Apple TV Express could plug in, power on, and get anything from your iPhone, iPad, or Mac up onto your television.
Nintendo Switch lets you game like a console in your living room, then pick up and take your gaming on the go. Instead of an Apple TV — or NES! — box, it's more like an iPad that can dock to your TV for room-filling fun. Google's Chromecast achieves something similar but in an entirely different way: through a dongle rather than a dock. There's a lot to recommend Apple TV's dedicated device approach, including separate local storage, but what if we could have the best of both?
Earlier this year I was traveling to do training for some of our new writers. In one of the offices, we had two last-generation Apple TVs attached to two big screens on opposite sides of the building. They were used as inexpensive and convenient conduits for AirPlay — Apple's wireless content beaming system — so we could quickly share what was on our Macs, iPads, and iPhones, with everyone in the room.
When I travel to San Francisco I often stay at a hotel that has previous generation Apple TVs attached to every television set as well. That way, once you're on the hotel network, you're just a few steps away from AirPlaying any of your stuff to the big screen in front of you. Rather than having to learn a new channel grid or suffer through yet another terrible set top box experience, you get content that's yours through an interface you're already familiar with.
But those are both exceptions. I'd love a rule.
The Play's the thing
Like CarPlay, which lets your device and content take over the interface of the car — and eliminates the confusion historically associated with everything from upgrades to rentals — AirPlay does much the same anywhere there's a television. It's so great that, when I end up in an office or hotel room without an Apple TV, I miss it tremendously. Sure, I could pick up an extra Apple TV box, previous or current generation, and make sure I have it with me at all times, but that feels like overkill. I don't really need a box, Siri, or apps for that. I simply need AirPlay.
I need it enough that it makes me long for something like Google's Chromecast dongle — a tiny device that plugs into an HDTV and then simply lets me stream from my iPhone, iPad, or Mac to the big screen. There's even a new Chromecast Ultra that support 4K — which will be great when more providers and better bandwidth make it a reality for most people.
Apple could go so far as to build a basic Apple TV experience into iOS 11, where the logic stays on the iPad or iPhone but the interface and content projects onto your television through the tiny device. That would be like the original Apple Watch. It could allow for a level of multitasking and handoff — where streams are transferred over rather than merely streamed — but it could also add overhead and result in a less than ideal experience.
If so, the interface and management, such as it is, could stay on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac, and the video simply stream to the stick — AirPlay Express or Apple TV Express, let's call it. (Not Apple TV Shuffle!)
It would be great for offices where all that's wanted is screen mirroring, great for travelers who want the smallest amount of hardware possible in their pockets or luggage — great for anyone who just wants what's in their hands to be up on their TV. And, like CarPlay, it would make hardware updates less of a concern — every time iOS is updated, Apple TV Express would be updated as well.
Room at the bottom
Apple has Airport Extreme and a less expensive Airport Express. The current Apple TV was, until very recently, supplemented on the low end by the previous Apple TV. Now that the old Apple TV is gone, and streaming stick could be a great alternative: The full-on Apple TV for those who want a dedicated box and the future of television in apps, and Apple TV Express for those who simply want to project content onto a screen right now.
There's any number of reasons why Apple would never make a TV streaming stick. But every time I think about it, I wish they would.
What do you want to see?
Would you use an AirPlay streaming stick? What else would you want to see in iOS 11? Let me know in the comments!