In a 2011 biography of Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson wrote that the Apple co-founder “very much wanted to do for television sets what he had done for computers, music players, and phones: make them simple and elegant.”
Jobs told Isaacson that he had “finally cracked” the key to creating an easy-to-use smart TV that synced with all your devices and the cloud; “the simplest user interface you could imagine,” Jobs said.
The tech media took Jobs’s comment at face value and speculated that Apple would make a TV. To be fair, Jobs didn’t help things by using using “TV” in the physical sense instead of metaphorically, which I believe was his intent. While there have been reports that Apple at one point looked at doing a TV, my sources say the idea never really got any serious support. A physical TV to Apple is just another screen, so doing one with its logo on it made no sense at all.
Six years later, one has to realize that ultimately Apple is a software and UI company first and a hardware company second. Don’t get me wrong, hardware is critical to Apple, but it is just seen as a vehicle for delivering its software, UI, and services. When the iPhone was introduced, Apple SVP of Marketing Phil Schiller showed me the original iPhone before the launch and put it on the table in off mode and asked me what I saw. I said I saw a block of metal with a glass screen. “It is a blank piece of glass for them to deliver their exciting new software,” he responded.
That conversation has helped me understand Apple much better and has shaped my thinking about the company since 2007. Schiller’s insistence that the iPhone is a blank canvas is at the heart of Cupertino’s raison d’être. Jobs understood that from the time he introduced the Mac and carried that over to every product Apple has introduced since then.
The second thing to understand is that all of Apple’s software innovations are built around a platform of an OS, a UI, and a set of services that are then delivered on “blank screens” such as a PC, tablet, or even a TV. This concept of platform is what drives Apple, and all of its innovation stems from this core value proposition.
Now look at Apple TV. When it was introduced, it was called a hobby. But Apple has since sold millions. It’s a good streaming device, but it also allowed Cupertino to develop the tvOS platform to disrupt TV. While Jobs possibly had an actual TV in mind when he spoke with Isaacson, his real emphasis was not on a physical box but the software.
This vision of Apple disrupting TV was made clear at the the recent Recode Media conference when Apple SVP Eddy Cue called the Apple TV platform disruptive because it delivered video on all Apple devices via an easy UI (Siri) all synced to iCloud.
As my friend Benedict Evans of Andreesen Horwitz recently tweeted, “‘Apple failed at TV’ makes me laugh. They’ve sold 1.5 billion TVs, meaning iPhones and iPads.
Up next: original content. And while other video distributors like Comcast and Amazon allow for playback on various devices, they do not have Apple’s robust app and developer ecosystem. Eventually, Apple will integrate many more features and add-on content and interactions through the Apple tvOS, something that cannot be done by pure video content distributors.
This phase of making Apple TV even more disruptive is still in its early stages but it is clear, at least to me, that Jobs’s vision of creating a richer TV experience will change the overall TV experience in time.