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Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) investors are notorious for having an appetite for The Next Big Thing. Can you blame them? The iEmpire has a history of delivering winners -- the Mac, the iPod, and the iPhone, to name three.
Could an iTV be next? No, not Apple TV but iTV, a full-screen digital television with iGoodness baked in. In a recent interview, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster told Macworld UK to expect an Apple-branded TV soon.
I want my iTV
"Apple's fantastic ability to create exceptionally user-friendly products could revolutionize TVs just like the iPhone changed the mobile phone market," Munster said.
There's more than conjecture at work here. Munster points to a $500 million deal in which a unit of South Korea's LG Group will supply Apple with a substantial number of LCD panels at what appear to be very favorable terms.
"LG Display has made a long-term agreement to supply a massive amount of LCD to Apple in the face of uneasy condition of foreign capital inflow amid the global economic downturn," company executives said in a statement.
It's the second time -- that we know of, at least -- Apple has sent out for Korean. The last time, in 2005, the iEmpire prepped for demand for its newest iPods by signing a volume flash memory deal with Samsung. Smart move. By early 2006, Apple was moving more than 14 million music players per quarter. It has dominated the market ever since.
Why past might not be prologue this time
Would Apple fare similarly in the TV market? Honestly, I've some serious doubts. Dell sells them, but what you'll find at dell.com isn't all that different than what you can get from any electronics retailer.
But don't take my word for it. The top offer at dell.com's TV and TV accessories store is a 52-inch display from Sony (NYSE: SNE ) . TV is a checklist item. "You need a big screen, sure we have that. A PC? Yep, we have that, too."
To be fair, Apple does this as well. Go into any of its retail stores and you'll see Apple TV playing on large-screen monitors supplied by third-party vendors. Munster obviously thinks Apple can do better. So do I.
It'll have to. Competition in digital TV is already fierce and getting fiercer by the day. Here's a look at four current and prospective combinations that would hinder adoption of an iTV.
MicroFlix. The obvious choice. Not only is the Xbox a popular platform for gaming, it has become a personal entertainment center. And now, it streams Watch Instantly videos from Netflix's (Nasdaq: NFLX ) growing library.
The weakness of this pairing is that the Xbox is a game console, and most consoles are built for a two-to-three year upgrade cycle. Would consumers really want to swap out their entertainment center every couple of years? Probably not. A MicroFlix tube wouldn't have that issue.
GooVo. I've thought Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) should buy TiVo (Nasdaq: TIVO ) since 2005. It hasn't happened, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't. TiVo has patents, technology, and access to millions of viewers. TiVo also supports YouTube videos, and we know from Google's blog posts that it's perfecting models for placing ads on YouTube. Figure out the form factor and you have a natural pairing.
And think about this: Were TiVo and Google to combine, what's to stop them from creating a portable store-and-view DVR for your Android smartphone? Not only would it be a great service, it'd be a slap in the face to patent rival EchoStar, which acquired SlingBox creator Sling Media in 2007.
"Amazon and Netflix seem to keep showing up whenever an appliance maker rolls out a new gizmo to give couch potatoes their streaming-video fix. Their latest conquest, announced at this week's CES expo in Las Vegas, is a new Web-connected Vizio television," Rick wrote. Now imagine that same Vizio with a built-in DVR. Peerless choice in streaming and control over live programming? Couch potatoes have never had it so good.
Alec Baldwin. During this year's Super Bowl ad fest, the 30 Rock star extolled the virtues (or lack thereof) of Hulu -- NBC's streaming platform for its own programming and related movies and TV shows. Or, if you believe Baldwin, an evil plot to destroy the world.
Baldwin's delivery and timing is wickedly funny. But a Hulu TV, built by NBC parent and electronics giant General Electric (NYSE: GE ) , would be anything but. Imagine a subscription service where you mark as a "favorite" your top shows a la a Web browser and schedule them for delivery into a sort of programming inbox. You'd get better service and NBC would get a better ad platform.
How would Apple compete with these and other offerings? With iTunes movies on demand, certainly. But I'm also like Munster in hoping for something more -- a big idea that transforms the TV viewing experience.
I want my iTV, Apple. Are you tuned in?