Apple And Integration: Who Cares?

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By Lee Distad

In case you hadn’t noticed, the CE industry is square in the middle of a major shift in how entertainment media is distributed to consumers, as well as how it is stored and played back.

The key question, which has yet to be truly answered is: Who are going to be the key players in this change? Apple has been at the forefront of digital media distribution, first with music on iTunes, and most recently their offering of HD rentals via AppleTV, but there are still other contenders, not least of which include Netflix and (still, oddly enough) Microsoft.

From an integration perspective, does it even matter? It’s already starting to appear that entertainment content, and how it’s offered, is going to be a much bigger deal than the hardware solutions that access it.  Have you noticed that all the boxes that offer some kind of streaming media, including the Blu-ray players with Netflix embedded in them, not just the dedicated boxes like AppleTV and Roku are all low retail price, low margin hardware?

Let’s be honest here; there’s zero margin in selling these devices to your clients. The only profit dollars to be seen are in integration: installation and programming the control devices in a complete project.

So far, AppleTV hasn’t achieved total domination the way the iPhone and the iPad have. AppleTV sales have been good, but not great. The integrators I know have been asked to incorporate AppleTV into their jobs, but the numbers aren’t astonishing, and the story has been much the same amongst others in the business. But looking at it another way, they’re being asked to integrate AppleTV more than any other little streaming box, excluding game consoles like Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3.

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Also, let’s not forget that for the last 12 years, it’s been a mistake to bet against Apple when the have a plan.

appletv-1012None of this is meant to single out Apple as being a failure: The overall long-term trend in media distribution is heading away from adding one more box into people’s systems. Streaming media is still only mid-shift right now. I’ve pointed out before that the cable companies are only still offering broadcast receivers because that’s the way they’ve always done it, and even now that model is starting to change.

In an era where the phone company is offering television, the cable company is offering phone service, and everyone’s offering the Internet, we’re at a crossroads, and the obvious future of entertainment will be entirely Internet-based sometime soon.

With the content side sewn up via the Internet, that places the emphasis of the business entirely on the side of your client’s Internet connection and network. So instead of worrying about AppleTV vs. Roku vs. broadcast vs. whatever, put your design and install focus on what’s really going to matter: specifying blazing fast networks in your clients’ homes and businesses. It’s easy to swap out a box and its control programming if one streaming media service wins out over the others, but it’s much harder to upgrade the network installation. Focus your efforts there.

Lee Distad is a rAVe columnist and freelance writer covering topics from CE to global business and finance in both print and online. Reach him at lee@ravepubs