A major TV component manufacturer revealed that Apple contacted it about providing TV display components, Piper Jaffray analysts said in a note to investors Tuesday.
"We continue to believe Apple is preparing to launch a television and is likely targeting a late calendar year 2012 launch," said analysts Gene Munster and Andrew Murphy. "But the timeline and scope of a revamped content solution is more uncertain."
The comments are the latest indication that Apple intends to fulfill the late CEO Steve Jobs' vision of delivering a simple but elegant user interface for revolutionizing the mainstream TV market.
App Developers Key
Munster and Murphy believe that Apple's strong iOS developer community would likely jump at the chance to build apps for an Apple Television, and that millions of users of Apple products based on the iOS platform would be intrigued by an Apple TV offering. However, the launch of an entirely new platform is not without considerable risks.
"If you lead a developer ecosystem then you have to keep feeding them and you also have a responsibility to take them to the Promised Land or at least ever higher patches," said Al Hilwa, director of applications development software at IDC.
On the other hand, Apple may believe it is even more risky to cede the television market to rivals. "If Apple does not crack the TV or living room entertainment nut, then Microsoft, Google, Amazon or maybe even Facebook may get there before them," Hilwa said.
Apple TV Options
Apple could simply enable the Apple Television platform to manage a consumer's live TV service from within a unified interface much like TiVo does today. To avoid the high cost of market entry, however, Apple would need to rely on Multiple Services Operator partnerships.
"While this would be the easiest and most likely option, it would also be the least revolutionary," Munster and Murphy wrote.
Alternatively, Apple could build a unique service on top of a basic tier of network channels, either delivered via the Internet or over the air.
"Apple could then leverage a new App Store for the Apple Television to supplement the basic live TV features with Netflix, Hulu Plus, or any content provider that chooses to build an app for the television," Munster and Murphy said.
The most challenging option for Apple would be to directly engage in the delivery of monthly live TV subscriptions on an a la carte basis. "If Apple truly wanted to control the entire television experience," Munster and Murphy wrote, "it would have to become a virtual MSO and offer monthly subscriptions for live TV services."
Engaging TV Viewers Proactively
Still, the central issue that Apple's solution must fully resolve is how to engage TV viewers more proactively, Hilwa said.
"It seems like the models for [boosting] TV engagement -- which start from gaming and expand outward -- are likely to be the most fruitful at this time," Hilwa said. "Other scenarios which involve folks who might have played board games in the past are possible."
A likely usage model which smartphone and tablet vendors may be able to rally around is one which involves personal touch devices interacting with the big TV screens to play a game or engage collaboratively in some activity, Hilwa said.
"Most games have both personal and shared components -- such as your hand in a card game which is private -- plus a shared area," Hilwa said. "This kind of thing is complex and requires a whole development model built around it that no one has yet proposed.
"I think we can be safe in assuming that we will see a great deal of experimentation in this area in the next 18 months."