Apple Set-Tops Are Groundwork for ‘Grand Vision’ in TV, CEO Says

Tech giant has shipped more than 13 million Apple TV devices to date

Apple has sold more than 13 million Internet-connected set-top boxes to date — about half of which shipped in 2012 — but the product has mostly been a “learning experience” for bigger plans the company has to reinvent TV, CEO Tim Cook said at an industry conference Tuesday.

“There is a very grand vision” for television, said Cook, who appeared Tuesday evening at the AllThingsD conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. But he declined to elaborate on Apple’s strategy or answer questions about whether the tech giant plans to introduce an integrated HDTV, which is something that been widely speculated for the last several years.

“Frankly, the popularity of [the Apple TV] has become much larger than we would have thought,” said Cook, adding that the company hasn’t really marketed the device.

At 13 million devices shipped, Apple TV is well ahead of other dedicated Internet-video boxes like Roku, which has sold some 5 million set-tops. However, videogame consoles like Microsoft’s Xbox — which has shipped 57.8 million units to date — remain a much larger installed base for broadband video.

Cook described the Apple TV product as a “learning experience,” and reiterated that improving the TV user experience “continues to be an area of great interest to us.”

The $99 Apple TV set-top provides access to movies and TV shows bought or rented via iTunes, as well as Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, Vimeo and other services.