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It's time to unleash the Apple TV

Yet being bound to content is both a blessing and a curse: It makes the hardware dependent not just on engineering and design, but also on the capriciousness and myopia of Hollywood. It's likely why we have Apple A8(X)-powered iPhones and iPads, but an Apple TV that is still stuck on a single core Apple A5 from 2012.

There are all sorts of arguments to be made about why the Apple TV needs content to be a truly compelling product, top among them: to be "input one" on people's television sets. But there's no getting around the fact that, year after year, update after update, the iPhone and iPad have shipped — and done exceedingly well — without the need for special content deals.

Yes, the pocket and lap are different than the living room, but those differences are getting smaller with time, not greater.

It's no secret that Apple has been working on a new Apple TV for years, and that there's both incredible passion for, and incredible talent working on, the product within the company. There have been false starts and changes in direction along the way, but from 2012 to 2015? It's impossible to believe some progress hasn't been made.

The fruits of that progress were widely rumored to have been slated for release at WWDC 2015. Recently, however, Recode reported that those content deals still hadn't been wrapped up.

Apple won't be announcing its much-anticipated subscription TV service next week at its Worldwide Developer Conference, according to several people with knowledge of the situation.The Cupertino technology company has told network executives the planned unveiling will be postponed because Apple has yet to finalize the licensing deals. Industry executives predict Apple's Web TV offering may not launch until later this year, or in 2016. Technology and money issues remain sticking points.

Now, the New York Times has just reported that new Apple TV hardware won't make an appearance at WWDC, though said content deals seem to only be part of the issue.

Yet one much ballyhooed device will be absent from the conference: a new Apple TV, Apple's set-top box for televisions. The company planned as recently as mid-May to use the event to spotlight new Apple TV hardware, along with an improved remote control and a tool kit for developers to make apps for the entertainment device. But those plans were postponed partly because the product was not ready for prime time, according to two people briefed on the product.

I don't know if that report is accurate or not, or what "not ready for prime time" is supposed to mean. I'm not really concerned about the content deals: As a Canadian, I almost certainly wouldn't benefit from them anyway. (At least not any time soon.) As an earthling, I long ago realized it will take nothing short of a generational change (read: extinction level event) in Hollywood for any sort of reasonable shift in thinking when it comes to online content.

But the lack of new Apple TV hardware, an SDK, and an interface to go with it? That possibility breaks my heart.

I love the Apple TV. I use it all day, every day. I cut the cable cord long ago and iTunes, Netflix, and various iOS apps that I stream over AirPlay account for almost everything I consume. I love it, deeply and truly.

That the 2012 Apple TV continues to do that acceptably is testament to the strength of the streaming-only model. I can't help but believe, however, that a modern Apple A-series powered box — with an SDK that allowed for games and entertainment apps — would do it so much better. And for most of the world, the benefits would be so great that it wouldn't matter if there were content deals or not.

The content deals would become a bonus, not a constraint.

Apple hasn't announced a new Apple TV, but they did hint at that something was coming back March when they price dropped the existing model to $69 and said it was only the beginning. I dislike the term "delayed", but it's impossible to argue, as far as the general public is concerned, that the Apple TV hasn't been left to fallow.

Unlike the iPhone and iPad, the Apple TV is part of the iTunes organization. That changes the go-to-market dynamics considerably. It makes for complex equations, and Apple has to do what it believes will make for the most compelling product at a price the market will bear. (Modern iOS devices cost more than $69.) That transcends all issues of atoms and bits.

"1000 nos for every yes" is more than a mantra, it's core to Apple's culture. And Apple is the only one with all the information here.

All that being said, Apple's hardware and software teams have proven that they can ship iPhones and iPads every single year. I can't help but think that if the Apple TV was released from its content burden — if it was allowed to exist with but an SDK and a dream — it could do the same.

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

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.

35 Comments
  • Could not agree more, don't let the licensing deals drag out what would still be a fantastic update, new hardware and an SDK ! Native Plex etc on a refreshed box and UI would be fantastic
  • "That the 2012 Apple TV continues to do that acceptably is testament to the strength of the streaming-only model." Agree. I'd expect Apple to keep the 3rd-gen model around indefinitely.
    $69 for "standard" HD streaming is just fine.
    Of course, if and when there is a next-gen TV it might be more expensive.
    Say $199 for 4K output, with Siri and gesture control, plus HomeKit.
    It would replace the Mac as the non-mobile home-based "digital hub."
  • My favorite Apple TV content is viewing the photos and videos of my family. I'm sure i'm the minority, a person that doesn't spend 5 hours a night in front of the TV but frankly today's media content is overblown and uninteresting. If the best think about the Apple TV is a diet subscription package then that speaks volumes about the lack of brainpower devoted to the project.
  • "Home sharing" family photos / videos is pretty much the only reason I ever switch to input HDMI-1. When I do, it takes a long time to load even short videos.
    My TV has Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Vudu, DLNA, YouTube etc etc. all those other apps on aTV are never used. It's a 2014 LG, the UX isn't as pretty as aTV, and it's almost as slow. But it delivers 4K. And I don't have to juggle different remotes. And I can push from my phone to the TV, more like Chrome Cast vs AirPlay. Sent from the iMore App
  • I know this is off topic to the point you were making, but you can train your AppleTV to use your TV's remote.
  • It's the other way around... Some TV remotes can be programmed to control the AppleTV...
  • No, the way I said it is correct. You can take pretty much any infrared remote and teach the AppleTV how to interpret various button pushes. We use our remote from our 2006ish TV to control our ATV3. See https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201856 for detailed instructions.
  • My LG remote refuses to work with my Apple TV. And the Apple TV app, needs a update. It doesn't even deserve the 2 star rating it got.
  • We have two of the current models and have been waiting patiently for an upgrade. We are cord cutters and have no interest in any additional subscription based content other than what we already subscribe to. My beef with the current Apple TV is the worthless Spotify app and the inability to stream Amazon Prime video except through an iPad and AirPlay. When the new Apple TV failed to show up in March I decided to wait until WWDC. Now I think it's time to take another look at Roku 3 and Fire TV.
  • Have both the Apple TV 3 and Roku 3, and I really enjoy the Roku 3 overall as I already get what the ATV has and then some. Only reason why some of the dust was brushed of the ATV 3 is because of my siblings and the fact that some Digital Copy movie codes I can only redeem on iTunes. And yes, we are also cord cutters, 2 years going strong!!
  • I have a Roku 3 and love it. Lots of interesting stuff in the Channel Store, and, beyond that, there are private channels, where you can find content that isn't available here on cable or satellite. (Until a few weeks ago, I had no idea how many news channels broadcast in india. It's a lot.) I can also get music video channels that actually still air music videos. Tons of great content, and most is free. And I'd also recommend grabbing a Chromecast for getting content from the Web. Casting from your computer is really simple, and that doesn't even take into account all the Chromecast-enabled apps you can get for your phone or tablet.
  • The inability to stream Amazon content is Amazon not apple.
  • I completely agree. If the Apple TV's hardware improved and gained more benefits because of that better hardware that is the only justification I would need to buy one. Games? Siri? More robust interactions? Apps? Yes please. I'm fine with the current content selection. Make the platform more powerful. Sent from the iMore App
  • Have one of these Apple TV's myself. Pretty much useless. Thought I could try streaming TV apps (CBS, HBOGO, etc..) but the performance wasn't very reliable, especially on commercial driven content. If Apple wants to try for "input one," they've got a long way to go. They're going to have to surpass what MS has already accomplished with Xbox and I don't see it happening. That useless little black box is already $100, I can imagine what they'll charge for something that can outperform an Xbox. The profit margin isn't what they're used to getting.
  • Apple is gonna start loosing (potential) customers of the Apple TV if they keep delaying and delaying. People will, or maybe already are, gonna just move on to other set top boxes instead. I'd like to see all the newness of the new Apple TV but I'm not sure if it's still worth waiting for at this point.
  • Disagree. Much as I've had some hobbyist fun developing for the Roku SDK, the lack of any breakout apps there (despite a level of openness Apple would never dare offer), plus the fact that the games-powered Amazon Fire TV has utterly disappeared from our collective consciousness, suggests that the case for an Apple TV SDK is significantly overstated. Even if the hardware weren't severely underpowered, it's far less convenient than an iPhone or iPad — longer to start up (turn on the TV, change the input, etc.) and burdensome to navigate. That's not so bad when you're spinning up Netflix or Hulu before sitting down for a two-hour movie, but for short interactions? Let me put it this way: who gets their forecast from the Apple TV's Weather Channel app? I've long hoped for an "Apple TV Author", so third parties could bring streaming media content to the platform without having to be super-special BFFs with Apple first, but the case for a general-purpose SDK is pretty dubious.
  • Agree. These aren't the things I'm wanting Apple to focus on. Faster hardware is always nice. Fix what is broken. The UI, lack of search, better streaming, better airplay, better compatibility with iOS devices, macs, and watch, etc. When I hear talk of apps, app store, sdk, game controllers, then it just turns the Apple tv into something else. It's not simple any longer. Apple can't even get search right much less a doa, bandwidth chewing video streaming service that would already be inferior to cable/sat services, which by the way, customers universally hate. Why would a company like Apple that relies on branding go anywhere near this? Apple isn't going to get input one. It's not going to be offer any kind of great customer experience given the content providers (you see this already with crap "channel" apps on the apple tv). Say no to this Apple. Stay away from trying to be an xbox. Focus on what the apple tv was originally. Airplay. Itunes. Give attention to those apps that offer full libraries like HBO. Netflix. Universal search. Better icloud integration. 4k itunes media and streaming.
  • I don't think Apple is interested on this. There is no money on it. But for people who only use Apple I feel the pain. I only have a couple of old iPod Touch and I owned an Apple TV that I returned.
    Personally, I'm OK with a $35 Chromecast, where I can stream Spotify or Songza. I watch Netflix on a PS3 (kids like games) and/or Roku (on an old crt tv). I watch TV OTA, and watch TV series via free DVD's from my local library (yes, I'm on the Season 2 of Game of Thrones).
  • Between chromecast on my 6+ and my ps4 I have no need. They need a must have niche. So far there's no reason for me to buy one. Sent from the iMore App
  • I imagine that Apple will put its focus on its streaming music service than the new Apple TV at WWDC. We all know they'll be having another event this fall with refresh iPhone, iPad and maybe new Apple TV. Sent from the iMore App
  • The Apple TV needs a web browser in and of itself, not one AirPlayed from an iOS or Mac device. It needs media apps from Amazon and Google - they're on iOS devices, why not the set-top-box? (As an aside, why are they still called "set-top-boxes"? There hasn't been room on TOP of the TV set since the Plasma and LCD displays took over...). It doesn't need to be a game console, but it does need to compete with the FireTV, the Roku, and maybe the SlingBox.
  • If the Apple TV is a no-show, then they need to change their WWDC logo, and fast! :)
  • That is definitely a Apple TV in the WWDC logo, along with color spectrum used in television
  • Apple could announce the new Apple TV at WWDC and say it's coming "This Fall." Then in September they could announce the licensing deal. Sent from the iMore App
  • I have an ATV2 and have used it quite a lot over the years, BUT it is showing its age and the lack of a browser and apps is making it an increasingly painful experience. I've been holding out for the last 12 months in the hope of an ATV4 with 4K and built-in Home Security. If it REALLY is a no-show, Apple just lost a customer and I'll go with another solution. I cannot keep waiting and waiting and waiting. Like the "free beer tomorrow" sign in a pub—tomorrow seems to never come.
  • I sold all my DVD and Blu Ray discs. My only source for renting or even purchasing movies and TV shows is the Apple TV. That I can watch all of that content on an iPhone or iPad as well is brilliant for me personally. My internet connection isn't bad but it's also far from great. At the moment I tend to download a movie to my iPad, then AirPlay it to the TV via Apple TV. It would be excellent if they could launch an Apple TV with a good amount of on board storage, for downloading content for viewing later. I don't care about licensing deals, living in the UK I pay for Sky, mainly for sports. I know fewer and fewer people still buy movies these days but I'm one of those and when I do I buy them from iTunes. The same goes for renting. Sent from the iMore App
  • I use an Apple TV solely for presenting on the road. What I'm hoping for is much better integration and image transfer quality with iPad and iphone and where the interface is visible on the iDevice itself, acting as a full remote.
    If I were to use one at home, I don't want to have to turn on a TV set to listen to radio stations.
  • Wow, having Rene angry about something Apple hasn't yet released (delayed...mmh I wouldn't dare say this) is a first. This tells you something about Apple's latest politics, and maybe why more and more of my friends (and myself !) are seriously considering moving out from that ecosystem. Waiting ages for things as straightforward as an Apple TV able to install apps (I want PLEX please !) is very disconcerting. I can only approve that more and more people, especially Apple fans, start to open their eyes on what is happening to their favorite brand. We need some horsepower in our laptops and get minimalistic updates (and a price rise !) or just... the macbook.
    We need consistency and future proofing and get a bunch of proprietary ports either too early or too late on the market.
    We need reliable and productive web services and get Photos which was just eaten by Google's own take on the concept.
    iCloud drive is still a pain to use after all this time, and costs more than the competitors while offering less features.
    We need a democratization of smart objects and get only luxury priced beta products... The list goes on. This is not the Apple I signed for years ago.
  • I just don't know what a new Apple TV can offer that isn't offered by the many superior streaming devices already available. Between Rokus, Fire TV, Chromecast, XboxOne, PS4, computers, etc., there are so many options already hooked up in homes. Is a new Apple TV going to play my Apple content any differently than an old model? No, it's not. Because really, the access to Apple content is the only significant advantage Apple TV has. So I don't think this a new Apple TV is such a pressing matter to be honest.
  • According to the latest, they aren't going to debut it. It is ashamed they really are wasting an window of opportunity here. No one would argue that the interface needs a major face lift as does the technology that drives the Apple TV. Don't get me wrong when the Apple TV debuted in it's current form I loved it, but it is really over due and frankly there are other streaming devices which offer much better user experiences out there.
  • "As an earthling, I long ago realized it will take nothing short of a generational change (read: extinction level event) in Hollywood for any sort of reasonable shift in thinking when it comes to online content." Here is the attitude again: that everyone must bend over backwards to give mighty Apple what it wants and anyone who refuses (whether it be a company that chooses to compete with Apple, a supplier that refuses to deal on Apple's terms and people who chooses to buy a competing product) are immoral, short-sighted, dumb etc. The same mindset that causes Apple fans to be frothing mad at Google and Samsung for "infringement" claiming that they should pay billions or have their devices banned from the market while shrugging over Apple's refusal to pay Ericsson about 25 cents per device because of Apple's use of Ericsson's patented and very vital 2G and LTE patents: http://www.macrumors.com/2015/02/27/apple-ericsson-patent-lawsuit/ Here is the reality. Apple has no leverage here. This isn't the iPhone where Apple has a billion devices in the hands of high-paying consumers. This isn't the iPod where Apple enjoyed pretty much a monopoly on the MP3 market, meaning largely the music industry itself as CDs and other physical media became obsolete. This isn't even the iPad, which has sold hundreds of millions of devices. Instead, this is Apple TV, of which Apple has sold slightly more than 20 million devices in 8 years. Even better, a large chunk of those weren't even bought by consumers, but by businesses who use them for presentations. So Apple wants the TV and cable networks and movie studios to change the way that they have done business for decades in order to accommodate a market share of perhaps 12 million people who actually regularly consume content on Apple TV? I repeat: you want media companies whose business model relies on regularly reaching hundreds of millions of people on a daily basis with DVDs/Blu-Rays (declining sure), network TV (again declining but still), cable, satellite, websites like YouTube and Twitch, and movies (52 million tickets sold for Avengers: Age of Ultron alone) to change to chase a market of 12 million? Now if the issue was a single channel like Netflix or Hulu Plus or Amazon Prime that is accessed across a variety of devices and platforms to add up to a potential viewing audience of tens of hundreds of millions of people, then that would be worth Hollywood's time. But 12 million people? Also, there is no guarantee that the new, improved Apple TV would sell like gangbusters, either, especially if it exceeds the price point of what people have generally been willing to pay for a set top box ($99 and - thanks first to Roku and then to Chromecast - dropping). If Apple continues to move 2 million units a year to consumers, or even if it increases by 150% to 5 million a year, it will be a long time before Hollywood is willing to disrupt its very lucrative arrangements with cable and satellite companies. Getting HBO as a sixth month exclusive was one thing, because HBO always planned on supporting Android, Chromecast, Fire TV, Roku, browser streaming on PCs etc. anyway. But unless Apple TV is going to become some sort of industry standard that will A) crush the competing streaming boxes and B) replace cable/satellite from a hardware AND content perspective, Hollywood has no incentive other than to treat it as one option among many, and not even the leading or most widely used option at that (Roku is #1 and honestly Chromecast is #2, because none of the 17 million Chromecast sales since 2013 have gone to businesses, schools and other organizations using it to replace the projector ... that is 17 million people using it solely to stream consumer content). If Apple wanted Hollywood to say "how high" when they said "jump" they should have made the iPhone or at least the iPad the center of their pitch. I know that hearing this burns Apple fans going back to the Microsoft wars of times past, but market share/size matters. And a market of 12 million (roughly the same number of people who bought tickets for "Taken 3") isn't enough to make Hollywood bat an eye. That being said, Apple does need to get a product out soon, and the reason is GAMING. Nvidia, Razer and Acer are working hard to get people who play Steam games on Windows to switch to Android instead by A) getting developers to port Steam and Windows PC games to Android and B) streaming PC games to Android devices, where the Android tablet or the Android TV box is the "monitor" for the Steam or Windows game that is actually running on a Windows PC. And as Android TV devices support Chromecast, they already have the ability to use Android phones as not only controllers but motion sensors for gaming ... there is already an Android Chromecast tennis game that allows you to use your phone (hopefully not your daily driver flagship but something like a Moto E that can be had for as little as $30, which is actually less than a knockoff console remote) the same way that you can for a Nintendo Wii controller. Google has released a gaming-centered SDK to promote even more games for Chromecast and Android TV along those lines, and Nvidia has released a gaming SDK for Android TV also. So unless Apple wants the $35 Chromecast (for whom Google releases updates giving new functionality to all the time) to be the new casual gaming standard for the living room, they had better release their own solution before too many developers start migrating to Android TV, Nvidia and Chromecast. (Incidentally, a game written for any one of those will run on all 3. An advantage of the ecosystem that Google and Nvidia are already promoting to developers.)
  • I completely agree. I could care less about content, it's the device that needs an update. It's slow, the remote stinks and the interface is ancient. Say what you want about Amazon but I love the Amazon Fire TV.
  • Not having an Apple TV SDK ready for WWDC will likely mean no Apple TV this year. No SDK this summer = no time for developers to create quality games and other content for the device in time for the holiday season... #timing
  • I have an ATV3 and been waiting for a upgrade and some Channels package. I'm currently subscribe to Sling TV, pay 25 a month I get to see most of my favorite cable Channels, including Sports Channel's. I been waiting for a while wishing Apple can bring something similar to Sling TV, but it keeps delaying. For now, I will stick to my Roku 3 and Sling TV.
  • I want the hardware as much as anything but I fear price is going to be a problem. I know apple makes hellacious margins but to put anything like an a7 or a8 chip in this thing without content sales to offset the cost and keep it at $100, $200, or even $300 of the shelf is impossible to believe. I'm afraid we're going to have to have hardware and content together to see this thing hit the market anytime soon. Sent from the iMore App