If anyone can fix the DVR, it's Apple. The company has been trying to impact the way consumers watch TV for years with the Apple TV, but without cable TV content the device doesn't do much that other online streaming content boxes such as the Roku HD or many Blu-Ray players can't also do. This week it was revealed that Apple is in talks with cable companies to allow an Apple device to be used as a DVR and set-top box. Now the details of just what Apple has in mind have been revealed.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, an Apple device used as a DVR would allow customers to store TV shows in the cloud and begin watching them at any time, even if the show is still airing live. It would also allow users to share TV shows over social networks and play content from other Apple devices, such as an iPhone or iPad.
The report also states that such a device would, of course, use an icon-rich iOS user interface. TIVO was hedged out by cable companies that prefer their customers use DVRs that allow those companies to more tightly control how content is consumed. Since then, the user interface and product design of DVRs has taken a back seat to digital rights management (DRM) and advertising considerations. This issue is only now beginning to be improved upon, though cable customers still have little choice in what DVR they receive from a cable company.
Of course, cable companies make money by forcing customers to rent DVR cable boxes. However, Apple has proven with iTunes that it can single-handedly change an industry and drag it into the future. Perhaps cable companies, who are coming up against streaming services such as Netflix and technologies that invalidate their business model, will see this outreach from Apple as a lifeline and turning point for the cable industry. Only time will tell whether Apple will provide the restrictions that cable companies prefer to put on their content or open that content up to ideas such as an a-la-carte pricing model. An Apple "channel" store instead of an app store would be a step in the consumer-friendly direction.
What sort of device the Wall Street Journal was referring to isn't clear. It seems obvious that Apple will implement such features into the Apple TV if it can, providing customers with an inexpensive way to upgrade their cable-viewing experience. Rumors of an Apple HDTV set have been swirling for more than a year, though, and it wouldn't be surprising for Apple to market an all-in-one solution for TV viewing.