Apple has made some legendary products, but the products it hasn’t made have their own legends. For every iMac, iPod, and iPhone Apple has produced, there have been rumors of products that could have been. The Apple Glasses, the Apple Car, and first among them: the Apple Television.
Those rumors of an Apple iTV died out years ago, for good reason. A television set is an expensive product to make, and Apple likes to make a lot of money. To earn the same profit it makes on phones and AirPods, it would need to sell a TV that is too expensive for the current market.
Or it would need to use bargain-bin technology to cut prices, the way Amazon did with its Fire TV Omni sets, until recently.
Apple is already on the television
Apple doesn’t need to make a TV set because you can just hook up an Apple TV 4K to the set you own. You can AirPlay from your iPhone 14. You can watch the best Apple TV shows, and play all of your favorite Apple Arcade games, all without an Apple television set. Apple knows the real money isn’t in the TV set, it’s in the services that support it.
If there is a company on board with selling services, it’s Amazon. It’s hard to describe Amazon these days because the Amazon Prime service reaches across so many categories. Amazon is a storefront with an expedited shipping service. It’s also a streaming content service; a music service; a cloud storage service; and a service that can automate and secure your connected home.
Amazon sells speakers, cameras, smart displays, and even a roving robot. Those displays got bigger and bigger until they became full-fledged Fire TV Omni sets. Amazon TVs gained quick popularity because Amazon offers them with no frills other than Amazon services, and the prices are among the lowest you’ll find on a brand you’ve heard of.
Why sell a cheap TV? The Fire TV is a hook to get you into Amazon Prime. It’s a huge monitor for all of your Amazon Ring cameras. It reminds you to use Alexa. Amazon could sell a television at a loss. The one-time profit from selling a TV is nothing compared to the monthly income from subscribers.
Why aren’t more streamers making a TV?
Surprisingly, there are few content and services providers in a position to dominate the living room so completely. Your favorite streaming services aren’t interested in making a TV. No TV from Disney, or HBO, or Netflix, nor even Hulu.
Roku comes close. Roku bundles its software with TCL TVs, an alternative to the Roku streaming stick. It has some exclusive content, but very little. If you want to watch “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” this fall, you’ll need Roku. That doesn’t come close to the level of original programming Amazon offers, in addition to all of the licensed content.
Amazon takes aim at Samsung
It’s obvious why Amazon would sell a cheap TV, but why would it sell a fancy TV? The new Amazon Fire TV Omni QLED uses Quantum Dots, which offer superior color accuracy. It has local array dimming, which is a fancy trick that brings LED TVs closer to the near-infinite contrast of OLED screens. These are videophile features. They won’t look as good as the best Samsung TV or the best LG TV, but Amazon is very competitive on price.
This could be a danger for Samsung. Samsung smart TVs can run all of the streaming apps you need, including Amazon Prime Video and even Apple TV+, but Samsung has no hook.
Samsung sells great, reliable TVs in a range of prices, but there is nothing to lock a customer into the brand like Amazon has with all of its Prime, Ring, and Alexa-related services. Once you set up your house to work with your Amazon Fire TV Omni, you may be more inclined to keep buying Fire TV sets.
There is one company that could compete with Amazon in this space. One company with a robust streaming channel full of content; a company with an array of subscription services; a company invested in home automation. Apple could take on Amazon easily, it just doesn’t want to.
An Apple television is not impossible
An Apple television can’t be an entry-level bargain like a Fire TV Omni, and it can’t be a half-step up the ladder like the Fire TV Omni QLED. It needs to be among the best, if not THE best.
Right now the best display makers are using those displays in-house, and Apple does not make its own display panels. Buying the best panels from a third-party is expensive. In order for Apple to earn enough from a TV, the screen technology will need to get much cheaper.
This is not impossible. Samsung has finally cracked the code on manufacturing its own television-sized OLED panels, breaking LG’s near-monopoly. Televisions with OLED are considered the highest quality, so it is unlikely that Apple would make a TV that did not use OLED. If OLED production costs come down enough, that removes a barrier.
If TVs get locked down, Apple will need to make one
Apple will make a television if it needs to make a television. Right now, every TV maker allows competing apps and services to run, and myriad devices to connect and stream content. In the future, we could see more of a walled garden.
What if Amazon decides that it doesn’t need AirPlay on its TV sets, or it removes the HDMI port altogether to cut costs? Then Apple devices would be effectively blocked. What if Amazon ditches third-party streaming apps, the way it eschews Google’s apps on its Android tablets?
Amazon is already locking in users by integrating all of its various services on one hub. If iPhone users can get everything they need from an Amazon Fire TV Omni without connecting their smartphone, they will stop buying Apple TV devices, and will be less likely to sign up for Apple’s premiere services. Then, Apple could be forced to make a television.
Some day, if technology prices come down, and if competition among service providers heats up, we could wake up to find Apple is ready with the TV set of our dreams.
If you don't want to wait for Apple, you can find TechRadar's list of the best TVs right here.
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Phil Berne is a preeminent voice in consumer electronics reviews, having reviewed his first device (the Sony D-EJ01 Discman) more than 20 years ago for eTown.com. He has been writing about phones and mobile technology, since before the iPhone, for a variety of sites including PCMag, infoSync, PhoneScoop, and Slashgear. He holds an M.A. in Cultural Theory from Carnegie Mellon University.
Phil was the internal reviewer for Samsung Mobile, writing opinions and review predictions about top secret new devices months before launch. He left in 2017. He worked at an Apple Store near Boston, MA, at the height of iPod popularity. He has been a High School English teacher at Title I schools, and is a certified Lifeguard. His passion is smartphones and wearables, and he is sure that the next big thing will be phones we wear on our faces.