Apple rumored to be developing smart TV prototypes

Apple has been working on prototype HD television sets since at least September, according to analyst Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray, an international investment bank and securities firm. The speculation is that the new models will include an Internet connection to enable OTT services (like the current Apple TV box) that allows users to buy programming a la carte, and, like the iPod and iPhone before it, could change the way consumers get and consume their TV shows.

Munster said the information comes from a September meeting with a "contact close to an Asian component supplier" that he would not name. Steve Job's biography, which went on sale this week, said that Jobs admitted before his death that they had "cracked" the concept of a smart TV interface.

Munster refers to January meetings with other Asian sources, which he said also indicated that Apple is investing in manufacturing facilities and securing supplies for LCD displays. The screens, however, could be for devices in sizes ranging from 3.5in to 50in, giving no clear indication that a TV set is the end goal.

The largest screen sizes currently used by Apple are 27in, and are found in the iMac, Cinema Display and Thunderbolt Display.

Munster also noted that Apple has filed for a number of TV-related patents, including one from October 2006 involving browsing and recording live TV. A patent published in January 2011, Munster reported, documents a system that could "include a set-top box with or without a digital video recorder (DVR) (or, personal video recorder (PVR). In other example implementations, a display with built-in functionality (e.g, a television)."

What Jobs may have come up with, Munster speculated and "Electronista" reported, is a way of mixing live TV with previously captured shows on iCloud. He also proposed that the Siri voice command system could be extended to a TV, solving long-standing interface problems.

On the current Apple TV set-top, for instance, typing in titles can be extremely tedious even when using a connected iPhone or iPad.

If Apple ships a TV next year, Munster estimated that of a predicted 220 million in total 2012 flat-panel TV sales, Apple could take about 1.4 million, falling within a subset of 106 million Internet-ready units. If Apple hits the 1.4 million mark, it's believed that the device could add $2.5 billion to the company's 2012 revenue, followed by $4 billion in 2013 and $6 billion in 2014.