Is the Apple TV Already Here?

Bigfoot has been jealous lately. No one seems to want to talk about him, except perhaps a certain beef jerky company. The mythical controversy du jour is Apple's (NAS: AAPL) vaporware TV set, more lusted after than unicorns and more hotly debated than Atlantis. One man thinks he's found the answer to the Apple TV rumors: It's already here!

The hub of your living room
(NAS: BCOV) CEO Jeremy Allaire sat down with tech-news blog The Verge recently to discuss his company's plans for its App Cloud platform. One of his key points was that "Airplay is the Trojan horse that has put connected TVs into every household with an iPhone or an iPad." It certainly doesn't hurt that Brightcove is developing a toolkit to enable dual-screen apps -- one for the iPhone or iPad, and one for controlling action on a user's TV through Apple's existing set-top box.

That's not really the core component of the hypothetical Apple TV strategy. Wasn't Apple supposed to destroy cable companies with a la carte viewing? Brightcove's solution sounds a bit like a next-gen video-game control scheme. The Verge's lead graphic, of a flight simulator controlled with an iPad, only adds to that perception.

But the idea that Apple doesn't need to build an actual TV to offer Apple TV makes a lot of sense. Apple's AirPlay technology has already gotten some developers to create control schemes combining an iDevice and the Apple TV box, so Brightcove's dual-screen development would only result in tighter integration. The relative openness of the Apple TV platform has a number of developers excited about its potential, regardless of its ability to kill cable providers. That's especially notable considering that Microsof's (NAS: MSFT) recently announced (and similar to AirPlay in functionality) SmartGlass is more of a walled garden. Allaire told The Verge that "The Apple TV is a much more open and inviting platform for dual-screen apps than the Xbox, which has remained relatively closed off."

A TV is not a computer
Let's also keep in mind that TV manufacturers have been in a race to the bottom for years. The industry has had such fierce competition that most of its key players are bleeding red ink, and even hardware retailers like Best Buy (NYS: BBY) have felt the pain of steep discounts. A television isn't the same thing as a computer or a game console. Its purpose is to give you a lot of screen space to watch (or interact with) your chosen content. The content can come through an Xbox, an Apple TV set-top box, a cable box, or some other device, but it's the box that holds the entertainment key, not the TV itself.

Apple's set-top box is Apple TV. If Apple wants to fight the content providers, there's no reason it can't do so through that device instead of a TV. It's already proved with AirPlay that a TV can become part of a multi-device entertainment hub, just as Microsoft has with SmartGlass. There may be some die-hard Appleheads willing to shell out super-premium prices for the Apple logo on the back of a flat-screen, but millions with iPhones and iPads would enjoy the synergy between content on their mobile devices and their supersized screens, if enabled with a relatively inexpensive middleman device.

Cast a wider net
The price point of the set-top box also makes more sense. Even if Apple were to boost its set-top price to justify offering more content than Netflix (NAS: NFLX) subscriptions and iTunes movies and shows, it would have a much wider audience than those willing to spend more than $2,000 on a TV that can be had from other manufacturers for perhaps a quarter of the price.

Would Apple be the most valuable company in the world if its iPhones cost $1,000? Probably not. Apple has a history of making new markets, but I'm not sure the market is as willing to adopt expensive TVs as some analysts believe. "Because it's Apple" isn't a good enough reason to buy into the idea of an Apple TV as the next big thing, but an Apple set-top box with the same functionality could expand the company's reach in much broader ways, as our senior technology analyst explains in our brand-new premium research report.

It's not always about what's on the outside. You may have heard that it's what's inside that counts, and whether it's Apple, Microsoft, or some other device maker, there are a few companies on the inside of all the right trends. Discover one company you can invest in today that's perfectly positioned to win in the mobile revolution, not to mention the war for your living room and the future of computing. All the information you need is in The Motley Fool's free report on "The Next Trillion-Dollar Revolution."

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Fool contributorAlex Planesholds no financial position in any company mentioned here. Add him onGoogle+or follow him on Twitter,@TMFBiggles, for more news and insights.The Motley Fool owns shares of Best Buy, Netflix, Apple, and Microsoft.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Microsoft, Netflix, and Apple and creating bull call spread positions in Apple and Microsoft. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days.

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