Solving the puzzle of high-definition video, Internet packet protocols and other esoterica comes down to a single question for most consumers: how many remotes will I need?
All of the technology that's needed to watch sparkling high-def video on demand, from cable, DVDs, off-the-air and from DVRs and other storage devices already exists. What doesn't exist is an appliance that ties it together for consumers who don't, can't or won't do it themselves.
If the rumors sweeping the tech and financial worlds are true, it may that Steve Jobs' legacy won't be the iPhone, the iPad, iPod or even the iMac but rather the iTV, or whatever it will be called.
With the release of Jobs' authorized biography today, we learn that he hinted to biographer Walter Isaacson that the Apple design team was hard at work on a "connected" television -- one that would do for TV what Apple once did for the computer, cell phone and portable music player.
"Finally cracked it"
And just what would that be, exactly? Well, we don't know because we're consumers. And as no less an authority than Jobs himself once put it: "Consumers don't know what they want." He went on to say that the designer's job was to anticipate consumer needs and fill them in as elegant and simple a way as possible.
"I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use. ... It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud," Jobs is quoted as saying. "It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.”
Apple, of course, already makes a pretty nifty set-top box that does quite a bit of seamless syncing, as do quite a few others. But no one has yet built an entire TV set -- a video appliance, if you will -- that combines all of the technology into a single box, a very elegant box no doubt -- with a slippery little remote that even a Baby Boomer can understand.
Various financial analysts are saying today that the beta version is already moving through the assembly process in China and that some of the software is already in consumers' hands, in the form of iCloud, iTunes and Siri.
Siri? That's the software that enables the new iPhone 4S to talk with you, as opposed as just talking to you.
OMG, do you think maybe there won't even be a remote? Maybe we'll just ask the iTV what's on tonight? Or whether there's a new series or movie that resembles Deadwood? Maybe iTV will pipe up and remind us we wanted to watch Bill Maher tonight?
Jobs' last act
Much has been written and said about Steve Jobs since his untimely death but often lost in the shuffle was recognition of what was perhaps his greatest gift -- showmanship.
Except for its adherents and practitioners, geekdom is actually pretty boring. Do you really want to learn about sampling rates? Jobs and his team had the ability to take a box of components and turn it into a thing of beauty, much the way Detroit was able to bend sheet metal into the stuff of dreams back in the 1960s.
People once bought computers and related gadgets because they needed a device to perform certain functions. Now they buy them because they love them. This is no small accomplishment.
The ability to meld engineering, design and marketing with art is a gift given to few. It is often transitory and always subject to the limitations mortality imposes. Witness Mozart (a poor marketer but you get the point).
If Jobs really did manage to reinvent the lowly TV set and bequeath an elegant new version to a world of consumers who don't yet know they want it, it will be a posthumous feat of marketing and design genius pretty much unmatched in modern times.
Can't wait to see it.