Why should we believe Jean-Louis Gassée’s impressions about Apple’s plan for its interactive TV service? What’s so special about one man’s opinion about the much-hyped (much-feared?) Apple entry into the living room?
After all Gassée is merely another former Apple employee. True, he was president of the Apple Products Division in the late ‘80s and ran Macintosh development, a job previously held by Steve Jobs. More importantly, after a couple decades of Silicon Valley entrepreneurship, he’s now a venture capitalist, plugged into the ideas of digital companies pursuing video projects for America’s homes.
So it’s worth paying attention to the napkin scribbles that Gassée posted this week about the much-rumored Apple iTV plan. In his blog, Gassée - and his doodles - portray several ways that Apple will offer viewers an inexpensive way to bypass cable TV subscriptions, dump their set-top boxes and still get most of their favorite programs via TV apps via an á là carte approach.
Admittedly, Gassée hedges his vision by acknowledging that Apple is unlikely to manufacture a TV set, but rather focus on its own set-top box, integrated with the apps being developed for iPad and iPhone devices. Nonetheless, he suggest that we “consider the iTV as a separate module …[that] would …’swallow’ the set-top box, DVR included.”
After examining several hybrid possibilities (including the one unveiled last year by Comcast, in which an iPad becomes the remote control and other functions for the STB), Gassée focuses on “channels as apps.” His drawings sketch ways in which handheld devices use Wi-Fi to control the iTV module.
“Not all channels will adapt equally well or equally quickly, but as ‘channel apps’ evolve, we’ll see new ways of using the medium,” he suggests. “Delivering channels as apps liberates our ‘viewing experience’ in two ways: It breaks today’s narrow channel delivery format and it bypasses the set-top box. … With channels as apps, all you need is a net connection (sometimes provided by the cable operator). You can throw the set-top box away.”
Gassée coyly acknowledges that “there’s the notorious ‘simple matter of implementation.’ Someone has to write the apps that encapsulate the channels. But once the movement gains strength and tools become widespread and understood, it will be easier than you might think. 500,000 iOS apps attest to the availability of institutional knowledge.”
At the heart of Gassée’s vision is a pay-as-you watch economic model - anathema to the cable industry, but not repugnant to the tens of millions of iPad, iPhone and Android device users today. Although he may not be channeling the precise grand plan of his long-ago boss Steve Jobs, Gassée does offer a convincing view of what’s coming next.
Gary Arlen is president of Arlen Communications LLC in Bethesda, Md., and a long-time interactive TV enthusiast. Reach him at GArlen@ArlenCom.com