A channel change: Will Apple start selling televisions?

Apple has had modest success with its Apple TV set-top box for streaming movies and music into homes. But the company might be exploring getting into the business of selling televisions.

If Apple does it right, it could disrupt yet another category of consumer electronics, in addition to the smartphone and tablet categories where it has succeeded beyond its wildest hopes.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. The Cupertino, Calif.-based company recently posted a job listing on its web site for an AC/DC power supply design engineer.

The engineer will work “on the forefront of new power management designs and technologies … for Apple’s next generation Macintosh platforms spanning from notebook computers, desktop computers, servers, standalone displays and TV.”

It’s going to need a lot more than one engineer to design the company’s own TVs. But the topic has been one of speculation since Steve Jobs, chief executive of Apple, said at a conference that it makes more sense to embed a product like Apple TV into a television than to try to sell a set-top box. Apple has launched its second-generation Apple TV set-top box for $99. It competes with other boxes such as the Boxee Box, Roku, the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360.

The TV business also has fierce competition, from Sony to Samsung. Computer makers such as Hewlett-Packard and Dell have tried to enter the TV business, to no avail.

It could be very difficult to enter the TV business at such a late stage, since TVs are already going through great changes, with manufacturers shipping 3D TVs and internet-connected TVs. The best time to enter a market is before the disruptions take place, as Apple did with smartphones and tablets.

If Apple has any advantages, it might be in trying to get apps to run on a big screen, as I have written before. Apple has more than 330,000 apps in the App Store. If it got apps to run on the TV, it could offer lots of free or 99 cent apps. That would disrupt traditional TV content, such as $60 video games.

How Apple enters the business also makes a difference. If it wants to make apps run on the TV, it will likely have to beef up the memory, processing power, and media storage capabilities of a TV. But it can’t jack up the price to crazy levels, considering the fierce price competition in the TV market.

One approach to bypass those extra costs is to use a server-based technology such as OnLive, which can stream high-quality games to a TV screen. OnLive announced at the Consumer Electronics Show that it will stream games to TVs made by Vizio. While that requires a fast broadband connection, it does not require extra hardware in a TV. The advantage of server-based apps on the TV is that the TV doesn’t have to be upgraded over time to handle beefier apps.