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Is Apple defying Steve Jobs with Apple TV?

Steve Jobs delivers the keynote address at the 2011 Apple World Wide Developers Conference at the Moscone Center on June 6, 2011 in San Francisco, California.
Steve Jobs delivers the keynote address at the 2011 Apple World Wide Developers Conference at the Moscone Center on June 6, 2011 in San Francisco, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

It's looking more and more like Apple is going to enter the TV business. The Wall Street Journal recently characterized this as one of Steve Jobs' "ambitions." But was it really? From the same WSJ report:

In meetings as far back as 2010, Mr. Jobs met with a series of cable and satellite executives to discuss next-generation television services for Apple devices, according to people familiar with the matter. Among the questions Mr. Jobs asked in the series of meetings was how much of the universe of video content the providers actually had the rights to, according to a person familiar with the meetings.

Apple's own executives have wondered what the company had up its sleeve. Last year, at its "top 100" meeting for senior managers in Carmel, Calif., an attendee asked Mr. Jobs whether Apple was developing a television.

He responded that it would be a bad business to get into, noting that the margins on television are far lower than the margins Apple makes from its other devices and that consumers don't buy new televisions very frequently, according to this person.

So Jobs himself said don't do it—but then had a change of heart? 

His assessment of the TV business is accurate. What makes matters worse is that Apple has a premium pricing model. It has to price a TV set at a high level, for it to be a proper Apple TV — and for Apple to make enough money on the idea. Mind you, Apple's new CEO, Tim Cook, has a reputation for extracting tremendous economies from the supply chain — the network of largely Asian companies that supplies the bits and pieces of all those iPads and MacBooks. So if anyone could transform TVs into true Apple TVs, Cook is the guy.

But building the TV is only half the battle. The pressure is on Apple not just to introduce a fully blown TV — and not just a set-top box, as it already has — but to reinvent the whole business of TV.

Apple certainly did this with mobile phones, turning them into mobile Web-browsing and app-downloading devices and redeeming what had been up to that point the gruff, consumer-unfriendly wireless business. Prior to that, Apple saved the music business, with the iPod and iTunes (although the price of its survival was that Apple took a generous cut of the renewed profits).

Can Apple capture lightning in a bottle yet again? Maybe. But there could be a degree to which it's going against the reservations of it legendary co-founder. And that would be dangerous.

Follow Matthew DeBord and the DeBord Report on Twitter.

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