The future of Apple TV
These moves make the Apple TV both more interesting and more affordable — and I have no doubt that the imminent return of Game of Thrones will help sell a lot of the little black boxes. But in the battle for the living room, with competition ranging from the ultra-cheap Chromecast to pricer if more potent consoles like Playstation 4, where does the future of Apple TV fit?
The next Apple TV
The battle for input 1 — the first HDMI port on your TV — is tough. You have lots to choose from: cable and satellite boxes, game consoles, streaming boxes, and more.
Apple entered the living room in 2007, the same year it launched the original iPhone. Based on a lobotomized version of OS X Tiger, the first Apple TV was a big, expensive silver box that ran on Intel, had a hard drive, and focused on syncing with iTunes on the desktop.
It was replaced in September 2010 by the second-generation Apple TV, a small black box that ran iOS on an A4 chipset, supported 720p video, and streamed from the cloud. In March of 2012, Apple bumped that little black box to Apple TV 3, the box we know and use today: It runs on the A5 chipset, supports up to 1080p video, and has been continually adding streaming services since its debut.
Some three years later, we've gone from iPhone 4s to iPhone 6, third-generation iPad to iPad Air 2, and we even almost have our hands on an Apple Watch — but that 2012 Apple TV 3 is still the latest and greatest set-top box model from Apple. And it's showing its age.
If we compile all the rumors and dreams that have been circulating since the last Apple TV update, expectations for an Apple TV 4 certainly run high: Apple has a laptop-class processor now with Cyclone, and console-quality graphics potential with the Metal framework. That combination could stream video and play games like nobody's business.
But it's also expensive. The iPad mini 2, which has last year's Cyclone processor in the Apple A7 chipset, currently starts at $299. (Coincidentally, the same price as the original Apple TV). Go to 32GB of storage, and it's $349. (Coincidentally, the starting price of the Apple Watch).
Sure, the Apple TV won't need a built-in screen the way the iPad does, but it will need a remote control cable of exploiting its functionality, which the iPad doesn't. If it has sensors on board, including Siri, it will need a way to handle that input on-device or on-remote. All this to say, a modern Apple TV will cost more than $69. Maybe quite a bit more.
To justify the higher cost, Apple would have to provide equal or greater value. Again, based on long-running rumors, that could include forward-looking support for UHD or 4K video, content deals, and/or the introduction of an Apple TV SDK that does for set-top boxes what the iPad did for tablets — turns them into a gateway to the App (Game) Store.
How we'd control it remains an open question: New, innovative remote? iPhone or iPad remote? Apple Watch remote? There are a bunch of hypothetical options to consider. (And, while we're talking fantasy, I still love Guy English's idea of MFi Nintendo controllers tied exclusively to Mario, Zelda, and Metroid for iOS...)
There's a lot that could make a new, high-end Apple TV a no-brainer — especially if it served as a Siri-powered HomeKit hub, AirPort router, or did any other number of additional, rumored things.
A hypothetical $299 Apple TV could position the "old" $69 Apple TV 3 as the entry-level option: Much like the "old" iPhone 5s or iPad Air hanging around at lower price tiers, it offers basic functionality for those who don't want or need the latest or the greatest (or the most expensive). That could be very compelling, as stand-alone boxes go. But what about streaming sticks?
Apple TV Direct
While I've not found any rumors about this, I'm sure many people looked at the Google Chromecast and wondered what a version made by Apple could do. Not a small, independent box that could browse and play content all on its own — but a tiny HDMI device that could stream content from an iPhone, iPad, or Mac. Apple has already shown decoupled interface and remote-view projection with both CarPlay and Apple Watch. They've certainly been using AirPlay to Apple TV for years.
I could easily see the future Apple TV as an interface built into iPhone and iPad as part of a future version of iOS, where the processing occurs on-device, but the interface and content projects onto your television through an HDMI dongle. It would be great for travelers who want to be able to watch what's on their phone or tablet on the TV but don't want to carry anything as big as an Apple TV through airports or on long car drives. Likewise, there are folks who simply don't want another box on or under their TV that might instead prefer an HDMI dongle.
And, like CarPlay, it would make hardware updates less of a concern — every time iOS is updated, Apple TV Direct would update as well. It could also be inexpensive — inexpensive like iPod shuffle cheap. Inexpensive like under $50 cheap.
Just the beginning...
Apple TV Direct, like netbooks and budget phones, may simply be too low-end for Apple to consider. But even without it, that still leaves the current — and currently $69 — Apple TV as a more affordable point of entry than ever before, and room on top of it for that high-end Apple TV 4 of our dreams.
Apple said at the Spring forward event that these Apple TV announcements were just the beginning. So all we know for certain is that there will be more.
Either way, given the HBO Now announcement, the rumors of more channels to come, and the potential of the platform, I find myself really enthusiastic about the future of Apple TV.
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Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.
However, a remote that mirrors the screen is something that's entirely possibly right now. Apple has the know-how to create this experience on the iPad and iPhone Remote Apps. Why they haven't done this yet is beyond me. Maybe too much of a UI difference between the current remote and the iOS app. Right now they are very similar. Create maybe an unfair advantage to those who don't have an iOS device??? I know that's kind of a lame argument, but the fact that the UI isn't mirrored on the iOS devices Remote App is just as lame. I'd love to see the next remote have input switching, universal power-on and volume.
2.) The iPad mini retina not only includes the processor (which is about $14 per unit based on latest BOM information) but it also includes a:
-Stylized aluminum shell
-LTE modem (including licensing fees associated with that)
-Saphire on both touch ID and camera coverings
-A camera on both back and front
-Mechanical home button
-Volume rocker and associated circuitry
-Mute switch and associated circuitry
- Speakers and associated circuitry
-Battery All of these things not needed in an Apple TV.
Talk of UHD or 4k is great, but it does not reflect the market, where is very little 4k content available. A "build it and they will come" is great for wild predictions of the future, but normally the reality is very different. While newer content is being shot using digital cameras and could be easily converted to 4K, the reality is most of the content was not and content providers are not willing to spend the money needed to convert the existing content to 4k. Look at the current Blu-ray market for a good comparison, which is about 9 years old if you expect it really began with the release of the PlayStation 3. Now count how many really bad Blu-Ray conversions exist, where the DVD seems to be better quality than the Blu-ray or even how many Woody Allen movies have still not been released on Blu-ray in USA. Besides these facts, sales of 4K TVs are extremely low.
It has often been said of Apple that "they skate to where the puck is going", but in this case I believe it will be three years before 4K TVs are adopted in large enough numbers. If you don't think this is true, I am sure you could find an article from 2 years ago talking about the Apple TV supporting 3D movies. His comments on a ATV SDK are interesting but I don't think Apple will go in this direction. If you look at the market of "Smart TV" SDKs in the current and past markets, there has been poor developer traction and even worse customer traction. This is true whether you look at Boxee, Roku, Samsung or U-verse etc.
So far the only products that the market has shown demand for are the current PC streaming products, i.e. Netflix, Hulu, Youtube, Amazon etc. Even for these products to be successful, content is still king, as Netflix has previously stated “The goal is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us”. I heard the rumors of the "HomeKit" hub before and the positioning of the device in the home network does not make sense to me. Why position this in a device behind a firewall, that could be difficult to use for WAN access? It would be a lot easier to position the "HomeKit" hub in Apple's networking products and then maybe a simple client in the ATV or iOS device. After all a router is a device that "bridges" different types of network why not add the bluetooth network to this device. Any local network access would be easier and more useful from an iOS device. Who wants to pause a movie to dim the lights etc? The "Apple TV Direct" is really the only part of this article where Rene and I agree, but I see this device as a replacement for the current ATV form factor rather than a complimentary product in the Apple TV range. If Apple can reduce the size of the motherboard in the new MacBook by 60%, why can they not reduce the size of the Apple TV by roughly 75% when they will be able to remove the voltage transformer from the device. One idea that I have had for a while is the integration of the Apple TV into any future displays that Apple release. A rough estimate of the current Apple TV components must be around $10 to $20 (probably a lot less). Adding the Apple TV features to a display would then allow Apple to market the display as an "Airplay Display" and fits in with the wireless future, it introduced with the new MacBook. It would also allow the display to be used to view content from the iTunes Store when no mac is connected, or as a wireless display when you connect a mac over WiFi. While I don't know if Apple would ever release a display that would be suitable for most living rooms (over 40 inches), it would be useful in college dorms, bedrooms etc. The one problem I do see with this idea is you would be not able to airplay a retina picture (at least 2304x1440 @ 60Hz) with the current wireless technologies. Of course this is all just a hot bowl of claim chowder.
He said: "But it's also expensive. The iPad mini 2, which has last year's Cyclone processor in the Apple A7 chipset, currently starts at $299. (Coincidentally, the same price as the original Apple TV). Go to 32GB of storage, and it's $349. (Coincidentally, the starting price of the Apple Watch)." First of all, the 2nd gen TV was $99 and had an A4 processor, that same year they released the iPod Touch and iPhone, and iPad 2, all with the same processor. So, why is the TV $99 of the other cost a boatload more? As some said, no storage options, no screen, no battery, and no sensors or other extraneous tech. Continuing: "To justify that cost, Apple would have to provide equal or greater value. Again, based on long-running rumors, that could include forward-looking support for UHD or 4K video, content deals, and/or the introduction of an Apple TV SDK that does for set-top boxes what the iPad did for tablets — turns them into a gateway to the App (Game) Store." I'd really love to see Apps for games and an SDK for other things...and more "built-in" apps (like weather, stocks, and other widget-like apps...think WATCH glances). Also, with the current rumors and developments surrounding Nintendo, Guy English's wish might be granted in the coming years. With those added features, I can see the price of entry for a next-gen TV going back up to $99 or even $149 (if a new, more advanced, remote is included as well). I see this current price drop and HBO deal as a stop-gap. A way to get more people into the TV and Apple ecosystem within the living room. It also allows people to update their 2nd gen. models to the latest version because i bet those models will not be able to view HBO Now content...much like the 2nd gen. model can't view the latest firmware. So, I see this as a temporary measure to get more new customers using the TV and a way to entice legacy owners to upgrade...buying Apple 6-12 months for content deals to solidify. The fact they made this deal right now with HBO and dropped the price is a very clear sign that something is brewing and will soon be released. I don't think these latest updates (if you can call them that) would have occurred if something wasn't imminently coming. That's why they waited this long to release anything new to the TV, IMO.
In general, I don't see the difference between "set top box" like the current AppleTV, a PS4, or Chromecast: They all take up an HDMI port on the TV so what's the big deal? Shelf space? I've got a satellite receiver/DVR, DVD player and a BlueRay player, stacked. An AppleTV can sit on top of any of those and be nigh unnoticeable. The one item that maybe makes sense for a stick instead of a box, is power. Assuming an HDMI port provides power to the stick thus eliminating a separate power cord.