Click here to preview the new Fast Company

Want to try out the new

If you’d like to return to the previous design, click the yellow button on the lower left corner.

Apple's New Spring Hardware Gap Is Perfectly TV-Sized

Apple seems to have worked pretty hard to free up a large window in its usual hardware release schedule, early in 2013.

Here's what we think it could, just possibly, be for.

On Tuesday Apple finally revealed its long-rumored iPad Mini. But it also revealed an upgraded iPad 3, which it specifically described as a fourth generation iPad. We'd been merely expecting a "tweaked" iPad, sporting the new Lightning connector. But now it looks like we have the iPad 4, and the iPad 3 (the previous "new iPad") has, in fact, been taken off sale.

The iPad 4 hits the shelves just over six months since the iPad 3—the first to sport a retina display—arrived. This move tallies with what seems to be Apple's iPad game plan, which is to release one overhauled unit a year, then improve its internals and tweak its casing for the next year's edition. But iPad 4 has effectively arrived far ahead of the April-ish window we would have expected, and it's coming so close on the heels of the iPad 3 that Apple detractors are crying foul and some iPad 3 buyers will be feeling buyer's remorse. That's why some Apple stores are offering a swap out on iPad 3s bought inside the last month.

If Apple did release a new iPad 5 (or perhaps 4S or some such) in April, that may be a spectacularly poor PR move because it would exacerbate any buyer's remorse, particularly if thousands of iPad 4s are bought by enterprise customers. Wall Street may get edgy about the act too, though of course we can't predict this exactly. Instead an October refresh schedule now seems to be the norm for the iPad. That would mean the new iPad 4 would be on sale for a year, alongside the new iPad Mini, and during that time Apple's engineers would have plenty of time to work on new screen tech, new 4G tech and—vitally—improved CPUs and graphics.

Which brings us to March. Apple seems to have a big, deliberate gap in its hardware schedule in the Spring/Summer of 2013.

Remember that there were recently a flurry of rumors that Apple was speaking to movie and TV content providers to try to secure new deals, but negotiations were stalled. Consider that at yesterday's event there was no mention of the upcoming iTunes 11 release—which represents a serious make-over for a critical piece of Apple's iOS and content-serving infrastructure. Nor was there discussion of iTunes sales or any new movie studios signed on board. Apple's favorite "hobby" project, the Apple TV, didn't get a look in. Recall that some analysts recently said that a full-on Apple Television was in "full production," and other rumors that any sort of Apple TV innovation would center on a remote, or perhaps Siri.

March-April 2013 now seems like a perfect window for a television-related Apple innovation, doesn't it? It may be a full TV set. It may be a totally super-powered iOS-based Apple TV puck, it may be a radical touchscreen remote. It may be all of these, some combination of them, or something different. But we really suspect TV is the name of the next Apple game.


In its Q4 earnings call, Apple did have a few things to say about its existing Apple TV device. According to CEO Tim Cook, Apple sold 5 million of the devices in 2012, nearly double the 2.8 million it sold in 2011. The business "continues to do very well," Cook explained, but because its income was so much less significant than Apple's other businesses it's still small enough to warrant a "hobby" label.

But Cook was careful to note that it was a "beloved" hobby and Apple will continue to focus on the device because he believes "there is something more there."

Considering that the Apple TV really doesn't get any PR effort and that seemingly very little manpower is diverted to working on it, Cook's statements are actually slightly misleading. Selling 5 million devices at $100 leads to half a billion dollars in revenue (plus a long tail of movie and TV show rentals through the device), all of which is seemingly achieved at very low cost. Its success proves beyond doubt that there is a potent TV market waiting for Apple to tap it. And if Cook's company put hundreds of millions of dollars of manpower and promotional effort behind a new TV product, it's easy to see a potential for massive upside on half a billion dollars in revenue.

[Image: Flickr user ETC@USC]

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

Add New Comment


  • joe smith

    I agree. The only thing Apple could have an event for in the first half of 2013 for is Apple TV (other than WWDC around June). It would be unlike Apple to go 8 months without a new or refreshed product.

    I'm not sure if it would be a TV, but I expect they will at least update the set top box. I believe it was last update in April with a minor refresh adding 1080p. If Apple did fill the time gap with Apple TV it would take something very significant to be the focus of an Apple event like an iOS App Store / SDK, a new remote or a major hardware update.

  • Successful Workplace

    I'm struggling to see why Apple would produce an enormous television screen when that is such a commodotized business. TV screens only show the output of the clever electronics that go doesn't make sense to have the shipping and storage costs for a product that is produced cheaply by Samsung, Panasonic, etc. 

    I think Apple will remake the AppleTV before they'll go down the television route. So much is being disrupted in entertainment that they can use a highly programmable device 'behind' the TV to do whatever they need to be competitive. It just makes much more sense.

    I agree that the iPad Mini is the perfect second screen. We wrote this up here:

    Comments welcome.

  • Narbeh Dereghishian

    They care less about the 'TV' as a device (though they'll put a lot of care into its build & quality, and price it at a premium)..

    its all about winning the livingroom battle against all the other competitors (namely Google/YouTube, Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, and the recently more advanced TVs that are coming out that support those). This is the real prize. If you can control the device content is being viewed on, you can control distribution, the content itself, and dictate your own price.This is no different then the iTunes store, or the app store. Their profits in that department were strengthened by creating devices and platforms that customers gravitated towards (iPod, iPhone, Macbooks).

  • colinmlbrown

    And what better one-handed remote for controlling an Apple-branded TV than the iPad Mini itself. A second screen device if ever there was.

  • Dm_ac130u

    The one- handed remote is already here.
    The App is called “Remote” and it’s on my IPhone it’s very niceJ