Is Apple About to Legitimize PVRs?

by Chris Seibold Feb 23, 2006

Apple has issued another invite to the press for a special event. The invites asks select members of the media to show up and see some “fun” new products. You can’t tell much from the invitation except that “products” is plural so you can assume that there is going to be more than one thing revealed. They do use the word “fun” so you can count Intel PowerMacs straight out. Other than that, everyone is just guessing.

Well what fun is guessing without a blurry photo? Fortunately, some intrepid soul or incompetent Photoshop user (take your pick) sent just such a snap along to MacDailyNews. Go ahead, take a look. Well, that photo doesn’t tell you much, the only reason it even seems plausible is because Steve Jobs really, really, really loves cubes.

Pundits are predicting everything from an iPod boom box to new iBooks. The iPod boom box just doesn’t sound event worthy and an iBook is something Apple wouldn’t pitch as “fun,” computers are for doing stuff, not having fun after all. This leaves us no better off than we were before.

In cases like this, where even the most inaccurate rumor sites aren’t making stuff up to feed the gnawing emptiness left by an unknown product announcement, we have to revert to first principles and guess at the answer. Principle 1: Apple likes to make money. Secondary fact: The iPod, and associated stores and software, is Apple’s biggest hit, arguably, ever. Tertiary note: It is very hard not to go to the well too often. That line of reasoning leads us straight to: Apple branded Personal Video Recorder (PVR).

If Apple decides to jump into the PVR market they’ll have to take TiVO head on. TiVO is popular enough that the company’s name has become a verb, as in: “I TiVOed it.” It is at this point many people wonder how Apple could hope to displace a product so many users love. What could Apple add to a PVR that TiVO can’t add just as quickly and how could Apple erase the lead of a product so many people dearly love?

History provides the answer. When the first Mac came out a lot of people loved the beige wonder. Sure you couldn’t write a letter longer than eight pages but the GUI, something completely new for most folks, was so compelling that early adopters felt the need to evangelize the machine. For all the goodwill and tech envy the Mac built up, as soon as the IBM PC came out people bought them in droves. The reason was simple: When IBM started making PCs people knew they were here to stay. Apple may have been a wildly successful company but it was still a young company, one that people didn’t associate with long-term stability.

Apple could do to TiVO what IBM did to Apple. Apple releases a PVR and suddenly it isn’t a tech heavy gizmo for TV addicted geeks, it’s an iPod for your TV habits. TiVO may be a great company, but they don’t have the branding to stand up to an Apple onslaught.

That doesn’t mean that an Apple branded PVR will be a slam dunk, competing against TiVO won’t be nearly as difficult as convincing people to jettison their generic PVRs rented from the cable company. For most people spending several hundred dollars for a PVR instead of the five spot the cable company tacks on tp the cable bill to rent one isn’t a convincing proposition. The simple solution would be to partner with cable companies. Apple doesn’t play well with others, to put it mildly, so imagining Apple successfully dealing with demanding cable companies seems like a stretch worthy of Mr. Fantastic.

With that in mind, it is obvious that if Apple introduces a PVR that features nothing more compelling than Apple industrial styling they’ll have introduced a product that only the style conscious and most fanatical Apple loyalists will actually purchase. That scenario quashes the hope of recreating the success of the iPod.

Apple is full of smart people so expecting them to release a shiny PVR would be shortsighted. If Apple goes the PVR route, expect them to add something cool. The MacBooks and iMacs ship with remotes, mix some wireless in and you too will be able to turn your Mac into a television set. That doesn’t address the issue of content but with more and more shows coming to the iTunes increasingly misnamed music store plenty of paid for content will be available. A movie store to sweeten the pot? Perhaps, word on the street is that Steve has the ear of Disney executives. A movie store, TV shows on demand done right, and streaming to your computer (or an easy iPod transfer) could be the difference between another iPod level home run and an Apple Quicktake.*

This all just speculation, Apple could just as easily release a game pad (chance of success 3%), an awesome video dedicated iPod (chance of success 99.7%), an Apple branded TV (chance of success -2034584%), or an Apple branded cell phone (chance off success 50%). It will be interesting to see what products they unveil but the truly interesting thing will be what they associate the new products with. The invite says fun so expect Apple to try to extend the iPod line this time.

*For those that don’t remember the Quicktake was an Apple branded digital camera, it was rebranded Fuji that ultimately failed because it offered no real advantages over the competition.

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  • It’s a tuesday thing…

    Good points, Chris. Admittedly, one of the the reasons why I did not yet buy into any of the available PVR-systems is - me thinking Apple would do one. It would be nice if they finally did. The less time I have for watching TV the more annoyed I get over not being able to time-shift. I want a frontend on the Mac that allows me to program to my liking & then have the PVR downstairs do its thing.

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Feb 23, 2006 Posts: 371
  • Not going to happen.  Apple has no interest in a PVR.  Why?  For one, they want to stay buddies with Hollywood and Hollywood doesn’t like PVR’s.  Two, why provide a way for people to record stuff over the air when they have a store that is selling the TV shows on it?  No one would buy from the store if they could record it, would they?

    So if you want a PVR, better stick with TiVo, ReplayTV, EyeTV, or MythTV because Apple’s not going to do it.

    jocknerd had this to say on Feb 23, 2006 Posts: 23
  • Right now the only thing that we know for sure is that you can’t bulk order the Mac mini anymore. Apart from this everyone just seems to be guessing, so far we’ve had a Media Cube, iTunes on Series 60, features length movies on the iTunes store and a widescreen iBook replacement.

    The rumour mill is rolling,

    Alasdair Allan had this to say on Feb 23, 2006 Posts: 5
  • How about this… Hollywood doesn’t like PVRs as they are at the moment. Who knows what Apple’s take on them might be? And who’s to say that Apple isn’t “big” enough (1bn songs through iTMS suggests this) to dictate a little to Hollywood (“Look guys, we have access to a delivery channel you could only dream of - we recommend you work with us”).
    And, as for the “selling TV shows argument” - well selling TV shows on DVD doesn’t appear to have harmed the appeal of TV shows. So, yes, people would still buy from the store even if they could record it.
    The existence of product X doesn’t stop people producing product Y, which they believe is better than those currently on the market.
    I’m not saying Apple *will* do a PVR, just that your argument doesn’t make me believe they won’t.

    hitchhiker had this to say on Feb 23, 2006 Posts: 48
  • -Umm WOAH!

    I know it’s off topic and a bit late as the article was posted last year, but did anybody follow the third “really” up there?

    Without going too far off subject, what was his deal?  Is Jorge Lopez really that un-edu-macated?  Anything happen to him for writing such dreck?

    patrick0brien had this to say on Feb 23, 2006 Posts: 1
  • Actually Jorge’s piece was a great example of satire. It works on many levels.

    Chris Seibold had this to say on Feb 24, 2006 Posts: 354
  • Apple wouldn’t do a PVR. They’ve never made a product, which isn’t internationally compatible.

    Luke Mildenhall-Ward had this to say on Feb 24, 2006 Posts: 299
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