Could Apple’s iPanel Change TV Viewing?

Apple is rumored to be launching a giant new iPad to replace your television, and it likely will be called iPanel. Calling it a TV limits the perceived breadth of the device, and iTV is already owned by UK TV). Plus the branding of the existing (and ailing) AppleTV wasn’t consistant with Apple’s rhythmic and simple mega-branding: “give it a P word and slap an i at the beginning.”

The flat HDTV screen is reportedly 50 inches, the price may be as high as $1600, it will include built-in wifi for streaming, it may include Siri to augment your remote control, and it’s being positioned as “more than TV.”

iPanel: Artists rendering of an alleged prototype

But don’t get in line yet at an Apple store… the iPanel may not launch until 2014.

“There hasn’t quite been this much hype, intrique and mystery around an Apple product since the first iPad,” reports CNet about Apple’s second attempt at television. CNet has a roundup of rumors based on talking to suppliers, manufacturers and Apple insiders.

How do you know when it’s coming soon? Someone from TechCrunch will find a giant iPanel accidentally abandoned carelessly at a bar. Really that happens.

Here’s what we’d like to see. If Jobs was still around, the device would include most these elements and a few more surprises we don’t know we want/need.

  • The user-interface best-practices of AppleTV, iTunes and the latest round of iPads, iPhones and iPods. CableTV boxes are so horribly painful to use that we’d be happy to bump them. Our TiVo replaces one of our three cable boxes.
  • Streaming everything via iTunes cloud, but also non-clunky full access to CableTV features like premium, on demand content. This should overlay and augment Cable unless Apple wants to replace it entirely by bundling live content. Going that route would force Comcast and Verizon to evolve its circa 2002 boxes.
  • Absolute seamless portability of our content, which even includes some vintage DVDs (but we’ve phased out the VHS tapes, thank you very much)
  • Complete integration with laptop and mobile devices, which should act as remote controls at any location. For instance, my kids love that they can connect their iPads, iPhones and iPads to a dedicated wifi in our home, which allows them to stream their music to an “always on” stereo. We’d expect our iPhone to remotely search and subscribe to content for viewing later.
  • Most importantly, we want a small device (like the cute, tiny AppleTV) that also offers all or most of these functions. If Apple requires us to purchase the damned 50-inch monitor the iPanel will have a painfully slow growth curve. People replace television sets currently more frequently than before — every few years instead of decade. But we’re not going to ditch all of our HDTVs to place an iPanel in every room.

I’ve always felt alone in my appreciation for the AppleTV, which never caught on. However I do seem to be using it less and less since the overhaul in the past year or so. It’s far more evolved than Verizon’s crappy Motorola boxes, but it forces me to buy TV shows instead of rent or watch “all you can eat” with a monthly subscription (like CableTV, Hulu or Netflix). I believe that Apple, if it wants to boldly innovate the TV experience, will have to either partner with Cable providers, Netflix, and Hulu… or more likely dissintermediate them if industry players, the FCC and the government (antitrust laws) permit.

The technology will be the easy part for Apple, which could launch a 50-inch iPad tomorrow. To make it game changing, the content producers and networks will have to cooperate. And a bold play for movies and television obviously won’t be as easy as setting up an iTunes music store.

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