There is no doubt that Apple TV hardware is in dire need of an update – but Apple is still well positioned to increase its presence in the living room. Here are some different approaches that Apple could take with a next-generation Apple TV set-top box.
The fifth generation Apple TV 4K debuted in September 2017, two years after the launch of its predecessor. Stagnant hardware is fine for streaming services like Netflix, Disney +, or Apple’s own Apple TV +, but it quickly begins to struggle when the latest iPhone and iPad games – including those available on Apple Arcade – run native on the device.
The latest Apple TV runs the A10X Fusion chip, which is also found in the iPad Pro models launched in 2017. Although it is perfect for basic streaming needs, the Apple TV brain does not justify the exact same price in 2021.
Starting at $ 179 and going up to $ 199 for a larger capacity, Apple TV pales in comparison to the $ 299 Xbox Series S series, which streams from all services and plays the newest and best games. It also competes with Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast, which all have streaming options for less than $ 50. And, Apple is competing with itself, given HomeKit and the Apple TV app on a wide range of smart TVs.
We know that the Apple TV hardware will be updated and we know that Apple will probably launch one in 2021 – if rumors are to be believed. But what direction will the company take? Here are some options to consider that could lead the platform to greatness.
Apple TV set path: SoC upgrade, nothing more
This seems to be the most obvious and likely result for Apple TV, especially when one considers that the tvOS platform it runs has not seen any major updates or revisions in recent years. If Apple TV is to remain a “hobby” in the eyes of its manufacturer, it is the simplest route to simply put a newer and faster processor there and maintain the same price points.
That doesn’t mean this route would be a bad thing. Imagine a set-top box with a fan-cooled A14X processor, capable of playing the latest games as well as the iPhone 12 Pro and a theoretical iPad Pro 2021. When paired with an Xbox or PlayStation controller, this system will be able to play Apple Arcade and App Store games for years to come.
Add the U1 chip to support spatial sound on the latest AirPods and you’ll have a small home theater streaming device.
But this approach sounds a little boring, doesn’t it?
AirPort route: an entire home hub
Apple TV already serves as a HomeKit hub, serving as a bridge that allows users to connect to their smart devices at home when they are away from home. But if Apple took this a step further and brought back the capabilities of the AirPort router to be a real smart home.
Although Apple has abandoned its line of AirPort routers since 2018, the landscape of Wi-Fi router options remains inconsistent and severely lacks Apple’s mix of quality and ease of use. To this day, Apple fans continue to cry for a next-generation AirPort with robust wireless support and perhaps a foray into the mesh network.
HomeKit remains a growing segment of Apple’s business, and access to device connectivity is not only a logical step in the development of the HomeKit platform, but it fits nicely with the transformation of Apple TV into the connected center of the house.
A recent rumor claims that Apple is exploring other devices connected to the home hub, including HomePods with screens. It’s easy to see how they could be an extension of a next generation of Apple TVs, serving as an entry point for users to connect to their devices and access data, while extending wireless coverage throughout the home and covering any dead center.
HomePod route: a smart soundbar
Or maybe the next generation Apple TV could be less about Wi-Fi and more about smart home control (with quality sound to turn on).
March’s announcement that the original HomePod was discontinued left fans wanting more sound than the excellent but small $ 99 HomePod mini. Perhaps the HomePod has been discontinued to lay the groundwork for an Apple TV integrated into a booming smart soundbar.
This would not be a Frankenstein-like device – or, in the words of Apple CEO Tim Cook, a converging fridge-freezer. Everyone knows that the built-in speakers found on TVs are constrained by physics and nonsense, even on high-quality models.
Apple could justify the cost of a more expensive Apple TV and also extend Siri’s presence in the house, making the tvOS interface part of a sound bar that lives in front of your TV.
Apple Arcade route: a model of a game with a controller
Or maybe it’s about games? After all, the current Apple TV hardware is fine for streaming 4K content.
But the only thing that can use even more power is next-generation games. And while Apple critics may point out that the company’s history in the “serious” gaming space is missing at best, the Apple Arcade is a crucial component of Apple’s service offering and the sale of the Apple One package. For Apple Arcade to continue to be an appealing added value for consumers considering Apple services, Apple TV must remain relevant and able to play the latest games available on the iPhone and iPad.
However, it is difficult to take Apple TV seriously as a gaming device when it does not come with a working game controller.
Apple has made progress by adding support for Bluetooth controllers for Xbox and PlayStation, but these are still purchases over $ 60 that need to be made separately. And how many Apple TV owners know they can use these controllers with their set-top box?
If the games on Apple TV are ever going to catch on, Apple needs to offer a model that comes with a controller, whether it’s a standard Microsoft Xbox controller or something completely new and built for Apple TV designed by the company itself.
The well-offended Siri remote control for Apple TV could fully guarantee its own separate posting, but suffice it to say that alone is not a proper introduction method for gamers.
IPod shuffle route: a simple and cheap streaming stick
Or maybe it’s about the price. Just as Apple had to pivot with the HomePod and pursue a much more accessible market segment, the company probably needs to take the same approach to the living room.
The current landscape of streaming devices consists of the cheap options mentioned above from Amazon, Google and Roku, or a state-of-the-art market dominated by Microsoft and Sony.
The second generation Apple TV, which debuted in 2010 and was the first to run an iOS version, reached an affordable price of $ 99. The third-generation model, which was launched in 2012, maintained an entry below $ 100 for consumers. With the fourth generation model running the tvOS platform, the price has risen to $ 149, and the current fifth generation model has raised entry to $ 179.
If, in fact, Apple has left the market with this level of functionality, the company probably needs to focus on a cheap and simple model that stays streaming and competes at a lower level.
The unlikely route: give up the hobby
Apple TV + has become cross-platform as Apple’s video streaming service is now available on competing streaming hardware, including smart TVs. Many new smart TVs also come with AirPlay support, taking another crucial Apple TV capability and making it non-exclusive.
So does Apple still need Apple TV hardware?
Apart from the TV support for Apple Arcade, you could argue that there is no need to continue to make a set-top box. Like getting out of the router business, Apple could simply announce that there are plenty of other suitable products on the market and is happy to support them with its own Apple TV + streaming service.
However, this approach seems unlikely for several reasons, the most significant being that Apple would relinquish control of a key part of its users’ daily lives. Apple’s marriage of hardware and software, offering the best in-class experiences, is right at the heart of the company, and abandoning its presence in the living room seems to be the opposite.
Consider the alternative: offering Apple TV + and AirPlay primarily on Android-based smart TVs from companies such as Samsung, LG, Vizio and Sony, all of which have proven to collect and share considerable amounts of personal data for advertising and tracking purposes. As a champion of user privacy, it is unlikely that Apple will move away and rely on external partnerships, knowing that it would give up loyal customers who do not want or trust the competition.
Best route: All of the above?
If Apple TV is ever to be promoted from its “hobby” status, it probably means that Apple should improve and develop its product range with more options. So, this probably means that it uses some of the potential results described above, allowing the company to reach various price points and needs.
It’s not hard to imagine a premium Apple TV with a built-in Siri soundbar and / or smart home capabilities, sold with a cheap $ 50 stick with access to the tvOS App Store limited to streaming apps. And maybe in the middle there could be a model focused on games, delivery with a controller, but not focusing on foreign voices and smart home commands that players might not care about.
Consider the iPad range. While the iPad hardware is essentially just a blank canvas, Apple’s range has only grown over time to suit different needs at different prices. There are two iPad Pro sizes at 12.9 and 11 inches, an 10.9-inch iPad Air, a 10.2-inch budget iPad at just $ 329, and a 7.9-inch iPad mini. If the iPad can justify five different models in its range, why are the options for Apple TV so limited?
The launch of Apple One last fall feels like the strongest case in recent years for Apple to reinvest in the living room again. Apple Fitness +, Apple TV +, Apple Arcade and Apple Music are not hobbies at all – they are fantastic experiences that play best on your big screen TV and home theater.