By Josh Doody
In David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest," he frequently refers to a device called a "Teleputer" (television-computer) or "TP" for short. The TP is high-def, fancy, online and pretty much ubiquitous. Wallace's vision of a TP was probably influenced by that wonky invention called "WebTV," which supremely sucked and mostly served to frustrate people and make them wonder what good the Internet was anyway.
Wallace was essentially spot-on regarding the Teleputer, and several signs point to Apple gearing up for another foray into mainstream must-have technology that will flip the script on television as we know it. Many publications, bloggers and users continue to speculate about Apple's plans for the future. But Apple's foray into two technologies that have been languishing in technological purgatory is more than just coincidence. Taken individually, these technologies will build on the Apple empire, but together they will change the way people consume TV shows, movies and video games.
The Teleputer's older sibling -– Apple TV -– is starting to disappear without much explanation from Apple. However, Steve Jobs and company might be reinventing a new Apple TV (NATV) that is awesome and game-changing, even though it appears to be recycling decade-old ideas and assimilating other ideas old and new. The iPod re-imagined how we consume music. The iPhone re-imagined how we communicate and what it means to be "Online." The New Apple TV will re-imagine how we consume all media.
What is the NATV? It's a TV. It's a DVR. It's a Wi-Fi/ethernet enabled ready-to-go-online, hi-def, Apple-OS-using TV. That might sound a lot like Apple TV, but Apple TV was really just a way for Apple to sell its wares on iTunes. The NATV will be ready to stream hi-def video and audio content directly to your house in two years -– also known as the year Apple turned TV on its head.
Specifically, Apple will be selling subscriptions to sites like Hulu and ABC.com -– which will have to come up with a catchy new name like Hulu, because ABC.com sounds dissonant and lame. Apple will sell subscriptions to these sites a la carte, much like North American cable providers refuse to do today.
Note to Comcast and Cablevision: Apple is coming for you and they're going to pillage market share just like they did in the mobile phone markets. HBO, Showtime, Starz and others will work with Apple to provide an NATV version of Video On Demand (VoD) that makes the cable companies' offering look like a Zune in an iPod world.
The result will be a television that only needs an Internet connection to show viewers all the HD goodness they can handle. Even better, users will get to choose which pieces of goodness they want to handle and pay for it piece by piece – though Apple will also certainly offer packages similar to what cable providers offer today.
Why is this so awesome? Well, first it allows viewers to get away from the cable monopoly and open up the market to a purer form of competition. Purer form could mean "any new form because the cable companies frequently have local monopolies." If Apple can work with content providers to offer VoD pricing options, then so can Philips, Sony and Vizio. Competition is good for consumers because it drives prices down. This paradigm shift will change the way viewers think of DVR. Primetime will become the time when the cool new stuff is ready to watch online.
That's just the first of two technologies that Apple is "coincidentally" moving into. It's a duo of new technologies that will be the ultimate game-changer. The other technology is the Tablet. Bloggers have been speculating that Apple will start producing Tablets for several years. But as the technology begins to come to fruition, it's time to start considering why Apple is finally considering Tablets.
The reason that Tablets haven't yet become mainstream is that nobody really knows what they're for. Many people have been obsessed with Tablets for years, and they spend considerable time showing off the "writing recognition" and that feature where you can turn the screen backwards, flip it down, hide the keyboard and write on it. But why pay $2,000 for an electronic clipboard that's only somewhat reliable?
Apple has the answer: That's not what Tablets are for! They're for controlling peripherals, typing on virtual keyboards and managing media. They're for surfing the Web, listening to music and watching movies on the go. They're for media and entertainment, and maybe when users are done playing, they'll have business applications as well.
With all of this in mind, it's time to talk about the iPhone app that might be the coolest unused and under-hyped app out there: Remote. For the uninitiated, Remote is essentially an iTunes controller that runs from the iPhone over Wi-Fi to control an instance of iTunes on a Mac on the same network.
So what does Remote mean for NATV and Tablets? If Apple can write an app to control iTunes on a Mac, they can certainly write an app for iTablet to control an NATV and its native DVR. Note to TiVo: If this NATV thing works out, you're going to have a lot more trouble on your hands than competing with the crummy DVRs that cable companies are churning out. The Remote app for iTablet could also control an Apple media center or interface with Netflix VoD.
While your iTablet is talking to your NATV, you'll be making a killer playlist of your favorite movies for your next roadtrip. You'll wonder how you used to get long with the little 3-inch screen on your iPhone because what could be a better portable movie player than a tablet-sized HD gadget? Of course, the iTablet will hold all of your music, too. And it will be one of the best portable gaming platforms ever.
The iTablet will open doors to more cool stuff that those hinky, expensive universal remotes with giant LCD screens have been trying to do for years. The iTablet will make watching TV, listening to music, and gaming easy and fun. Even if the functionality of the iTablet mirrors that of the best universal remotes on the market, the Apple User Experience will make the iTablet superior.
But it's clear based on past performance that Apple has no interest in simply matching the functionality of previous gadgets. This company is about making old functionality look primitive and silly in ways that force new competitors to play Apple's game to the benefit of consumers everywhere.
In the sci-fi flicks, people tell their computers what to do, and the computers almost always oblige. Apple has already broken ground with Voice Control on the iPhone 3GS, and Voice Control will be a major feature of the iTablet. In a couple years, an iTablet user will say: "Play movie Big Lebowski," and his NATV will turn on with one of the best movies of all time. Later, he'll say: "Play artist Phoenix," and his Apple Amp will turn on and a dance party will break out in his living room.
Users can look forward to streaming "The Office" on Hulu from their NATVs via their iTablets in the next couple of years. Gadgets are cool, and new technology is even cooler.
Ten years ago, many people started getting rid of their landlines in favor of mobile phones. Five years from now, we'll all be choosing our "cable" options from an a la carte menu on our NATVs, and we'll only need wires to bring the Internet tubes into our homes. Five years after that, we'll all be using WiMax or another ubiquitous high-speed wireless Internet provider. We'll be wondering why we ever had all those wires for phone, DSL, cable or Internet. Our bathroom reading will be eBooks bought on our fifth-generation iTablets. The iTablet will be the ultimate eReader on the market. Note to Kindle: Never mind, they know what's coming. Apple is changing the game. Again. Competitors, eat your hearts out. Consumers, rejoice.