Apple's next big product? If you believe one analyst, it'll be a television set.
"We continue to believe that Apple is developing a television that will succeed its current Apple TV set-top-box, likely in late [calendar year] 2012," Gene Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray, wrote in a June 23 research note. "As recently as May 11 the US Patent & Trademark Office has published Apple patents relating to television-specific technology," including one for "advanced TV broadcast menus."
Moreover, he sees an Apple television as a radical game-changer for many of the company's core products, including iCloud and the App Store. "Apple may add movies and TV shows purchased or rented in iTunes to the iCloud service, which could be viewed on a TV," he wrote. "Apple's strong iOS developer community would likely jump at the chance to build apps for an Apple Television, and Apple's iOS users would likely jump at the chance to buy one."
Munster also believes an Apple television could add $2.5 billion in revenue to Apple's bottom line in 2012, accelerating to $6 billion by 2014.
These aren't the first rumors of Apple's supposed television plans. In April, Jefferies & Co. analyst Peter Misek wrote that Apple could launch a subscription-based video service, possibly in the form of a television set or a new set-top box-not to be confused with the company's current Apple TV, a palm-size gizmo that lets users stream Netflix and other content to their televisions. Apple offers streaming rentals, including 99-cent TV shows and $4.99 HD movies the same day the latter appear on DVD.
Misek's research note suggested that such an Apple service would inevitably go head-to-head against Google TV, which combines a Web browser and search capabilities with existing television services. Despite a fair amount of hype heading into its late 2010 release, Google TV found itself met with a decidedly lukewarm reception.
Nonetheless, other analysts seem to think Apple has more pressing concerns than the television market.
"An Apple TV has been one of the biggest digital unicorns of all time," Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg told eWEEK April 15. "Saying that Apple is going to build a television set two years in the future and saying that for five years doesn't make you right."
Indeed, Apple COO Tim Cook once famously referred to the existing Apple TV as the company's "hobby," and CEO Steve Jobs once lamented that the product has never been a huge hit. That being said, the revamped Apple TV sold 1 million units within its first two-and-a-half months of release-but would that be enough for the company to make a bigger bet on the segment?