What if Apple made an Apple TV Express streaming stick?

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?

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.

27 Comments
  • It would interest me, as that all I use my (3rd gen) Apple TV for. I'm not entirely sure how I'd want it to work, but as long as it's easy to AirPlay my content, I don't really care.
  • Definitely one of the things I've been hoping for - an Airplay streaming stick. Just take content from my iPhone or iPad (even a Mac!) and stream to a TV like Google's Chromecast. Price it below $100 and people will pick this up like candy. And not only consumers, but businesses as well. I'm surprised that Apple hasn't done this already.
  • I really don't see this as something Apple wants to get into. As with the rest of there hardware they offer, Apple aims for the higher end market. As an example there are plenty of low cost Windows computers but Apple has yet to match them or Android phones. If Apple did come out with a streaming stick, I would guess it to be around the $80-100 price point. Anything less would cut into the sales of the Apple TV and I don't think they have matured that market to where they would release something like this. Sent from the iMore App
  • I like my AppleTV4, but I also like my new 2016 Roku Streaming Stick. Initially I bought it primarily to have Amazon Video and MHz Choice apps. AirPlay is great with Amazon, terrible with MHz Choice -- but there are often times when it's inconvenient to have my iPhone tied up with AirPlay. After a week of using the Roku stick, I find I'm using it just as often, if not more, than my ATV4. The Roku's Plex app is much nicer, and I use Plex a lot. The Private Listening feature is pretty slick, would love that functionality in my ATV. Bluetooth is great, but my favorite earbuds are wired and it's nice to have the option of using them for TV viewing, especially via WiFi audio vs. Bluetooth. The UI is a bit antiquated and clunky compared to Apple's, but navigating around is zippier. No voice commands, just voice search -- but I rarely use either. IMHO, for many there isn't one streaming box/stick that suits everything a user wants it for. If I could only have 1, it'd be the ATV4 -- but as a secondary option, the 2016 Roku Streaming Stick is the best choice for me.
  • The new stick is snappy and great, but I found the headphone feature on the app was skipping for me, BT and wired. Maybe it was the old Nexus tab I was using, but yours works fine?
  • I'm using the Roku app with an iPhone 6S Plus. With both wired and Bluetooth I do experience skipping, not long enough to cut off a complete word of dialog, but often enough to be noticeable. With Bluetooth and my Jaybird X2's, in addition to skipping I hear static feedback -- like a vinyl record scratching sound. Doesn't drown out dialog, but detracts from the viewing experience; it doesn't happen when using other sources for Bluetooth audio on my iPhone, just Roku. I stick to my wired earbuds. Sometimes for no reason the Private Listening feature shuts off and sound switches back to the TV -- tapping the Private Listening icon turns it back on. The inline controls on both wired and Bluetooth earbuds don't all work correctly. Volume up/down work, but the play/pause button doesn't. Instead, it stops Roku playback instead of pausing, and restarts whatever I was last listening to on my iPhone (podcast, music app, etc). Great concept, hopefully they'll iron out the kinks in a future update.
  • Was just thinking this morning that it'd be quite useful. With the content available in the UK I can't really justify a full fat Apple TV box over my existing FireTV (or most other alternatives to be honest) but a stick that could provide access to the rest of the Apple ecosystem would be a useful addition. Saying that, I'd prefer better support for the full fat box (especially the unlikely thought of Amazon Prime support) over plugging in yet another device.
  • Just what I had in mind
  • I'd get one, but I don't think they'd make one. They're into luxury sh#t these days. Forget budget, even the old upper middle class demographic doesn't cut it for them anymore, hence the new oligarch/dictator pandering with the Hermes and Edition watch crap.
  • I really enjoy my Amazon Fire stick over my chromecast while traveling mostly because of the hotel Wi-Fi requiring either a sign in or password to access the hotel network and Amazon does it right. I tried using the Apple TV in the same way and would always have to create my own network first (more hardware) and then add the  TV to that network. Ugh! Sent from the iMore App
  • I really think they should focus on the current Apple TV first. It's literally the buggiest, most "broken" product they've ever released. Make my AppleTV 4 work properly first, then make the stick for those that want it.
  • there are also several features they could add, ports they could add, sort out a universal place to log in an authenticate your tv channel related apps. that said, they've needed to fix itunes for like 8 years and they tend to just add eyecandy instead.
  • i would have thought they'd do it already but then again i'd have also thought they'd have have done some different things with the apple tv. Regardless, most new apple products don't particularly interest me so if i was to bet, i'd bet that an apple tv stick would somehow lack the features, apps or openness that i want and thus it wouldn't appeal to me. But the devil is in the details. It's not enough to say "hey apple tv stick." Whether it works for my needs is all about the features not the Apple logo, Roku logo, Amazon logo etc. I use what fits my needs. PS one thing is i have a wifi roku and buffers all the time. My hard wired xbox has no issues so any streaming device that's wifi only is a tough sell for me.
  • I'd buy a family pack of in addition To Air Play if it can also act as a remote node on a wifi network and receive a stream from an Apple TV.
  • Understand the desire, but I was thinking / wishing in the opposite direction... I want an "Apple TV Plus" with a built-in WLAN router and at least a working USB port for hooking up a storage device (throw in some more for charging iDevices and the Watch – would make travel a lot better). Would be all I need for travel and business presentations or lecturing. Too many places where I can't get on the local WLAN, or where it is unreliable.
  • Heck yes. Give it 128GB internal, with quad-core A8X or A9 for extra oomph so that it can stream to a client device and run local content simultaneously.
  • I think a ATV Stick would be huge in enterprise but Windows will need AirPlay (sadly most of the enterprise world is still Windows). I bring my own Mac to work cuz....rebel! But yeah, a stick would be a great travel companion alone for me especially at the right price point.
  • If it existed and if it basically replaced the 3rd Gen Gen (but ran tvOS and had CEC support) in Apple's lineup, I would buy several in a heartbeat. I'm looking at getting some Roku/FireTV sticks because this product does not exist. That said, I sadly don't see Apple releasing such a product.
  • You can sort of do this already for under $20 with DLNA dongles, but they don't support Airplay directly, just through apps that support sending audio/video out via DLNA. This is one place where Microsoft took the lead with support for Miracast directly within Windows 8,8.1, and 10. Apple could redesign Airport Express to have a USB-C port and sell a USB-C HDMI adapter, they tend to like selling adapters for anything useful in that way. The price would need to be brought down to $79 to get most people interested though.
  • Honestly that one of the things I wish Apple would release I would be all over it. Currently I have a Chromecast but since switching over to iPhone from my Android device I don't find as convenient as before, sure I can still stream YouTube and Netflix but I would really like to stream movies and etc that I currently have on my iPhone to it but unfortunately it does not. I may just end up getting the Apple TV but I would sure love them to release something like the Chromecast in the near future. PLEASE! Apple :)
  • The reason that Apple doesn't invent a stick is because it's probably not in their genes. An Apple product is unique enough that, when shown, we don't know why we would want one. It's not until we have one that we begin to see the value. Why have an iPhone when we have Blackberrys? What the heck was HyperCard? With AppleTV, why would we want to play our shows on our computers when we can just watch them on our TV's? Why make tablets when Microsoft failed? Why make a watch when we already have many? What do we need a mouse for when we have a keyboard? So, instead of thinking of a super-stick, think of what you want to do that isn't aleady done. Why struggle to be compatible with other devices to make presentations? Why not be able to bring something simple with you that does it all? When I did presentations, all I wanted was a whiteboard and some colored markers. No PowerPoint presentations. I wanted to build a relationship with my audience and encourage them to contribute. At the end, the whiteboard was filled with a collaboration. What I wanted was a button that I could press so that what we all could retain what we did to review and build on. Sounds vague, but that's what I want Apple to make.
  • Since Apple seems to focus on user experience I can def see this type of product improving the Apple ecosystem experience.
    This actually seems more useful than the Apple watch. Link it with iPhone/apps and you could create a whole new canvas for new expanded iOS experiences.
  • I don't see Apple offering this unless they can get better performance than other HDMI sticks. The competition is so much sower in this form-factor which is made to reduce prices in order to gain market share and that is not something that Apple traditionally goes after.
  • It'll be more expensive than just buying the Lightning A/V adapter to plug an iPad/iPhone to, so most likely I would skip on it.
  • I don't think there's a huge need for a streaming HDMI stick but I can see where there might have some usage. More realistic a device would be some sort of mini puck like the Chromecast Audio that you could plug into any HIFI system no matter how old and turn it into something "smart".
  • Another subject I'm well versed on with Smart DVD Players, Fire Stick, Chromecast, and Roku Stick...Roku wins hands down. I took back my 64GB Apple TV after a day. I don't need the DVR part when Amazon and Roku store any movie I buy for free.
  • Maybe when the old Apple TV is retired... For now, you could always use an Airplay-playing app, running on an Amazon Fire stick. (although I'm Not sure whether it can use a hotspot from your iPhone for this, rather than need a shared network?)