How the iPad Could End Cable TV

Who would win in a fight between iPad and cable/satellite operators?  The question is really more like when.  The small tablet device, closer to a remote control than a television or computer, has been placed into an interesting pickle.  It’s the first massively adopted device that plays the role of both a remote control, a video player and a television.  Cable operators are debating whether it’s a threat or a tool for their business.

The HBO Go iPad application is an example of what television could be.  Forgot those complex cable TV menus.  Forgot those plastic remote controls with sticky keys and disposable batteries.  Forget the limited availability of certain episodes or certain seasons.  Hello everything, whenever you want it, easy to find, with a smooth, wireless, glass touch interface.  Navigating episodes and movies on the iPad is an amazing experience, whether you’re using the Hulu Plus, Netflix, VEVO or HBO Go applications.  It’s fast, interactive, smooth, visual and provides some much needed organization.

But the iPad has a unique feature that separates it from laptops and other tablets on the market, its cousin, AppleTV.  Apple devices now work hand-in-hand over Wifi to wirelessly beam streaming video from a mobile device to a nearby television.  It’s called Airplay.  Many of us have heard of it, but experiencing it in person opens your eyes to a whole new TV viewing experience.

The vision is to use the iPad as your remote control, pick a video, and then it streams over the internet from your iPad through your AppleTV to your television.  It shifts suddenly from the role of remote to the role of video player.  Use the VEVO or YouTube application with Airplay for a taste of this experience.  Except, this amazing feature doesn’t yet work in the HBO Go, Hulu Plus or Netflix apps.  It seems operators and networks got angry that the experience is so slick; iPad began treading in TV-connected territory.  HBO Go‘s iPad application restricts the ability to Airplay video or even connect the HDMI cable to the iPad as you can do with other applications, like a monitor output.  You can hook up a laptop to a television, however, and easily stream HBO Go, Netflix or Hulu Plus.  How did the iPad get positioned as a larger threat to cable subscriptions than a laptop?

Time Warner’s iPad app lets you watch live TV in bed in your house.  That’s great, but what about on demand?  HBO Go let’s you watch anything on HBO anywhere.  Now that’s what I’m talking about, except I can’t get it to play on my TV.  As a consumer, these intentional limitations are frustrating and confusing.  Consumers want to use all the features a device like iPad has to offer, and only time will tell whether iPad’s Airplay feature will become so in-demand that operators and networks agree to let these new video applications use it.  It’s inevitable, but they’re stalling.  They realize that when they do, suddenly the need for a cable box withers.  Between the Netflix, Hulu Plus, VEVO, WatchESPN, and iTunes apps alone, they have a lot of content covered, and the experience will instantly put a cable box with a remote control on the shelf with black and white TV’s.  Then one company will own the remote, the player and the storefront….and it just so happens to be the same company dominating the music industry.

A few months ago I wrote a blog entry questioning why AppleTV was the only TV-connected box on the market without an application store.  The answer is Airplay.  iPad+AppleTV+Airplay enables users to achieve the same result as a TV-connected box with applications, but with a 100% touch experience.

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