TIME Technologizer

Whatever Happened to the Apple HDTV?

The rise and fall (and rise and fall, and rise and fall) of an oft-rumored product

In late 2006, the crescendo of rumors about Apple building a smartphone became deafening–and sure enough, in January 2007, the company announced the iPhone. Three years later, the blogosphere was afire with scuttlebutt about an Apple tablet–right before Apple unveiled the iPad.

Then there are the rumors about Apple making an HDTV. One with streaming video from the iTunes store, a predictably polished interface and industrial design, and–as long as we’re rumormongering–maybe a breakthrough or two that will change TV forever.

Analysts, pundits and other assorted Apple watchers have been talking about such a TV for years. Sometimes, they’ve even said that factories were in the process of cranking up production so that TVs could reach Apple Stores in the immediate future, or issued forecasts of how many units the company would sell.

And yet, the Apple HDTV not only isn’t here yet, but feels like it’s slipping away. When people bring it up now, they assume it will debut in 2015, if they specify a date at all.

More often, though, they don’t talk about it–the rumor brigade has pretty much moved on to obsessing over the possibility of an Apple smartwatch or other wearable gizmo of some sort. If it turns out that Apple has no definite plan to enter the TV market, it wouldn’t be shocking–a possibility utterly at odds with the last few years of conventional wisdom.

To understand what happened, it’s worth recapping how we got here…

2008

October: Entrepreneur Jason Calacanis says that Apple is working on a networked HDTV–like a TV set with a built-in Apple TV box.

2009

August: Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster speculates that Apple might release an HDTV by 2011, with an “iTunes TV Pass” subscription service and the ability to sync with iPhones, iPods and iMacs.

2010

March: Munster talks about a $2,000 Apple HDTV arriving within 2-4 years, along with a video subscription service for $50 to $90 a month.

2011

January: Late 2012, Munster now says.

February: Munster says that Apple’s $3.9 billion investment in display production is yet more evidence that an Apple HDTV is on the way. He thinks the company might make $2.5 billion from HDTVs in 2012, $4 billion in 2013 and $6 billion in 2014.

June: A former Apple executive tells DailyTech that Apple will blow Netflix away with an iOS-powered HTDV capable of running third-party apps. It’ll ship in late 2o11 unless Apple’s famously high standards push it into 2012.

July: Dave Richards of Australian site Smarthouse says that Apple may be getting ready to release a 55-inch OLED HDTV in 2012, crediting “a Hollywood lawyer” with the scoop.

July: In a totally different Apple HDTV rumor from Dave Richards’ 55-inch OLED one, Trip Chowdhry of Global Equities Research–the guy who now says Apple is doomed unless it has a smartwatch by later this month–says he’s 75 percent sure about the HDTVs in three sizes, which Apple will probably release in March 2012. They’re modeled on Bose’s VideoWave and will be two inches thick, with 16 built-in speakers.

August: Brian White of Ticonderoga Securities channels his inner Gene Munster, saying that Apple’s TV plans are moving “at a faster pace than the market expected” and that he thinks it’s possible the company will release an HDTV by the end of the year.

October: Shortly after Steve Jobs dies on October 5, the Washington Post prints an excerpt from Walter Isaacson’s upcoming authorized Jobs biography in which the Apple cofounder confides that he’d “finally cracked” the secret of making an easy-to-use TV.

Also in October: Bloomberg reports that “people with knowledge of the project” say that Jeff Robbin, one of the people responsible for the iPod and the iTunes Music Store, is leading the development of an Apple TV. The story also says Gene Munster thinks Apple may release a TV in late 2012 or in 2013.

November: Jeffries & Co. analyst Peter Misek says he expects Apple to begin production of an HDTV with a Sharp LCD panel in February for a mid-2012 release.

December: Taiwanese supply-chain news source DigiTimes reports that Apple is gearing up to release 32- and 37-inch HDTVs in the summer of 2012, with Samsung chips and Sharp displays.

2012

February: Gene Munster still thinks late 2012 makes sense for the Apple HDTV’s release, but he’s not sure what the content strategy will be. It could involve TiVo-like management of existing cable TV service, over-the-air broadcasts, a-la-carte or subscription streaming services, or apps.

March: Asian research firm CLSA says that scuttlebutt about Foxconn’s and Sharp’s display-manufacturing plans suggests that the Apple HDTV will be a 2013 product.

April: Jeffries & Co.’s Peter Misek now says that Apple will begin production of an HDTV he thinks will be called the iPanel in May, to arrive in stores by the holidays. It will use a Sharp panel with IGZO technology and will cost $1,250.

Also in April: Michael Lantz, CEO of app development firm Accedo, says that the Apple HDTV will focus on superior industrial design, and that the appointment of John Browett to run the Apple Store will ensure that “the more complex distribution chains for TV sets can be dealt with cost-efficiently.”

May: Leander Kahney of Cult of Mac reports about a source who’s supposedly seen a prototype Apple HDTV. It looks like an Apple Cinema Display only much larger, and has Siri voice control plus an iSight camera for FaceTime videoconferencing.

Also in May: BGR’s Jonathan Geller says that “a trusted source” tells him that Apple will demo a new TV operating system at WWDC in two weeks. The same source thinks Apple won’t show the actual HDTV hardware at the conference. Then again, “it’s certainly possible” that the set will make an appearance.

Also in May: China Daily reports that Foxconn chief Terry Gou has told him that his company is gearing up to produce Apple’s “iTV.”

June: Analyst Brian White, who thought that Apple might release an HDTV by the end of 2011, now says that a report on a Chinese news site that Apple will begin receiving LCD panels from Sharp earlier than expected suggests that the company may release an HDTV by the end of 2012.

August: Pacific Crest’s Andy Hargreaves does something startling–given that he’s an analyst–by saying he thinks Apple won’t release an HDTV in the near-term future, based on comments by Apple executive Eddy Cue.

November: James Kisner of Jeffries & Co. says that a major North American cable company is performing bandwidth tests to verify that it can support an Apple HDTV, suggesting that a release may be imminent. Jeffries’ Peter Misek, who once expected an Apple HDTV in mid-2012 and later talked about it shipping by that year’s holiday season, now forecasts sales of 4.9 million units in 2013 and 11.6 million in 2014.

Also in November: Gene Munster now thinks the Apple HDTV will arrive in November 2013. He predicts sizes of 42 to 55 inches and price tags from $1,500 to $2,000.

December: Morgan Stanley analysts Katy Huberty and Jerry Liu speculate that Apple patents suggest that the Apple HDTV may have a 3D display.

2013

January: Gene Munster says that Apple is still working to get an HDTV out in 2013.

Also in January: BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield says that Apple won’t release a TV set in 2013.

March: Munster still hopes an Apple HDTV will be out by the end of the year.

Also in March: “Industry supply chain sources” tell DigiTimes that Apple is working on a 4K Ultra HD TV called the iTV, with an LG panel. It could ship by the end of the year, but early 2014 is more likely.

April: Remember Brian White? He thought the Apple HDTV might show up by the end of 2011. Then he said the signs pointed to the end of 2012. Now he expects a 60-inch “iTV” in the second half of 2013. He talks about it being bundled with a 9.7-inch “Mini iTV” and a unique input device called the iRing you wear on your finger, for a package price in the neighborhood of $1,500-$2,500.

October: Research firm Advanced Research Japan Co. says that Apple will probably start selling 55- and 65-inch 4K Ultra HD TVs in the fourth quarter of 2014.

November: Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities says that he thinks an Apple HDTV is at least two years away.

2014

April: The Korea Herald reports that an unnamed display company is working on a sample 65-inch OLED panel for possible use in an Apple HDTV expected in 2015.

The trend is clear: There are far fewer stories about an Apple HDTV today than there were a couple of years ago, and the ones which do pop up are more vague. And when Re/code’s John Paczkowski broke the news that Apple wouldn’t show a wearable gizmo or a new Apple TV box at its WWDC event next month, he didn’t even bother to mention an Apple HDTV–presumably because nobody really expected it to arrive as soon as mid-2014.

The invaluable Google Trends shows that web searches for “Apple HDTV” have tapered off at the same time that ones for “Apple smartwatch” have spiked, suggesting that we’ve collectively lost interest in the whole subject:

 Trends
Google

What can we learn from all this?

  • Rumors that are at odds with each other are a bad sign. For instance, the fact that the alleged experts couldn’t agree on the Apple HDTV’s screen size, screen technology or screen supplier showed that either some of them or all of them had it wrong.
  • So are rumors that sound fundamentally improbable. Such as Apple selling a TV with a large OLED screen, or bundling an HDTV with a secondary screen and a device called an “iRing.” By the time the company is actually about to announce something, the wackiness has usually subsided.
  • The supply chain can mislead. People keep thinking they see signs that Apple’s Asian suppliers are about to start helping it make an HDTV. So far, such evidence has meant nothing.
  • Analysts get irrationally exuberant. If they think Apple should make an HDTV, they tend to see signs that it will make an HDTV–one with the features they’d like to see–and will do it soon. Once a given analyst’s predictions have failed to come true for two holiday seasons in a row, it’s reasonable to ignore anything that person says about the topic in the future.
  • Patents have nothing–repeat, nothing–to do with product roadmaps. Which means that a pundit who uses them to make any predictions at all about an upcoming Apple product can also be safely ignored.

At this point, the Apple HDTV rumors have fizzled so decisively that when new ones come along, as they surely will, it won’t make any sense to assume that anything anyone has said so far is likely to be true. Instead, we can just start again on this topic from scratch–and the more skeptical we are this time around, the better.

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