The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Apple is working with cable providers in an effort to bring a set-top box capable of displaying live cable television and other content to market. The report also notes that this would be an after-market product, similar to Tivo boxes. This means the cost of the device could be “hundreds of dollars”, instead of a monthly rental of $15 from a cable provider.
The report further suggests that in offering such a set-top box, Apple could bypass licensing content from providers, and instead work off of existing cable distribution. Plus they claim that over time, this technology could eventually morph into a feature of an Apple-built television set.
Steve Jobs largely discredited* the idea of a set-top box that would be compatible with cable providers at his last appearance at the All Things D conference. Specifically, he noted that it would be difficult because there is no single standard or nation-wide cable provider (not to mention other countries), and that cable providers were reluctant to hand over power and revenue to Apple.
But more pressing than the business problems, at least to my mind, is what this device would be capable of. The report seems to suggest that it would be little more than a Tivo replacement. Although for many this would be a relief, would it be enough to sway consumers from just using the set-top DVR provided with their cable subscription? As a fan of Apple products, I’m not sure it would sway me- even if, say, a new input method was created specifically for this device, and the current Apple TV feature set (I’m thinking iTunes and Netflix content here) came with it.
In short, the set-top box business seems like a tricky market to enter.
*Yes, Jobs is famous for discrediting a market, and then jumping into it with a hit product. But here, he seemed pretty candid about the business problems facing the creation of such a device- not the usual marketing problems that he used as the crux of his rejection of an idea.