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Why Apple decided to axe its mythical HDTV

Apple HDTV

After nearly a decade worth of research and prototyping, Apple last year finally put to bed any designs it may have had on releasing a branded HDTV set, this according to a recently published report in The Wall Street Journal.

According to the Journal, Apple seriously investigated the development of an HDTV but was ultimately unable to come up with a set of differentiating features that would position its own offering apart from the competition.

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As part of its research into HDTVs, Apple reportedly looked into a number of varying display technologies.

In the mid-2000s, it created a prototype display that was transparent, like a pane of glass, when turned off but used lasers to display an image when turned on, according to a person familiar with the matter. That technology never made it past the research phase because it used an enormous amount of power and the image quality was poor.

The report also relays that Apple a few years ago considered developing a 4K display, a product which would have been far too expensive for most consumers at the time. Anther feature Apple toyed around with included a TV with built-in FaceTime functionality.

But in the end, the calculus involved in developing and releasing an HDTV just didn’t add up. Apple executives have stated that the company only enters new markets when it can add something of value. In this case, it seems that Apple was unable to conjure up any compelling new features at all, hardly surprising given the current state of the TV industry.

Whereas Apple’s bread and butter lies in entering markets suffering from a lack of innovation, the TV industry is far different from the MP3 Player and smartphone markets Apple was successfully able to enter and conquer over the last decade. TV sets from the likes of Samsung and Sony are well-built and feature absolutely stunning displays. The room for innovation, save for display quality, is rather narrow. What’s more, the margins in the TV industry are notoriously low, a dynamic which doesn’t really align with Apple’s traditional business model.

Interestingly, and clearly not coincidental, the Journal report comes hot on the heels of a letter published by activist investor Carl Icahn in which he laid out a case for why Apple shares should be valued at $240. Therein, Icahn said that Apple was undervalued precisely because of the company’s plans to not only enter the HDTV business, but the auto industry as well.

All that said, it’s not as if Apple has completely given up its dreams of controlling the living room. But rather than planting its flag via hardware, the company plans to do so via software.

Over the past few months, there have been numerous reports pointing to Apple releasing its own TV service. According to various reports, Apple’s TV service, which may be announced as early as WWDC, will be a lightweight offering of about 25 stations that will be priced in the $30-$40 range.

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large for over 15 years. A life long Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW. When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.