If a new Apple TV is coming, what new features would you like to see? Here's my wish list
Rumors abound that Apple is going to roll out a new Apple TV in the coming months - a fourth-generation box that will bolster Apple's already dominant position in the streaming video player market.
Let's assume for the moment that those rumors are correct. If you check the timeline, there's reason to think that they are, since Apple has updated the Apple TV annually for the last couple of years. The Apple TV second-generation debuted in September 2010, followed by the third-gen Apple TV 18 months later in March, 2012, with a Rev. A bump coming last January.
What might a new Apple TV look like, and what might it do that the box doesn't do now? I'm going to share my wish list, and I hope you will too.
First of all, I'm going and predict that the Apple TV isn't going to change shape, at least not radically. I think Apple's going to stick with the streaming box concept and the Apple TV doesn't need a lot of size to pack a lot of power under the hood. But I'll be happy to be proven wrong here, and I would love to know what you think the next Apple TV might look like.
We've seen Apple increase the pace of new channels as they strike deals with content providers - HBO Go here, PBS there, Crunchyroll, Qello, ABC, Netflix and so on. I'd like to see a lot more of that happen. Apple TV comes up particularly short against Roku, its biggest competitor in the streaming box market, which offers literally hundreds of channels to choose from (including Amazon Instant Video, which isn't available on Apple TV but can be streamed to Apple TV from an iOS device or a Mac, go figure).
Obviously some of this is wishful thinking, since it's entirely dependent on the content providers and whatever licensing arrangements they've made with other companies (like Roku) or are willing to make with Apple. But I'd like to see more choices for native content on Apple TV, with a nice balance of free and subscription.
We know the Apple TV already runs iOS, but it can't access the App Store and download applications. The device currently isn't set up for that capability. It's been rumored that the next-gen Apple TV will have downloadable applications available for it, and that would be a game-changer - even if it's only "channel" downloads the same way that it works for Roku.
But other apps to extend the ability of the Apple TV in different directions would be awfully tasty. I'm a TiVo user, for example. I'd love to see an app running on my Apple TV that would let me stream content from my TiVo instead of having to use TiVo's own Stream box. I'd be able to watch recorded content on my living room TiVo on my Apple TV in the bedroom.
Of course, gaming has been rumored to be coming to the Apple TV for some time. Streaming gaming boxes have been rather hit or miss in the past, but this may be a good time for Apple to enter the market.
Casual gaming is obviously popular fare in the App Store. With the release of iOS 7, we've seen a number of games outfitted with MFi game controller support, and that's a real game changer, if you'll pardon the pun.
Using a Bluetooth wireless controller like Steelseries' Stratus, for example, it's conceivable to imagine an Apple TV as a casual game console for up to four players simultaneously, playing on the same television screen.
Right now you can sort of do that with some MFi games by streaming them to the Apple TV using AirPlay through an iPhone or iPad, but it's fraught with drawbacks, such as Wi-Fi-induced lag between the Apple TV and the iPhone and iPad. Depending on the game it may be playable, but it's not really optimized for that experience.
The Apple TV is not going to be a replacement for a hardcore gaming console like an Xbox One or a PlayStation 4. But Nintendo's the weakest in the herd - the company expects to lose $355 million for its fiscal 2013, and its situation is dire enough that Nintendo's CEO and senior executives have taken significant pay cuts. Apple might be in the right position to fight for the hearts and minds of casual gamers interested in a big-screen console experience.
We're still a way from seeing 4K TV come to the home in any meaningful way - most 4K television sets are still astronomically priced compared to 1080p-capable sets, and there's still a relative dearth of 4K content to enjoy (sure, Netflix and YouTube plan to offer it this year, but good luck getting 4K native content from your cable company or dish network). So I don't think the Apple TV needs 4K for this generation.
Having said that, I think the Apple TV could certainly benefit from better file format support. There are some video codecs that don't work on the Apple TV, requiring you to transcode them and copy them into your iTunes library before they'll work. I watch foreign language content that's often encoded using Matroska (MKV), for example, and right now I need to convert those files using Handbrake on my Mac before the Apple TV will have anything to do with them.
HDMI-CEC could be another useful addition. My Apple TV remote often goes missing, and while I have a Bluetooth keyboard paired with my Apple TV, I'd just as soon rely on the "regular" remote I use to watch TV with for basic menu navigation. HDMI-CEC enables you to command devices using the HDMI connection and the TV remote instead.
With Apple's recent acquisition of PrimeSense, the company behind the sensor technology that powered Microsoft's Kinect interface for the Xbox 360, it's entirely possible that future generations of Apple TV may have some sort of gesture support or ability to sense people standing in front of it.
That acquisition just happened last November, however, so I don't expect to see any PrimeSense technology incorporated into Apple products any time soon; Apple will take their own sweet time to figure out how best to leverage PrimeSense's tech into their gear.
OK, I've had my say. What do you think? What are the key features you'd like to see in the next Apple TV? Share your thoughts!