Over at the New York Times' Bits blog, Nick Bilton has added his well-sourced voice to the rising chorus of yea-sayers on the rumor of an Apple-branded television set, arriving at some date yet uncertain. Bilton's reporting, stretching back over a year, leads him to believe that while Apple isn't yet manufacturing televisions, the company is within striking distance; it could announce a product by the end of next year and begin shipping in 2013. "It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when," Bilton says.
While rumors of an AppleTV-with-a-TV product have been percolating for years (Bilton pegs 2007 as the start of internal awareness at Apple that such a thing would someday happen), the recent resurgence of the concept is driven in part by a quote in Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs. The late CEO reportedly said "I finally cracked it" regarding the secret formula for simplifying and enhancing the TV interface.
Bilton believes that Siri's intelligent assistant is the key for controlling a TV, giving the program guide a massive shot of search savvy and friendliness. Apple's put some serious talent behind the project, according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek; they report Apple's lead engineer on the TV project is Jeff Robbin, who joined the company in 2000 as one of the original designers of SoundJam MP at Casady & Greene; that app eventually led to iTunes.
An Apple TV would presumably tackle the wide variance in TV sizes and capabilities with a MacBook Pro/iPhone approach of 'fewer choices, less confusion,' but it's less clear how the company would meet its own expectations for profitability in a challenging market. Getting content and collaborating with other TV providers could be a sticking point, especially without the legendary negotiating skills of Steve Jobs, and Apple hasn't exactly set the world on fire with its existing iOS-based TV product. We'll have to wait and see.