Will 4K and OLED Scuttle the Apple TV’s Chance of Success?

Don Reisinger - Jan 27, 2013, 3:52pm CST
Will 4K and OLED Scuttle the Apple TV’s Chance of Success?

The Apple television has been rumored for years now. And every chance a media person gets, they ask Apple CEO Tim Cook what his plans are for that device. Will Apple launch a television? When will the television launch? What sort of features will the television boast? These are all questions he has been posed – and dodged in one form or another.

And yet, the rumor persists that Apple – either later this year or sometime in 2014 – will launch the long-speculated set. That device, its supporters say, will be the product that television buyers have been waiting for, complete with access to apps and high-quality specs. Apple will find a way, the company’s supporters insist, to revolutionize the television industry.

But perhaps those supporters are wrong.

If Apple is indeed working on a television, the company finds itself in No Man’s Land. In the television market right now, plasmas, while still delivering great picture quality, are seeing their sales dwindle. LCDs and LED-backlit screens are performing relatively well, but also seem to be waning. If CES 2013 taught us anything, it’s that vendors believe the future of television relies in OLED and 4K (Ultra HD).

The problem with OLED and 4K is that televisions featuring those technologies are wildly expensive. Currently, some Ultra HD sets are on sale for tens of thousands of dollars. And although OLED delivers an incredible visual experience, models using that technology are similarly cost-prohibitive to the average consumers.

However, most of the folks in the television industry believe that there’s a good chance that by the end of 2014, those prices will be down to levels that some consumers would find acceptable. Interestingly, it’s possible that the Ultra HD sets will be cheaper than OLEDs at first, simply because of the issues vendors are having producing OLED panels.

[aquote]A standard 1080p Apple TV would quickly become obsolete[/aquote]

Still, it identifies a potential issue for Apple: if the company launches a standard 1080p, LED-backlit screen this year or next, it might get some traction in the marketplace for a time, but it’ll quickly become obsolete. If Apple waits until 2015 to launch an OLED or 4K television to capitalize on that new trend, all of the hype the company has been taking advantage of over the last few years will be lost.

Realizing that, I can’t help but wonder if Apple’s television efforts are in trouble. Granted, the company will deliver a software experience in the television that will likely top anything in the marketplace, and Apple has the ability to succeed in spots where others might not, but the television industry is highly competitive and notorious for its low margins. If Apple can’t find a way to deliver the right product at the right price for the right value to consumers, it’ll lose.

Tim Cook and his executive team must know that. They must also realize that the ideal time to launch an Apple television was not 2013 or 2014, but 2012, when the new technologies were still years off.

Like it or not, Apple might have missed its best opportunity to succeed in the television market.

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