jobs told biographer Walter Isaacson in the new book Steve Jobs, which hit shelves this week. “It would be seamlessly synched with all of your devices and … will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.”

His remarks in the book have set off a flurry of speculation that Apple will roll out a television set that could remake the $100 billion industry, much as the company altered personal computers, music players and cellphones.

Emphasis is on simplicity

Apple and Jobs have a record of taking existing technologies and redesigning them with an emphasis on visual simplicity, allowing users to play songs, open applications and make calls with the click of a mouse or the swipe of a finger — with little technical knowledge required.

But in the past decade, television systems have gone in the other direction, with remote controls sprouting dozens of buttons, many for obscure functions that consumers don’t use. Meanwhile, cable TVs grid of hundreds of shows and channels has become overgrown and difficult to navigate.

“My parents come to my house, and there are three remotes to work the TV,” said Peter Misek, an analyst at Jefferies & Co. “I literally have to change the station for them because they’re freaked out to try it themselves. That’s a disaster.”

For some analysts, Jobs’ declaration to Isaacson has confirmed what they already suspected. Brian White of Ticonderoga Securities wrote to investors Tuesday that he had seen “concrete evidence that an Apple Smart TV was already flowing through factories over in China in early stage pilot and prototype production.”

What's new

Apple has been able to build highly profitable businesses with its iPhone and Mac computers which have been priced at the high end of the market.

Industry watchers believe that Apple has been laying the groundwork for a television set for years, intensifying its focus recently on developing high-resolution, TV-like screen technology for its iPhones and iPad tablet computers, and on software that works across all of its devices and allows users to manage and store broad swaths of their digital lives.

Apple this month also introduced a sophisticated voice-control system for the new model of its iPhone. Called Siri, the software is able to understand free-form spoken commands, including scheduling meetings, writing emails, checking the weather and finding restaurants.