Tim Cook has recently had two in-depth interviews with Bloomberg Businessweek and NBC Rock Center, during which he talked about the Apple Television. Although he was typically reticent about specific details there is a lot to be gained from close inspection of his words.
NBC’s Josh Tyrangiel put the following question to Tim Cook: “I’m not going to ask you about an Apple TV, because I know you’re not going to say if it exists or when it’s coming. But what I do want to know is – there must be enormous pressure, both on you and on your teams, to continue to create breakthroughs. How does that affect you?”
Here we’ve put together some facts and asides that we can garner from what Tim Cook had to say, and how that could related to development of the Apple Television.
Fact 1: Apple wants to make a television
“There’s more pressure that comes from within than from the outside.”
What we can gleam from this is that the pressure to make new products, including the Apple Television, is coming from the Apple design team. Apple is a confident company at the top of its game, Television is a big technology take-over. They must want to do it.
Fact 2: The Apple design team is currently focussed on television
“It’s a market that we have intense interest in.”
Many of us have noted that the Apple Television has gone from being referred to as the “hobby” to “an area of intense interest”. When Apple takes intense interest in something you can be sure they’re not talking metaphorically. There are design teams on this right now.
Fact 3: Apple sees television as failing, sure sign that it’s coming
“And it’s a market that we see that has been left behind.”
When Steve Jobs talked to Walter Isaacson about making the iPhone he said, tellingly “We would sit around talking about how much we hated our phones.” Apple bad-mouthing something is a sure sign that it’s getting ready to do something about it on a personal level.
Apple disrupts markets for a living, and it typically disrupts those it thinks are being left behind. If Apple engineers and designers are sitting around bitching about how much they hate their television sets, you can be that they’re coming up with ideas to change that situation.
Fact 4: The Apple Television will be worth the wait
“Our customers have an incredibly high bar for us. We have an even higher bar for ourselves. So we want to do great work”
It goes without saying that Tim Cook will think of Apple products as good. But if he thinks the Apple Television will be “great work” rather than the “hobby” you can be sure that something new and different is happening. Just why it’ll be better than current television sets is debatable, but Cook clearly thinks it will be.
Fact 5: Work on the Apple Television is ongoing
“People are always talking about what we may do next and when it might happen, but honestly we’re driven much more internally by great people who want to do great work.”
There’s a lot of future tense gong on here, centred around the design process. Much speculation about the Apple Television has centred on Apple’s inability to get content providers (especially cable services) on board. But that might not be the case. Tim Cook seems to be suggesting here that when it happens it’s because its happened internally, by people who want to do great work. It may simply not be ready yet.
Fact 6: Apple Television is not good enough, yet
“These are people that have very high standards that are driven to do things beyond what other people have thought. And I think it’s that ambition and that desire and that thrust for excellence that make creating new things even more likely.”
Whatever Apple has created so far in its labs is almost certainly good, but it might not have enough wow factor, or originality, or a killer feature… yet. Tim Cook, and Apple, wants it to go beyond what other people have thought possible. Creating new things ‘more likely’ suggests, perhaps somewhat that they are working and hoping for something new or extra (disclaimer: that’s reading between some pretty wide lines).
Fact 7: Apple has cleared the decks for the Apple Television
“I mean, just take this year. You know, take the last 60 days: iPhone 5, whole new iPods, including a new iPod touch and iPod nano, a fourth-generation iPad, the new iPad mini, a to-die-for MacBook Pro that’s the best Mac we’ve ever done. And so you look at all this, and you go, “Oh my God. How could one company do all of this?” And it’s not like we have that many people.”
On first thoughts Cook is clearly outlining how small teams work incredibly well, but he also confirms one other thing we know: Apple revamped its entire line-up this holiday season. Why? Apple can’t just pull in more people from outside to work on projects, it has a small number of extremely talented people. And they’ve just finished revamping everything Apple has. Tim Cook wants them working on the television to make that new thing “even more likely”.
Fact 8: The team working on the Apple Television is small
“As a matter of fact, that’s a secret. You know, small teams do amazing things together.”
How small is small? How long is a piece of string. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Perhaps one key is this image from the AD&D awards where Apple flew its entire design team, comprising of 17 people (15 men, two women) with Jony Ive to London to pick up an award.
Of course, there are engineers as well as designers, and we can’t be sure if this comprises just hardware design, or includes software design. But it’s still a remarkably small team for such a wide ranging product line. These are almost certainly the people currently working on the Apple Television hardware.
Fact 9: Apple Television will be disruptive, and not just to television companies
“All of the people around the table have been there for a while, and they’ve lived through different cycles. So they have a maturity, but they still have their boldness. They’re still ready to burn the bridge.
“And this is great. Because there is no other company like that anymore. I mean, no company would have done what we did this year. Think about it. We changed the vast majority of our iPhone in a day. We didn’t kind of – you know, change a little bit here or there. IPad, we changed the entire lineup in a day.”
We’re sure rival television manufacturers, broadcasters, and production companies await the Apple Television with baited breath. But Apple has also proved willing for its devices to cannibalise its own products, even other Apple products.
From the MacBook Air taking over from the MacBook (and prior to that laptops taking over from desktops); from the iPhone taking sales from the iPod. Apple is prepared to destroy its own products in the name of progress (bigger and more important products).
So what ‘bridge’ will the Apple Television burn? It’s hard to see how it will impact any current Apple range other than the small Apple TV device. Does Apple think it will burn its iMac with a display panel television; does Tim Cook see a future of tablet devices and televisions rather than laptops and desktops?
There’s no way of telling what scale or scope Apple has here, but it’s food for thought that they’d consider the Apple Television as that disruptive.
Fact 10: It’s important to Apple
“Who else is doing this? Eighty percent of our revenues are from products that didn’t exist 60 days ago. Is there any other company that would do that?”
Apple makes its money from new products. It doesn’t milk old products till the cow runs dry. It stays in business my innovating, creating, and delivering new products that people didn’t know they wanted till they arrive. Apple needs to invent and television is clearly where it wants to go next.