Watch Television

You've heard the story. It’s January 2007, and Steve Jobs goes onstage to introduce not one, but three revolutionary products. Three products that have been rumored for a long time.

A widescreen iPod with touch controls. A revolutionary mobile phone. A ground-breaking internet communicator.

An iPod…a phone…an internet communicator. An iPod…a phone…Are you getting it yet?

These were not three devices, it turned out. This was one device—the iPhone. And boy, was it revolutionary.

These days, two products are allegedly percolating inside Apple.

One is a wearable device. We don’t know much, but there are early signs. Apple trademarked "iWatch" and is hiring fashion executives and medical experts. Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, thinks "the wrist is interesting” and wants to go beyond devices like Nike’s Fuelband.

The other product has been whispered about for even longer—Apple’s take on television. Steve Jobs ignited years of feverish speculation with his words to his biographer, Walter Isaacson:

I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use. It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud. No longer would users have to fiddle with complex remotes for DVD players and cable channels. It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.

What do we think we know about these products?

Mainstream commentators seem to think that the “iWatch” (hate that name) will focus on lightweight iOS-related tasks, like displaying emails and texts. Horace Dediu has more thoughtfully weighed in upon the health and fitness “jobs to be done” that a wearable product might be hired to do.

The consensus on the Apple TV aligns with the Steve Jobs quote—it will be like the current Apple TV, but better. Simpler. With more content.

Ben Thompson went deeper in a fantastic three-part series, and came to the conclusion that the key feature of a new TV product would be an App Store:

Imagine a $99 (or $129) “console” with an optional $49 controller and an App Store. That’s a lot of potential escapism, and a lot of user attention…I think it’s a space where a company that thinks different could have a “a significant contribution” and “crack” TV by not, in fact, being a TV at all.

John Gruber and MG Siegler, on an episode of The Talk Show, focused on the mysterious user interface that Steve Jobs had alluded to. What could that be?

Back to 2007 for a second. After introducing the iPhone, the first thing Jobs talked about was user interface.

The key to a truly revolutionary product, he said, was a revolutionary interface. Only with a new way to interact with software can you build truly ground-breaking applications.

The Macintosh's graphical user interface was enabled by the mouse. The iPod's simplicity was made possible by the click wheel. And the just-revealed iPhone was going to change the world with multi-touch.

That's what got Gruber and Siegler excited, I think. It certainly gets me excited. For the TV and the watch to "change everything" like I hope they do, they need interfaces that make a clean break with current devices.

Here’s my radical idea. It’s the near future. Phil Schiller hops onstage at an Apple press event.

Today, Apple is introducing two revolutionary products. Two products that people have been expecting for a long time.

A wearable device that works with iOS. And an Apple TV with a revolutionary user interface.

A wearable device. An Apple TV. A wearable device…An Apple TV...are you getting it yet?

Perhaps these are not two separate products. Perhaps they are parts of a whole.

It hit me last night while watching the Myo armband demos. The Myo looks awesome, and I started wondering what I would use it for. “Minority Report” style presentations? Flying drones? What about, say, controlling television?

What if the mysterious Apple TV interface is the iWatch? What if, as Ben Thompson suggested, the Apple TV is a < $199 console that includes a $99 accessory—an iWatch? Wouldn’t that be the simplest interface imaginable?

I’ve been trying to reconcile the obvious superiority of touch interfaces with the necessary couch-distance from a television for years. The best options seemed like voice control, something akin to Kinect (i.e. “lower resolution” motion control), or simple touch on an iOS device in your lap.

I’ve also been struggling with what I might use an “iWatch” for, besides as an iPod for running + Nike Fuelband + maybe some unforeseen health applications.

So here’s the idea. The remote control is a watch/wristband, connected to the Apple TV via bluetooth. It comes with every Apple TV. There’s an App Store based around 5-10 foot “pointing” interfaces. Sounds like a whole new generation of games to me. Or interactive entertainment. Or, hell, just a really easy way to pick out video content.

I’m not saying the watch won’t do other things. In fact, I’m certain it will. One for everyone in the family for music/exercise/iOS notifications/location, and Dad’s can have “priority” in controlling the TV.