Article in NY Times

in iPod + iTunes + AppleTV edited January 2014
September 11, 2006

How Will Apple?s Marketing Maestro Marry the Computer and the Home TV?


SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 10 ? Has Apple Computer?s chief executive, Steven P. Jobs, found a way to connect the PC to the TV?

With an enticing invitation proclaiming ?It?s Showtime,? Mr. Jobs last week touched off speculation about how far Apple will go as it takes its next big step into digital video.

On Tuesday, Apple will hold another of Mr. Jobs?s marketing events here to introduce what trade publications and analysts indicate will be his next campaign: an effort to transform the distribution of Hollywood movies as thoroughly as he has revolutionized the recording industry with the iTunes Music Store.

A distribution deal with the Walt Disney Company and sleeker, higher-capacity video iPods are part of the consensus among those who handicap Apple product announcements. But company executives have hinted that Apple has at least one bigger idea on tap.

Mr. Jobs needs one. In his quest to remake Hollywood distribution in the Internet era, his main challenge is one that has bedeviled the personal computer industry. Today, despite many efforts by Microsoft, Intel and a variety of start-up companies to insinuate the computer into home entertainment, almost all movies watched at home use cable, satellite or DVD players, making it possible for Hollywood to control both piracy and pricing.

The computer industry, under the banner of ?digital convergence,? has been looking longingly at the American living room for several years. Beginning in 1993, Microsoft tried to rally the cable industry under the banner of Cablesoft, an abortive effort to turn the home cable box into a Microsoft-based PC.

More recently, Microsoft and Intel have invested millions in a slow-growing effort to offer Media Center PC?s that promise a single home entertainment box. Separately, Microsoft has been trying to start a business in Internet-based television technology, intended to arm telephone companies to compete with cable operators. And in January, Intel introduced a microprocessor system called Viiv, designed for PC-based digital entertainment. So far, it has found few backers.

Despite proclaiming that its Macintosh computer is the center of a digital home strategy, Apple has taken only baby steps into the video era, offering iPods that play television videos on tiny screens and a software program called Front Row, largely hidden within the Mac, for managing video collections, music playlists and slide shows.

Those efforts may become more aggressive on Tuesday, but so far Mr. Jobs has kept his strategy well hidden. Much speculation has centered on a living-room-ready version of the company?s least expensive computer, the Mac Mini, a compact desktop model originally positioned as an inexpensive way for PC users to switch to the Macintosh market. A living-room Mini could play DVD?s, download Internet data like digital movies and include a TV tuner.

The downside of such a strategy, of course, is that it would be compared, perhaps unfavorably, with the dozens of similar devices already introduced in attempts to bring the Internet closer to the home television set. That might amount to yet another box in the living room ? something Mr. Jobs and his designers choose to avoid.

?Apple is genetically incapable of doing anything that smacks of me-too,? said Mike McGuire, research vice president at the market research firm Gartner.

A more intriguing possibility discussed by former Apple engineers and on rumor sites like is that Apple may use wireless technologies like Wi-Fi and ultra-wideband to stream digital content from a Macintosh to the TV. Such a system would allow the video to be played on television screens with the computer?s hand-held Apple remote control.

Such an approach would almost certainly appeal to Mr. Jobs?s spartan aesthetic. And it tracks well with one of Apple?s peripheral products, AirPort Express, which makes it possible to stream digital audio wirelessly to speakers in different rooms of a home.

Moreover, such an approach would keep Hollywood digital video content locked up on a Macintosh and stream it to the TV using a connector called HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface), which is engineered to offer copy protection.

The obstacle to such a wireless video service is that such projects often run afoul of real-world wireless environments in the home, which are replete with interference from devices like microwave ovens, wireless video cameras and wireless phones, and uncooperative neighbors.

Yet Mr. Jobs and Apple were pioneers in using Wi-Fi in their computers, and it is likely that he is looking for a way to renew Apple?s technological leadership in video.

That is almost certain to make Tuesday?s event, to be held at a theater across the street from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, one of Apple?s most closely watched product introductions.

Mr. Jobs has repeatedly found ways to position Apple in front of important technology changes, and the convergence of the broadband Internet and a new generation of high-definition television has presented an opportunity for the company to play an even larger role in consumer electronics.

According to Steve Perlman, a former Apple engineer who founded Moxi Digital in 1999 in an effort to create an integrated set-top box for the living room: ?The ?last mile? problem of delivering broadband to the home has largely been solved. What remains is the ?last hundred feet? problem.? By that, he meant reliably delivering high-definition video to television sets using Internet-based technology.

?Once that has been solved,? he said, ?it will completely transform the entertainment landscape.?
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