Apple TV Express could plug in, power on, and get anything from your iPhone, iPad, or Mac up onto your television.
It's hard not to look at the Google Chromecast and wonder if Apple could make something like it. Don't get me wrong: I love the new Apple TV. With Siri support and the ability to run apps, it's clearly what I want in my home now and in the near future. But it's not something I can easily put in my pocket and travel with — be it between cities or simply between offices.
Last week I was at our Canadian HQ doing training. There we have two last-generation Apple TVs attached to two big screens on opposite sides of the building. They're used as inexpensive and convenient conduits for AirPlay — Apple's wireless content beaming system — so we can quickly share what's 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.
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 it 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.
Apple could go so far as to build a basic Apple TV experience into iOS 10 or 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 already has Airport Extreme and a less expensive Airport Express. The current Apple TV is already supplemented on the low end by the previous Apple TV. This would be an evolution of those concepts: 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.
Would an Apple TV Express interest you? If so, how would you want it to work?