News broke this morning that Apple, one of the global leaders in consumer computing technology, is in talks with Comcast, one of the world’s largest cable providers, to bring Apple set-top boxes to the living rooms of Comcast customers.
In a nutshell, Apple wants to get into the market of live television by making their proprietary boxes, such as the Apple TV, the replacement for your old-school cable box. This conventional live content would be serviced in addition to what the company already provides with its web-streaming content on Apple TV, with apps like HBO Go, Netflix, Hulu Plus, and iTunes.
The deal is still very much in its early stages, though. According to the Wall Street Journal, Comcast has some serious reservations about a partnership of this caliber, particularly with a company already as large and powerful as Apple. On the other hand, Apple has a lot of clout with consumers around the world, notably for its careful crafting of an enjoyable user experience with its products.
And what’s the last thing that comes to mind when you think of the cable set-top box in your home? An enjoyable user experience.
But how does Apple benefit from repurposing a device like the Apple TV to also play live television? Well, if the deal were to go through, and Apple got all of what it proposed, it would have access to what’s referred to in the cable industry as “the last mile,” which refers to the lines that connect directly to the customer’s homes from the provider. Apple suggests that if it had access to this, it could pipe all of its traditionally web-based content to the user the traditional way (through the cable line).
Think of this “managed service” as one similar to video-on-demand services like HBO or sports packages.
This means cable-quality versions of your favorite shows and movies you’d typically view through web-streaming services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, or iTunes. Doing so would also lighten the load on regional Internet users, preventing the occurrence of hiccups in playback due to buffering.
But perhaps the most exciting component of Apple’s proposal is what we’ve already discussed – a new way to tackle one of the biggest problems with cable: the user experience. For the vast majority of providers, the user interface for navigating live television and recorded shows is clunky, slow, and hardly an enjoyable process. Should Apple become the intermediary between your television and the cable company, the experience of watching TV could change dramatically.
However, the partnership Apple has proposed, if it even comes to fruition, would require significant investments in networking, back-end tech, and plenty of development time.
But then again, cable subscriber rates are dropping for the first time in years… so we’ll simply have to wait and see what the world wants… and how companies decide to react.