What Apple needs to provide users to make iTV successful

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Apple’s television plans are the subject of plenty of recent speculation, and are raising a lot of questions in consumer minds, as I found out Thursday while guest-moderating a live Q&A at The Washington Post. Questions raised there, along with my own thoughts, led me to this list of things Apple needs to do to make a truly disruptive standalone TV:

1. Not just apps, but an app store. The current Apple TV has apps. They aren’t advertised as such, but the menu options that lead to MLB, NBA and NHL subscriptions, as well as the Vimeo and YouTube channels are basically apps. While doling out new apps in batches via software updates is appreciated, a real app store is the special sauce that will cause an Apple television to take off.

2. High quality live content. Live video could go a long way toward convincing users to switch ponies and abandon traditional cable or satellite providers for streaming video. Apple has done a good job of bringing sports to the current Apple TV, but it’ll have to deliver pay-per-view events, nationally broadcast live programming, and still more sports to sway users who demand to be kept in the loop and don’t like spoilers.

3. Break the bundle. The aspect of current cable and satellite TV packages that makes them most unpalatable is the bundle; If you’ve ever tried to order a speciality channel on its own, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Breaking up the bundle would probably be the most effective way to tempt users to buy its product, but it’s the part that Apple will probably also have the hardest time striking deals to achieve.

4. Games. A lot of the questions I’m seeing about an Apple television have to do with games. The reason? IOS did (and still does) an amazing job of generating high-quality gaming experiences at a fraction of the price of consoles. Suddenly, people who always thought picking up a controller was a waste of time and money are flinging things at other things like there’s no tomorrow. If Apple can translate its iOS gaming success to an integrated television, iOS gamers will flock to it.

5. Stand-out hardware. One question during today’s Q&A stuck out in particular: Why would Apple make a television set when it could just make a better box? The reason is another potential selling point; specifically, Apple could only justify making its own TV if it makes that TV really amazing. Apple definitely has the pedigree, since it produces industry-leading displays on its mobile devices, computers and computer monitors. Make a TV that dazzles and really looks great in a living room, and you’ve got a big buying incentive right there.

Siri integration and a unified content browsing and playback experience through iCloud and the iTunes media ecosystem are things that could make an Apple television interesting, but they won’t set an industry aflame. That’s what the five points outlined above could do, by reaching out to consumers and providing them with outstanding experiences in areas where a lot of current service offerings fall flat.

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