Is Apple Being Beaten to the Punch?

If Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) wants to enter the TV market, it might want to do it sooner rather than later, as competitors seem poised to beat it to the punch.

Arguably over its entire history, Apple's business has been driven largely on being the first to the market. Although many of its products weren't exactly the first of their kind, they were the first that appealed to consumers on a broad basis.

The iPhone for example, wasn't the first smartphone -- Research in Motion's (NASDAQ: RIMM ) Blackberry lineup set the standard -- but the iPhone was the first phone to target average consumers rather than power business users, and it was the first phone to leverage the possibilities of a large app store with apps written by third-party developers.

Before that, there was the iPod. It wasn't the first mp3 player (those devices had existed since 1997), but most mp3 players before the iPod were confusing and cumbersome. Apple offered the first mp3 player that was intuitive and came with a great software application, iTunes, that made using the device significantly easier for consumers.

Even the Mac. It wasn't the first PC, but it was the first to embrace innovations which would later become indispensable, like a GUI and a mouse.

But, perhaps most significant is the iPad. Until the iPad, tablet PCs were largely something of an anomaly; they existed, but mostly in a prototype form. Apple created a device which made the tablet an everyday consumer product and revolutionized the PC business.

In all of these cases, competitors emerged only after Apple had established a winning business model. In the case of the iPhone, Android-powered smartphones. In the case of the iPod, a multitude of competitors, most notably Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT ) Zune. In the case of the PC, boxes running Windows. And in the case of the iPad, Android tablets, notably offerings from Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN ) and Google itself.

An Apple smart TV has been rumored for years. The company has never confirmed it, but Apple's key management has made a plethora of statements that, reading between the lines, make it seem obvious that a TV is forthcoming.

Steve Jobs told his biographer, Walter Isaacson, that he had wanted to reinvent the TV, and that he had succeeded in "cracking" the interface problem -- creating the most intuitive TV interface one could imagine.

Just weeks ago, Apple's current CEO, Tim Cook, hinted at a TV in an interview with CBS.

If Apple releases a smart TV now, it would follow in the footsteps of its other devices. Smart TVs, depending on how you define them, have been in the marketplace for over a year now.

Samsung already offers a smart TV running Android. The TV can run apps like Facebook (NASDAQ: FB ), Twitter and Angry Birds, and has a number of interesting features like motion control and voice commands.

Yet, the device hasn't taken off yet among consumers. It could be Samsung's lack of brand recognition. Although its Galaxy phone line up is enough of a threat to Apple that it has lead to lawsuits , consumers aren't lining up for a Galaxy like they do for an iPhone.

Or, it could be the TV's relatively high price tag -- well over $2000 (55 inch model) for, what critics at CNET allege , an ultimately lackluster picture and poorly implemented features.

But it isn't only Samsung. PC heavyweights like Intel (NASDAQ: INTC ) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) are reportedly getting into the game. DigiTimes reports that the companies will step into the market next year.

Many commentators believe that an Apple TV is coming in 2013, perhaps in the first quarter.

This might be the case; however, if you had listened to these same commentators last year, you would've believed that a TV was coming in 2012.

At any rate, if Apple wants to release another successful product, they may be running out of time.

(c) 2012 Benzinga does not provide investment advice. All rights reserved.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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