Apple Snuffed HDTV Plans In 2014, Carl Icahn Says Otherwise

For years it seemed that every discussion on Apple's new product lines and innovation required mention of an eventual Apple iTV (this writer's moniker for such a device, and not to be confused with that amorphous not-a-TV Cupertino-created product with 'TV' in its name, Apple TV). The company had stylishly cracked digital music delivery, sold tens of millions of pretty mobile phones before finally working out how to offer reliable basic phone function via the device, and opened up the tablet market while managing to leech any retail stigma of the word 'pad' along the way. What lucrative consumer technology market was left for Apple to conquer?

The Idiot Box! The Boob Tube! The Telly!

appleitv

Yes. Surely, the trend-making smarties at Apple were no doubt working on putting their mark on that most ubiquitous technology of them all, the television. After all, it perfectly hit the company's sweet spot...tech already deeply rooted in the mainstream but lacking for gee-whiz-cool design, that the company could repurpose and tack an 'i' in front of to claim ownership. Of course, Apple in their inimitable manner never affirmed the rumors of an Apple iTV in development, nor did it deny having such a product in development. 

Now comes word, via the Wall Street Journal (in speaking to "people familiar with the matter"), that Apple did in fact have "a small team" working on a TV project for a few years, but that the group was dissolved "more than a year ago" and its members reassigned to other projects. The reason given for abandoning the project was a dearth of innovative features that would set an Apple iTV apart from its other 
television brethren. The team is said to have experimented with "ultra-high-definition" displays, screens that when not turned on took the appearance of clear panes of glass, and built-in FaceTime technology designed to place focus on the speaker during a video call...features that while interesting were not considered compelling enough to move the project past the development stage. 

So Apple won't be offering an iTV anytime soon, right? Or will they? According to über investor 
Carl Icahn in an open letter to Tim Cook, “Apple is poised to enter and in our view dominate two new categories (the television next year and the automobile by 2020).” and goes on to say that “... in FY 2016 Apple will sell 55” and 65” ultra high definition television sets. We forecast revenues of $15 billion in FY 2016 and $37.5 billion in FY 2017 on 10 million and 25 million units respectively with average selling prices of US$1,500.” 

So what gives? 

According to former Wall Street Journal reporter Iwatani Kane in last year's Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs, Jobs said in a 2010 meeting said that Apple would not release a television product because "TV is a terrible business. They don't turn over and the margins suck." Of course, nearly four years have passed since...well, since Steve Jobs passed, but the nature of the television business has not changed, even if the technology within continues to cross new fidelity thresholds. 

Are Carl Icahn's remarks intended to provoke Apple, perhaps in the hope of igniting a groundswell among shareholders that will push the company to resuscitate HDTV development efforts? Or is he just looking to juke the stock price closer to the $240 per share he believes it is worth?

“With Apple’s shares trading for just $128.77 per share versus our valuation of $240 per share, now is the time for a much larger buyback,” Icahn wrote in his open letter. 

A curious he-said-he-said, to be sure, and one that perhaps portends a future move by Apple. Or perhaps not.


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