The Next Phase of TV Will Look Like This

Steve Cheney outlines a compelling example of how Apple’s new Facetime feature on the iPhone will likely bring the much awaited video phone calling action to the mass market due to Apple’s ability to integrate the hardware and software just right, but especially now due to Apple’s advantage of a massive user base on standby ready to adopt it.

It’s also interesting to note, as Cheney pointed out, “FaceTime makes video-calling on the Android-based Sprint HTC EVO look silly, because the EVO awkwardly requires users to sign up and download a third-party app, then launch it every time they want to talk. Normal people simply won’t do this.”

In other words, Apple not only does it best, it now has a new massive market share in which to instantly do it best for.

When Apple introduced an entirely new category with the iPad, the stage had already been set and the platform would be easy to adopt because Apple used it’s iPhone Operating System (iOS), the ever-so familiar, yet newly interfaced world into utilities, games, music, books and all kinds of other “apps”. Even a two-year-old knew just what to do for the iPad is essentially the same exact experience as the iPhone, the only difference being that the screen is bigger.

As the difference is in screen size, it’s not hard to extrapolate where this is going next. By extending the Apple iOS from the iPhone to the iPad to the Apple TV, people would be able to turn on their TV screens and see what essentially looks like their iphone, a set of customizable apps. While you may have your favorite apps that are useful for your mobile activity on your iPhone easily available from your start screen, such as email, maps, foursqaure, etc., when you open your iPad, you may have it customized a bit differently, say, with ibooks, games and video apps ready to go on your home screen. 

Personally speaking, when I open up my TV, I’ll want to load up my Magma app first because that’s how I’ll want to dive into watching TV (I do this now via the magma boxee app). Some people will turn on their TV and open up their iTunes app because they’ll enjoy that. Some people will have a hulu app, a netflix app and a YouTube app sitting right there ready to dive in and out of on their TV home screen.

Of course platforms such as Boxee are at it, and their on-screen experience with software is a similar gist.

There is a risky problem however for Netflix, Hulu, NBC, boxee and all networks of content that don’t own their content. These companies currently rely on the fact that they, like Apple, have built a large user base for distribution and that they continue to offer what others can not offer. Unfortunately this will be relatively hard to maintain without exclusivity or ownership of their content. Meanwhile, Apple is poised to take over the entire TV and home-film distribution market just as they did with the music industry, now singlehandedly setting the market prices on “app” sales, and taking a heafty split in the revenue no matter if a show is direct or via a network app like hulu.

In the case scenario here with Apple iOS TV, what hulu offers now is a $9.99 per month ($120/yr) app to get a handful of great TV shows, like Scrubs, which is also part of the ABC network, btw. But if you just want Scrubs, you can buy individual episodes or whole seasons of Scrubs through iTunes right now for way less. And in the future, if there are millions of people watching Scrubs on the Apple iOS, why wouldn’t Scrubs wise up and cut out ABC, hulu, and everyone else besides Apple that stood in their way of doing direct sales to their audience? It’s natural to have middle people when they provide value, like access or service, but if you don’t need them, what’s the point in continuing to pay big for them in the future? And why should hulu, e.g. get to control the audience for Scrubs, their user feedback, communications, mail list, sales, PR, etc?

Imagining TV as an open computer platform based on software is not hard at all and people have been talking about this for decades. What’s becoming more apparent is that specifically right now, Apple’s iOS ported over to the Apple TV could be the tipping point for bringing the computer and the TV screen together at last.

So next time you notice an update pushed to your favorite show app on your iPhone and then point your iPhone at your TV to press play, it may not work that way, but it may work even better and show you just what you wanted to see. If you are a fan of Android, perhaps you’ll be a step behind, but you will get there too. Google already said that Google TV will be based on Android which is essentially saying they are already pushing the idea that this whole phone/computer/media/TV sync thing with developers building TV specific apps on their OS is going to work out.

It’s sad for the rest of the world that it takes Apple to make it happen but what that really means is that it takes an expert in identifying the right interface design and then taking it to market in the right way. If TV becomes an experience you like and can understand, like your iPhone, it will be pretty easy to buy in. Now that Apple has all the TV networks, popular tv shows, podcasts, hulu, netflix, and so on, it seems to me as if the big Apple already won.