"[Television is] a market that we have intense interest in, and it's a market that we see that has been left behind," said Apple CEO Tim Cook in a recent interview with Rock Center's Brian Williams.
"You know, I used to watch 'The Jetsons' as a kid. I love 'The Jetsons.' We're living 'The Jetsons' with this," Cook said later in that same interview. "It's an area of intense interest. I can't say more than that."
The Apple-made television has been discussed ever since the release of Steve Jobs' biography last November, in which author Walter Isaacson revealed Jobs' intentions to reimagine the television set in the same way his company Apple had revolutionized the personal computer, the music player and the telephone. Shortly before his death in October 2011, Jobs uttered four incredibly exciting words to his biographer: "I finally cracked it."
Since then, analysts and Apple fans cannot stop speculating about the Apple-made television set -- when it would be released, how much it would cost, but most importantly, just how revolutionary an experience it would be.
Following Cook's interview with Brian Williams -- the first time he publicly acknowledged Apple had any interest in the TV experience -- there's been an uptick in news about the rumored "Apple iTV" set.
After a Dec. 12 report from the Wall Street Journal said Apple has been "testing a few designs for a large-screen high-resolution TV" with officials from Japan's Sharp Corp and Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. (a.k.a. Foxconn), a new report from Taiwan's Central News Agency says Foxconn is testing those same TV designs this very moment.
"Hon Hai, the world's largest contract electronics maker, has declined to respond to the reports, saying that it will never comment on specific business deals with any single client," wrote Sofia Wu of Focus Taiwan. "However, the Hon Hai source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the initial phase of tests on the TVs has kicked off. Nevertheless, the source said it is unlikely that shipments of the appliances will begin as soon as the end of next year."
The Foxconn source said the experimental TV designs require "flat panels ranging between 46 inches and 55 inches, which means that Hon Hai will not need to get its supply exclusively from Sharp," and will probably use panels made by "either Japanese or Taiwanese suppliers."
Jobs' goal with the Apple branded "iTV" set was to reduce the amount of clutter in the TV watching experience, namely in the number of remotes needed to control the cable channels, as well as peripherals like DVD players and video game systems.
"I'd like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use," Jobs told his biographer Isaacson. "It would be seamlessly synched with all of your devices and with iCloud. It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine."
The Apple iTV could potentially use Siri, the company's voice-powered assistant technology, simplify the chore of changing channels, finding shows, setting reminders or scheduling recordings. Some also believe the Apple iTV would feature FaceTime, the company's popular video communication platform, and even utilize third-party apps built specifically for the TV.
Those features are nothing new, however; what would be new would be the rumored "a la carte" experience, which would let TV users buy specific channels they want to watch, rather than own an entire spectrum that may never be used. The interface would tap into individual cable or satellite providers to customize your TV experience around what you want to watch, rather than own thousands of channels that may never be viewed.
Of course, in order for this experience to work, Apple would need to strike deals with all of the major cable and satellite providers, as well as the individual channels. There have been no reports of any major meetings between Tim Cook or anyone at Apple with the TV companies.
Analysts like Gene Munster originally pegged an Apple iTV release in 2012, but considering the processes required to pull off a project like the one currently in the rumor mill, Apple would not likely be able to deliver a branded television set until late 2013 at the very earliest. Two or three years down the line seems far more likely, especially considering that Apple would first need the proper companies to sign onto this project before releasing it to the public in the same way the original iPhone required FCC and carrier approval.
The Apple iTV set may be years away, but IKEA -- yes, that IKEA -- has its own interpretation of an integrated television set available for sale, called "UPPLEVA."
The UPPLEVA is essentially a television set that manages to keep cables, controls, digital boxes and other peripherals embedded directly in the furniture in which each UPPLEVA LED display is housed.
The TV can play most types of videos, discs and DVDs, but the TV is also Wi-Fi ready and comes with a fair number of Smart TV options, like the ability to search for available programming over different platforms like OnDemand and Netflix. There's also music options, inputs for MP3 players, iPods and even subwoofers, as well as USB slots and HDMI ports for video game consoles and other electronic devices.
The Uppleva is currently available in several European countries, but US customers will have to wait until spring 2013 to buy Ikea's integrated TV/sound/furniture solution. Even though this is Ikea's first major foray into building its own hardware -- and ambitious piece, at that -- it's doubtful that Ikea will be able to create the same amount of excitement that Apple could with its own branded TV set.
According to Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty, Apple could sell at least 13 million TV set units, with customers willing to pay an average of $1,060, a 20 percent premium over the average $884 they paid for their current TV set.