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Apple TV: Apple's Trojan Horse

May 13, 2013 | Telepresence Options

apple tv


Story and Images by Grant McCracken / Harvard Business Review

Last week Apple's Tim Cook made fleeting reference to "new product categories." Bloomberg West called it "tantalizing."

There are a couple of candidates in Apple's "big thing" category. One is an iWatch, but I think the one to monitor is the other, Apple TV.

The current Apple TV, as it stands, is a set top box that enables an end-run around the cable companies and lets us pipe movies and TV into our living rooms. But an Apple-produced television has the potential to be so much more.

As I've written in my previous two blog posts, our first inclination is usually to play down the potential impact of a new technology. It's the safe and emotionally comforting thing to do. But we should be more future-sighted. Let's imagine, for instance, how Apple TV could change the world.

The new Apple TV will have the form factor of TV but its real and revolutionary purpose will be telecommuting so good it's going to feel like teleportation. The Apple TV will whisk us to work, to school, to conferences, to the city, to Second Life, to our memory palace and virtual library, to shared worlds like Eve and Halo. The Apple TV will be a portal to worlds now accessible only by planes, trains and automobiles. Apple TV will turn our offices and living rooms into portals.

This Apple TV will give us signal from which virtually all noise has been extracted, a "retina display" with so much pixel density that we are no longer feel we're taking transmissions from a distant planet, and, probably, another species. We won't believe our eyes and ears.

The consequences will be something to behold. So let's behold them. At a minimum, this Apple TV could change education, hospitality, work, and travel. It may even change the city. Now that we're done, or nearly done, disintermediating old media like the newspaper, and supply chains like the book store, it's time to solve that vexing problem of having to get ourselves from one place to another. It's expensive, time consuming, fraught with inefficiencies, and punctured by indignities we put up with because we have no choice. (Have you flown lately?) The moment we do have a choice, it's good bye to all that.

Let's think about the travel industry. What should it do to get ready for Apple TV? It might consider taking the advice of NASA's Charles Bolden Jr. who, when asked what we should do if a 50 foot meteor of the kind that hit Russia recently were to strike New York City, said, "Pray."

The effects could be catastrophic. Direct spending on business travel by domestic and international travelers totaled $249 billion in 2011. It turns out that roughly $99 billion of this is spent on meetings and events. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that we will protect this expenditure, because for some events we need to be there in-person to circulate, network, meet new people, and eat with friends we only get to see once a year.

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