from the September 2013 issue

Apple Buys Matcha, possibly In an attempt to make your TV more awesome

Imagine sitting down in front of your TV and seamlessly searching -- and surfing between -- Netflix, HBO Go, iTunes and live TV, all without switching apps or inputs.

A similar feature is already expected in the next-generation Xbox, and it could be part of what Apple is attempting with its recent acquisition of a small Silicon Valley-based tech startup called Matcha.TV, an app that helps you figure out what to watch. If we're reading the tea leaves right, the purchase offers yet another clue to the tech giant's stated "very grand vision of television."

Apple's Matcha buy, first reported by VentureBeat and said to be between $1 million and $1.5 million, is only the latest nugget of news to fuel speculation about what Apple may be planning for a TV-like product as technology companies try to claim the future of television.

Matcha brought together different video sources, like Hulu Plus, YouTube, HBO Go, Netflix and Amazon Prime, as well as information from Comcast and social networks, to help users figure out what to watch. But it mysteriously shut down in May, and the only explanation offered was that the app was going in a "new direction."

Apple, for its part, gave a boilerplate response about its plans for Matcha when contacted by The Huffington Post: "Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans."

However, observers said that Matcha's technology could further the fusion of the Internet and TV by letting viewers search for content everywhere all at once, and then watch it on their television sets. For example, you could use your iPad or iPhone to search for episodes of "Mad Men" and then choose whether to watch an episode live on AMC, to stream an episode from the first season on Netflix, or to download the whole fifth season on iTunes.

"I think it'll make the experience that much better," said Chuck Parker, chairman of the 2nd Screen Society, a trade organization that pushes pairing TV with mobile devices. "They're going to try to create an experience by integrating your existing live TV service with your device."

Parker added that Apple could also build technology like this into its existing Apple TV, the $99 set-top box that connects to the Internet and allows people to stream video from about a dozen sources. For now, switching between shows in different apps -- like an episode of "House of Cards" on Netflix and an episode of "True Blood" on HBO Go -- requires several steps. And, of course, if you want to watch live TV, you have to get your television's remote and switch the input and the channel.

Last month, a report in the Israeli business paper Calcalist said Apple was considering a purchase of PrimeSense, a company that builds sensors -- like the one found in the Xbox Kinect -- that allow people control devices with gestures. This prompted many observers to predict that a television from Apple would feature motion-control technology.

Also last month, Jessica Lessin reported that Apple is developing ad-skipping technology, and the company would compensate the TV networks for any revenue lost with fewer people watching ads.

After all, there's much more to building a new TV than content discovery, said Jonathan Gaw, a research manager at IDC, a technology research firm.

"If this is as far as Apple has gotten in developing a television, we've got a long wait ahead of us," Gaw wrote in an email. "Search-and-discovery of content is an important but small part of a connected video experience, a necessary but insufficient element, and probably not even the hardest one

Reprinted from the Israel High-Tech & Investment Report September 2013

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