11582734206_4a3f517fed_b Apple Television concept by Martin Hajek


Apple Television concept by Martin Hajek

One of the longest-running rumors about Apple – that it was working on launching a fully fledged television – finally fizzled out last year, when a WSJ report said that the company had ultimately decided against the idea. Instead, Apple is aiming at a (delayed) subscription TV service, complete with original programming.

It was speculated at the time that there were two reasons for the decision. First, that Apple had been unable to come up with a compelling differentiator that would have given consumers a reason to buy an Apple television over the many rival products. Second, that there simply wasn’t enough money in the business – margins are slim, and replacement cycles are lengthy.

But a Sony Bravia issue reported this week has highlighted a third reason that an Apple television may have turned out to be a very bad idea …

Sony has announced that a full fifty of its Bravia smart TV models released in 2012 are losing access to YouTube. Owners are already reporting failed attempts to access the YouTube app on the TVs.

Many owners of affected sets have reported that watching videos through the “New YouTube on TV” app has resulted in black screens, freezes, and halted playback. A hardware bug or defect is not the cause of the issue, but rather a specification change made on Google’s end that ‘exceed the capability of the TV’s hardware.’ […]

Sony does not cite the exact specification change, but Google recently announced that all YouTube connections will soon be encrypted with HTTPS. At the time, Google noted that older devices might not be able to support modern security standards and lead older clients to cease functioning, so this could be the reason.

Affected models go all the way up to the 80-89-inch X series – televisions that came with five-figure price-tags.

At one time, you could have simply shrugged, arguing that YouTube is mostly cat videos anyway. But in the years between the launch of the 2012 Bravia models and today, YouTube has become much more of a mainstream entertainment channel. And what can happen with one channel/app can happen with others.

This is the problem with the single-box approach to smart TVs: when you combine an extremely expensive display panel with built-in smarts, you’re at the mercy of tech changes. In the online TV space, these are pretty fast-paced. When a change as small as a shift from http to https can rob you of access to a channel, a series of individually small changes can quickly render your once cutting-edge television obsolete over the course of just a few years.

Obsolescence is a fact of hi-tech life, of course. Most people swap their iPhone every couple of years. But the more expensive the item, the longer the life we tend to expect from it. iPads tend to be replaced on more of a 3-5 year cycle. Many people keep their Macs 5+ years. Televisions have traditionally had a replacement cycle of 10+ years.

Apple has always positioned itself at the premium end of the market, so a full-on Apple television was never going to be cheap. The current premium end of the market is in the 65-inch plus range. If we use Sony pricing as a gauge, the company’s premium models range from $6k for a 65-inch one through $9k for a 75-inch model to, well, ‘price unavailable’ for their 100-inch 4K model (though there are deals on Amazon). I can’t imagine that Apple pricing would have been any lower than that, and it may well have been higher.

So an Apple television would likely have cost us somewhere in the $6-10k range. That’s a piece of kit most people would expect to keep for a long time. If we started losing core functionality just four years later – and maybe even sooner – we would have been extremely unhappy.

So that’s the third reason Apple probably made the right decision. Far better to buy a dumb display panel of our choice and add a $149 and $199 Apple TV box to it. If the box hits a similar issue four years in – as happened with older Apple TV boxes – we can shrug off the sub-$50 per year cost and buy another one. Very little shrugging would have been done if the same thing had happened to our $10k Apple Television.

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