On the iPhone's profit distortion field, and Apple TV

Though I have faith that Apple isn't shunting the iPad due to its less-than-measurable sales against the iPhone, it's not the only other product in the company's wheelhouse. The Apple TV in particular hasn't seen a whole lot of love in recent years, even as company CEO Tim Cook proclaimed it no longer "a hobby" product. Jason Snell makes a good argument for why the Apple Watch might be more appealing to ship before a new Apple TV. From Six Colors:

The Apple Watch is the smart play for Apple right now. I recognize that. But I still have to lament the lack of progress in a product like the Apple TV. This is a product that's seen very little hardware improvement in ages, with software that's in desperate need of a rethink. It's been passed by in every way by its competitors. The only reason I keep my Apple TV around is because it's the only way to watch stuff I bought on iTunes and use AirPlay. I keep it around because it uses Apple's stuff, not because it's good.

Could Apple TV be the best TV-attached box on the market right now? Sure it could, and maybe there's even an update in the wings that will make it that. Maybe it's even been a priority at Apple—just not the top priority. Could you look at the iPhone numbers and choose differently?

It's absolutely true that Apple TV has been on the slow track for several years, lacking in hardware upgrades while its potential competitors beefed up. Could that have hurt its chances to dominate in the market? Probably. But when you consider all the shifting pieces in play on Apple's board, that delay might actually be a good one — even if we believe that it's been done in part to bolster the iPhone.

For one, there's been a steady influx of superstar talent to the Apple TV team over the last eighteen months, and they seem to be staying with the product rather than being shuffled around to different departments. That points to significant work being done, even if that work is behind the Cupertino curtain.

There's also content deals to think of. Right now, all of the major set top competitors — Apple TV included — are using their own proprietary rental and purchasing system along with deals from various third-party services like Hulu, Netflix, and more. So far, most of the cable channel apps have required a cable subscription to use, but HBO's reputed stand-alone service is coming in spring 2015... and wouldn't that be a coup if a new Apple TV launched with HBO as its exclusive partner?

HomeKit is another consideration: The home automation service is just starting to see MFi materials for its hardware partners, and having a new Apple TV as, say, a June centerpiece for all those devices would be a great way to introduce people to HomeKit in the flesh.

Perhaps the silliest reason of all to focus on the Apple Watch before the TV is to offer its customers a new, hopefully better remote system. We know that Apple has an Apple TV remote app in the works for the Watch, and I suspect that the work being done on the device will actually feed the development of the set top box — especially when it comes to any potential Siri interactions or gesture-based viewing. In that way, the Watch might serve not only its profit-laden master, but also provide a strong hook into Apple's upcoming tertiary products and services.

Whatever Apple's reasons for the Apple TV's stagnation, it'd be hard to imagine the device doesn't have a significant upgrade in the works. But probably after the Apple Watch, and for good reason, too. After all, the company only has so many overworked engineers.