What we want to see from the next Apple TV

Apple just dropped the price of the Apple TV to $69 and announced an exclusive deal to bring HBO Now to customers just in time for Game of Thrones. But Apple also said that this was just the beginning. We've talked a little about the possible future of Apple TV, but it's a broad topic and that means we need to make the discussion big — iMore roundtable big!

How do you use your current Apple TV?

Peter: I use it mainly to watch content I can't view on cable, like YouTube videos and Crunchyroll anime. Our family also all uses the Netflix app. The Apple TV is a vital link in my house-wide home audio network, too. I AirPlay music to it from my computer and iOS devices.

Ally: We currently have three Apple TVs in our home: office, bedroom, and living room. We use them constantly, and if some of the deals with networks are true, we'll most likely cancel cable completely when they're available. All our movie purchases are made from iTunes, and we watch Netflix and Hulu Plus on almost a nightly basis. I don't use AirPlay nearly as much as some of my colleagues do, but that's probably because we use Sonos for music.

Ren: Though I technically have a cable box due to my high-speed internet plan, I watch 99 percent of my television via my Mac or Apple TV. YouTube, Netflix, Hulu Plus, iTunes, HBO Go, you name it. And we can't forget AirPlay — AirPlay is the primary reason I own an Apple TV, because it's incredibly useful for screen mirroring and playing videos that I wouldn't otherwise be able to stream on my television.

Rene: I use the 1080p Apple TV constantly. I've bought and rented a ton of movies. I subscribe to a few shows, like Arrow and Flash on iTunes, I watch a lot of Netflix, which Apple seems to stream better than anyone else. Like Ren, I also use AirPlay. A lot. I stream the Canadian TV channel apps, primarily Global TV — because CTV and CityTV seems to hate AirPlay and the people using it — and I even project games onto the Apple TV to enjoy them on the big screen.

Apple TV accounts for over 90% of my television time.

Did the price drop entice you to buy additional Apple TVs?

Ally: It would have if we didn't already have three. At this point, I'm going to wait until we see what Apple does next.

Peter: Yep. Added another one this week.

Rene: Same as Peter! I have a TV in my podcast studio and at $69 it was a no-brainer to throw an Apple TV on it for AirPlay and event streaming.

Ren: My apartment is small enough that I don't need another one, but I'm certainly debating picking up one for my boyfriend: He only has a Chromecast hooked up at the moment, which makes watching iTunes content a tad more difficult than it would be with an Apple TV.

What would you change about the Apple TV interface?

Rene: I know everyone is going to say "SPOTLIGHT!" — and yeah, it'd be nice, but if Apple was allowed by the content companies to do it, the company would have done it years ago. They want it. We want it. The media people preventing it really need to be replaced.

We do need a major makeover, though. The current interface just hasn't aged or scaled well. Adding Siri, if the content people would allow that, would make things super-fast. Otherwise it's a hard problem to solve. Tons of different content, and all the restrictions that come from a 10-foot, controller based dynamic. But that's exactly what we want from Apple — our hard problems solved.

Ally: I don't necessarily have an issue with the current interface, but it's become a little heavy, if that makes sense. All these additional channels and lots of menu options make it feel clunky. This is where Siri support would definitely come in handy, or Spotlight, as Rene mentioned.

Peter: Everything. I can't think of a single thing I actually like about the current Apple TV interface except the fact that it gets the hell out of the way when I stream content to it from other devices.

Ren: I'm with Ally, Peter, and Rene here: The whole interface needs a huge rethink and redesign. I'm including that tiny little silver remote in that redesign, too — it gets lost all the time and the iPhone Remote app isn't good or fast enough to replace it. (Maybe if the app worked like Handoff and appeared as a swipeable app command anytime you were within Apple TV distance…)

What channels or content are you still missing on your Apple TV?

Ally: I was super happy to hear about the HBO partnership. And if the deal with other major network providers comes through, it'll solve most of our TV-watching needs. The only thing missing for us is Showtime. We watch a lot of the network's original series programming, and I'd love to see an a la carte option. I think Apple and the content companies needs to remember these separate options have to be cost effective, however. If HBO and Showtime are both $15 a month and a network bundle comes in at $30-40 (as rumored), we're already approaching what I pay Comcast for cable — for way more than 30 channels. If I'm not saving money and getting a equal or better value, I'm not interested.

Peter: I'd really love to live in a world where I could get any channels or content on my Apple TV, instead of having to junk my living room up with a cable interface and a Blu-ray player.

Rene: Apple TV in Canada is far behind the U.S., and I'm sure Apple TV in other geographies is even farther behind. I basically want everything I get on cable or satellite available on-demand as IPTV. Original programming, decoupled from the licensed cable model, and a la carte. That's not asking for much, is it? (Sorry, iTunes team!)

Ren: BBC's iPlayer or BBC America would be much appreciated. I need me some non-iTunes Doctor Who and other British shows, stat.

What kind of App Store or Game Store would you want on the Apple TV?

Peter: I'm not sure a full blown App Store is necessary, but a carefully curated Game Store featuring titles especially optimized either for Apple TV or for devices connected to Apple TV through AirPlay could be a game-changer. I'm not sure how feasible it is with current hardware, but it makes me happy to imagine it for a future device.

Ren: Seeing how well apps like Sketch Party TV do when mirrored to the Apple TV, I'd love more tools for app developers to hook into to really turn your TV into a great iOS gaming platform. Currently, developers can have different information up on their TV versus the screen of an iOS device, but it's not really well-advertised or promoted. I love the idea of playing a four-up racing game via Apple TV using four iOS controllers, for instance.

Ally: AirPlay already lets you play any game you want on the big screen, so do you really need an App Store? My guess is no. I can do this on my Fire TV, and I have, two times ever. If I want to play video games on my tv, I'm most likely going to use a dedicated gaming console, or just AirPlay from my iPhone or iPad.

Rene: I'd like a Game Store. Sure, AirPlay works, but for the best performance you really want to go native. I'll leave it to Peter to postulate what level of gaming an Apple TV with a Cyclone processor and Metal could provide, but Nintendo has shown there's a vast, still only partially tapped casual TV gaming market.

As for apps, I'm not sure. A lot of apps make more sense on my Mac, iPad, iPhone, and even Apple Watch than I think they would on my Apple TV, at least as primary screen.

Does the Apple TV need to go 4K?

Ren: I think from a future-proofing standpoint, offering support for 4K displays could be a smart move. But I don't think Apple or any other content provider really needs to start offering 4K content until screens get a little cheaper and data providers get a little more reasonable about caps and per-month data costs.

Ally: I will never understand people's want to buy displays or devices that aren't even supported by most content providers. For instance, when 1080p was a huge thing and TVs that offered it cost thousands of dollars, how many cable companies actually broadcast in HD? Next to none. Unless I wanted to buy expensive Blu-Rays or watch the few channels that bothered to do an HD broadcast, it wasn't worth it. Right now, I don't think it's necessary. Streaming 4K content will be super data-intensive and people with capped internet plans won't benefit. And honestly, I don't see content providers jumping on the 4K bandwagon anytime soon.

Peter: At some point, but not right now. I don't see consumers going in big numbers to get 4K sets quite yet, though prices are dropping. Bandwidth isn't free, and I don't think the benefit of 4K is big enough for most consumers to have to pay extra to their Internet Service Provider just for a prettier picture.

Rene: 4K has been on display at CES every year for the last few years. It's always coming but only now arriving. Standards are forming, physical media is being planned, but there's still a derth of content. iTunes 4K would be super interesting, since H.265 (HEVC just sounds so wrong) is a thing, but do we have the bandwidth for it yet? Do we have the source material for the encodings?

Like Gandalf, I'll expect 4K when I see it.

What other features would you want to see on the Apple TV?

Ally: I just want Apple to fix the streaming issues with iTunes purchases after the 7.0 update. It's a pain in the ass, and I can't take it anymore. Seriously, I'm glad we had two second-generation Apple TVs, because they aren't affected.

Peter: Better reliability. I still hear from a lot of people who have problems getting their Apple TV to work consistently. Some of these issues are network-related rather than Apple TV-related, but I think the box itself needs better intelligence and network management to make it more foolproof.

Rene: I know some people will say cable passthrough and DVR, but that just feels like the past to me. In a world with IP TV on-demand, I don't need to record it. I just need to stream it whenever I want.

Siri, like I said before, would be great, though I do have concerns about a microphone always listening to me. (Nobody needs to hear my rendition of Sweet Child of Mine.) Apple also bought PrimeSense, the company whose technology helped make the first generation Xbox Kinect. I don't know that I want a camera always watching me in my living room, though.

And like Ally said, fix the connectivity. There's no reason why, when I wake my Apple TV from sleep, I need to see and dismiss multiple network connection errors. If the network is working when I wake it, kill those error boxes before I see them.

Ren: I'd love to see a better remote control (whether through Siri, gestures, the Watch, or other tools), smarter search, more options, and faster operation overall. The Apple TV can be sluggish at present, and I'd love to see the next version speed that up.

What would be your ideal Apple TV controller?

Peter: A big red button that says "Do it."

Ally: I don't mind the current remote, except it gets lost so damned easy. I can't count how many times I've dismantled a couch or stripped a bed to find the damn thing. I typically say screw it and resort to the Remote app on my iPhone or iPad. If gaming is a real thing on the next gen Apple TV, the remote will most certainly have to be re-worked.

Rene: I like the current Apple TV controller but even if it went from IR to BT, it wouldn't be enough for games. I'll need a real controller for that. The iPhone and iPad remote apps are okay, but reconnecting over Wi-Fi takes way too long.

We'll see how the Apple Watch does.

Ren: In a perfect world? Siri, or some sort of Kinect-like Multi-Touch gesture system.

Would you want a Chromecast-like Apple TV streaming stick?

Ally: Form factor doesn't really matter to me.

Peter: I don't care about the form-factor or design nearly as much as I care about the capabilities. If a stick gave me something the box didn't, I could be interested. But a stick for a stick's sake? Nope.

Rene: I would, but I'm not sure it's Apple's market any more than a netbook or budget phone is. The idea of Apple TV Direct, where the logic is on my phone and the interface is on my TV — like CarPlay or Apple Watch for the big screen — is enticing, though. It would be great for travel, for example.

Still, streaming creates a dependency on the device being streamed from. I like that Apple TV can stand alone.

Ren: Only if the rest of the Apple TV's software was lurking on the iPhone the way that Chromecast piggybacks off your computer or phone's Chrome/YouTube connection.

How badly do you feel that non-Americans like Rene don't get all your content goodness?

Ally: I'll let you on my channel lawn if you give me your healthcare that doesn't suck.

Peter: Rene gets free health care. I think he's got the better end of the deal.

Ren: I'm half-Canadian, so I guess I should feel bad… but living in the States has made me mean and callous.

Rene: !!!

Apple TV: What's your bottom line?

Ally: A new Apple TV is something I've been excited about for over a year. I really hope we see something that knocks our socks off. Content provider deals are probably my biggest concern though, as that's what really makes the Apple TV valuable in our home.

Peter: I think the Apple TV was already great at $99. It's an even better value than before at $69. I'm not worried that the box I just bought is going to be obsoleted any time soon, even if Apple begins selling a new Apple TV.

Rene: Apple TV hasn't been updated since March of 2012. I'd like nothing more than for Eddy Cue to take the next Keynote stage, unveil the new box, announce the new deals, and then introduce the SDK.

I'd like nothing more for the Apple TV than for it to do to the set top box what the iPad did for tablets.

Ren: Rock solid AirPlay, great content providers, and not too much interface fuss.