New book crushes hopes for Apple-branded television


View of the famous logo at new Apple store in Barra da Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Februrary 16, 2014. The first Apple Store in Latin America officially opened on the eve. AFP PHOTO / YASUYOSHI CHIBAYASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images

Dreams of an Apple-made television seemed very real in 2011 when Walter  Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs included a line from the late Apple co-founder saying that he'd "cracked" the television.

Some analysts, most notably Gene Munster at Piper Jaffray, predicted that a television would be here by 2013, perhaps with voice control from Siri. And so we waited. And waited. And waited.

Now, a new book from Wall Street Journal reporter Yukari Iwatani Kane indicates that we may be waiting for a very, very long time indeed. Excerpts of Kane's book published Sunday by Business Insider, include a passage that quote Jobs as saying that Apple will never release a television.

"TV is a terrible business. They don't turn over and the margins suck," said Jobs, according to the book and BI report.

It's true that televisions don't have nearly the kind of turnover or profit margins of other Apple products -- two factors that drive the company's blockbuster success. Consumers simply don't buy televisions as often as they buy new phones or tablets. Jobs was famous for sometimes saying one thing and then doing another, but his analysis of the television market does ring true in that making sets would be an entirely different approach for Apple.

That doesn't mean, however, that Apple isn't looking at the television space. As time has passed with no Apple television, analysts have increasingly turned their attention to the slow growth of Apple TV -- the set-top box the company has had for years and kept on as a "hobby" product.

The firm has been building out content for Apple TV in recent years, and has been raising its profile with small moves such as giving the product its own section on the Apple Web site this January.

If Apple's path to the living room is the Apple TV, then it faces a lot of competition, however. Companies such as Google and Roku have been seriously stepping up their game in making smart TVs, either by partnering with traditional manufacturers or creating easy-to-use, low-cost accessories to bring access to streaming services onto existing sets.

Google's $35 Chromecast and Roku's forthcoming $49 streaming stick both work with any television that has an HDMI port. Roku has the advantage on Google in terms of its range of content, with over 750 paid and free channel --  though Google has been sure to lock down big names such as Netflix and Hulu. Both also let users cast videos from their phones or tablets to their televisions, making sharing video with a group very easy and way more comfortable than crowding around a tiny screen.

Apple's more expensive $99 set-top box, even without heavy promotion, has done well for the company so far -- particularly because it integrates well with other Apple products.  With the power of the iTunes store behind it, Apple is already in a good position to command the living room if it ever seriously moves the little box up from hobby status and starts competing for real in the smart TV world.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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