Digital Crave

Will 2013 be the year of Apple’s iTV?

Let’s face facts: Apple’s newly-launched iPhone 5 and iPad mini were two of the industry’s worst-kept secrets.

In fact, both product unveilings proved to be, well, anticlimactic -- largely because of all the industry rumors and leaked info and photos that preceded them. This is especially true for techies who followed all the prerelease hype, which resulted in a sense of déjà vu when Apple CEO Tim Cook took the wraps off these products.

Bottom line: We already knew what Apple's latest smartphone and pint-sized tablet looked like and what they can do.

But Apple's iTV is a different story altogether.

Not much is known about the alleged smart television the late Apple cofounder Steve Jobs was quoted about in Walter Isaacson's best-selling biography.

"I'd like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use," said Jobs. "It would be seamlessly synched with all of your devices and with iCloud. It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it."

But as we say goodbye to 2012 – Apple's most prolific year when it comes to product launches – and set our sights on 2013, the following is a round-up of the latest buzz surrounding iTV (or whatever it'll be called).

Is iTV really in the works?

Yes. Aside from Jobs' assertion he "cracked" the television user interface problem, but Apple's Cook has all but confirmed it's on the roadmap. In an interview with NBC earlier this month, Cook said an Apple TV is "an intense area of interest" and he compared the current living room television experience to going "backwards in time by 20 to 30 years." Even back in May, when Cook chatted with AllThingsD at their DX conference for about 90 minutes, he hinted about an iTV project. When asked producing a set-top box and companies like Sharp handling TV panel production, he answered rhetorically "Can we make a significant contribution far beyond what others have done in this area? Can we make a product that we all want?"

When's it coming?

According to this report from Focus Taiwan, an inside source says Apple's first television won't be available until "the end of next year," with a possible debut at the Consumer Electronics Show the following January (2014). While the timing may be accurate, Apple never takes part in the annual CES spectacle in Las Vegas, so this part of the tip is a bit suspect. Other reports suggest we won't see an Apple-branded television before the year 2014 altogether. Is that too late? Some analysts believe so; as for how critical the timing could be, see below, under "How important is it?"

Where is it being made, tested?

In the same Dec. 19 article published by Focus Taiwan, testing of Apple's iTV has already begun at Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. (a.k.a. Foxconn) in New Taipei City, citing an "insider" at the factory. This isn't the first time news leaked about the development of Apple's iTV: In May, Terry Gou -- the head of Foxconn -- slipped the news during a Shanghai press conference about it "making preparations for iTV, Apple's Inc.'s rumored upcoming high-definition television," reported China Daily. A week later, however, the company quickly refuted that information, saying it was "not accurate." By the way, Foxconn is the world's largest maker of electronic components and manufacturer of the Apple iPhone and iPad, among other products like Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii and Amazon Kindle.

How big will it be?

Foxconn is currently testing early television prototypes with screens ranging between 46 and 55 inches, says BGR in a recent article, which references a Wall Street Journal finding. The same WSJ piece also says its sources confirm Apple is working with Sharp to design the TV, plus Sharp is also said to be supplying the display panels for it. Focus Taiwan also reports Foxconn is currently testing TV prototypes up to 55 inches. Will it have a retina screen, comparable to what's found in the iPhone, iPod touch, iPad and MacBook Pro? Not likely, says Trip Chowdhry, managing director of Equity Research at Global Equities Research, in an interview with Forbes, as a 50-inch television with a Retina display technology would cost about $25,000 today.

What can it do?

What Apple's own HDTV can do is likely the most shrouded of all secrets -- and something you won't find much info on online from other sources either. Some of the buzz predicts users will have access to an App Store, to customize the television experience with software and on-demand services, plus there's also iCloud integration to tie content to multiple devices. On iCloud support, Gene Munster, managing director and senior research analyst at Piper Jaffray, said this in a research note: "While a solution for live TV combined with previously aired shows 'recorded' in the cloud remains a significant hurdle, perhaps this code is precisely what Jobs believed he has 'cracked.' Other rumors suggest Apple's TV will also have a built-in camera for FaceTime video calls and will include support for the voice-activated Siri, which is now bundled in many of its iOS products. "We also believe Apple could use Siri, its voice recognition, personal assistant technology to bolster its TV offering and simplify the chore of inputting information like show titles, or actor names, into a TV (typically with a remote)," adds Jaffray. Given Apple's focus on design, its iTV will also likely be super slim and boast a minimalist look.

How important is it?

Very, insist some analysts. A recent BGR article that quotes exports suggests Apple "needs to launch the Next Big Thing in order to reverse investors’ soured sentiment." BGR quotes Barclays Capital analyst Ben Reitzes, who predicts that Next Big Thing could be Apple’s iTV, but if the WSJ information is correct – that It won't even launch in 2013 – then the fear is it will be too late to snap investor out of their "recent funk." Shares of Apple stock have dropped as much as 25 percent the last two month alone, from a high of $705.07, just before the launch of iPhone 5. Reitzes says Apple "just needs to launch the Next Big Thing to remind investors why it is the most successful consumer electronics company in the world." At the time of writing this, Apple's stock price is at $525.70.