Welcome to our round-up of all of the speculation surrounding Apple's fourth-generation Apple TV, which we expect will be released this year. Here, we'll be bringing you all of the latest rumours about the new Apple TV's release date and potential new features. We'll update this story as more Apple TV information becomes available, so be sure to check back from time to time.
This article focuses on the Apple TV - the set-top box that Apple has always described as a hobby - rather than the Apple television that is rumoured to be in the works. If you want to find out about more about the TV set, you can read all the rumours about the iTV Apple Television here.
Updated 13 February with news that the release if the new Apple TV has been delayed while Apple has been negotiating with Time Warner Cable, but now Time Warner has been acquired by Comcast, the biggest pay-TV distributor in the USA, and this could cause even more delays.
When will Apple launch the new Apple TV?
We've been expecting a new Apple TV for a while now. The most recent version of the Apple TV hardware is a year old, although the most recent significant hardware update came almost two years ago on 16 March 2012 when Apple added 1080p video support. The slight revision in January 2013 was more about making it cheaper for Apple to build than adding new functionality for users.
Reports at the beginning of February were suggesting that Apple would be launching a new Apple TV set-top box in March 2014. But the latest reports (13 February) claim the update might not come until April, or even as late as Christmas.
The rumours that Apple would update the Apple TV soon gained some gravitas when Apple recently started promoting the Apple TV in its own section of the Apple online store. Previously Apple had put the Apple TV into the same section as the iPod, but, perhaps because the iPod sales are in decline, as demonstrated by the most recent financial results, this product has now been given its own spotlight.
Additionally, in February 2014, references to a fourth-generation Apple TV were spotted within iOS 7 configuration files, adding evidence to the rumours that suggest a new Apple TV is nearly here.
The references were spotted within an Apple TV framework that relates to the AirPlay functionality of the device. The framework mentions an "AppleTV4,1" which appears to be a next generation device that follows the current Apple TV, called "AppleTV3,2" within the framework.
However, the rumours of an update aren't new. Last year there were claims that Apple would launch a new Apple TV in October. According to the source of those rumours, the Apple TV project had "been delayed a bit".
In November, KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who has an impressive Apple prediction track record, told investors that he believes Apple will launch a new Apple TV in 2014.
There are other rumours that suggest that Apple may intend to do more than launch a new Apple TV set-top box, the new TV product could be an actual television. If you want to find out more about the rumours that Apple is planning to launch a television set, you can read about the iTV Apple Television here.
Why is the new Apple TV delayed?
The current Apple TV was last updated in January 2013 (a very minor update). It was expected that Apple would update the Apple TV in late 2013, but it failed to do so. Why hasn't Apple updated the Apple TV for more than a year?
Reports are currently claiming a new Apple TV box could launch in April, but that it might be delayed while Apple is negotiating with content providers to arrive at deals that could see users having access to even more content on Apple's new set-top box when it launches.
Apple is said to have been negotiating a deal with Time Warner Cable and other content providers in the US with a view to adding more content to the Apple TV before the next version of the hardware is launched, according to Bloomberg. The talks with Time Warner have been on-going since last year, and are one reason why the Apple TV hardware has not been updated yet. News that Comcast is to buy Time Warner Cable for more than $40 billion may delay things even further. Comcast is one of the biggest pay-TV distributors in the US and according to Bloomberg sources, Apple has "run into problem" dealing with the company.
Apple is also said to be attempting to do a deal with other TV providers that would see Apple TV users having access to the five most recently-aired episodes of shows for three days after they air.
It may take until Christmas for these deals to be signed, however. Bloomberg claims that while Apple is aiming to unveil the device by April, it is aiming to have it available for sale by Christmas.
What is the Apple TV and what does it offer?
The Apple TV is a tiny box (less than 10cm squared) that plugs into your TV and connects wirelessly to the internet to bring you access to films, TV programmes, and your iTunes music, and more. You can connect to the iTunes Store to rent films and TV shows, or subscribe to Netfilx for £5.99 a month to get access to the massive library Netflix has on offer. Apple TV also offers access to Vimeo, YouTube and Flickr, and more. It costs £99.
There have been various updates to the Apple TV software over the years which have added a number of new app-style TV channels to the device, delivering new content to Apple TV users.
In February, Apple added a brand-new channel to the Apple TV to commemorate the 50th anniversary of The Beatles' Amercian debut, featuring a video of the band's appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, as well as links to several of the band's albums.
In December Apple added support for the Sky Sports Day Pass to the Apple TV, via Sky's Now TV service. Thanks to this update sports fans in the UK can buy a 24-hour pass for £9.99 and gain access to all the Sky Sports channels. Just this week, Apple added the Red Bull channel to the Apple TV.
The most recent major update was the Apple TV Software Update 6.0 in September 2013 – in conjunction with the launch of iOS 7. That update bought iTunes Radio (to the US); access to the iTunes Music Store for browsing, purchasing and playing music; iCloud Photos gained support for playing videos in a shared photo stream as well as viewing photo streams; AirPlay from iCloud meant that content stored in iTunes in the Cloud could be streamed; iMovie Theatre became available for streaming homemade iMovies; subtitles, automatic Software Updates and the ability to use an iPhone iPad, or iPod touch to transfer network settings to your Apple TV were also added.
Prior to that update in September, June 2013 bought Apple TV Software Update 5.3, which offered support for third-party content from HBO GO and ESPN in the States, along with Sky News, Quello and Crunchyroll.
As you can see, over the months and years, Apple has added various features to the Apple TV without actually updating the hardware. Many of these updates have bought content to the device, such as the recent addition of Sky's Now TV Sports Day Pass in the UK, and the HBO GO programming on offer in the US. These additions suggest that Apple is working hard behind the scenes to reach agreements with content owners so that it can improve the content offering of the device. The great news is it seems to be the case that even older Apple TV boxes can take advantage of these features as they come in the form of software updates.
Apple TV rumours: More content - TV shows and entertaiment coming
There is evidence that Apple is working hard on its relationship with content producers, and also on making the user experience with third-party apps better. In January and February 2014 Apple advertised job vacancies for people to help insure that video streaming is smooth as well as liaise with third party content producers to make sure that the user experience is exemplary.
One position is for an Apple TV Content Partner Engineer who will "provide technical support to external vendors as they integrate their content." This person will also focus on the user experience when using third-party Apple TV channels and provide feedback to those partners.
Another position is for a Software QA Engineer to work with content providers and Apple's engineers to identify defects with the content and software, according to Apple Insider's report.
This comes after recent additions of third-party content to the Apple TV, such as the Sky's Now TV in the UK and HBO Go in the US, that also suggested that Apple's hard at work doing deals with content providers so it can bring more programming to the Apple TV. Until now the problem seems to have been reticence by the content producers who are unwilling to let Apple disrupt their industry.
In 2013 Apple was clearly in discussions with the world's media companies, as can be seen from the gradual roll out of programming from these content providers in Apple TV software updates. Apple wasn't the only one; Intel was also liaising with major media companies in the US with the aim of bringing live TV and on-demand programming to its Intel TV device. That Intel project has now been sold to Verizon, which doesn't necessarily mean it was a failure, just that Intel is focusing on processors and not getting sidetracked.
The idea that Apple could see success by adding more content to the Apple TV is a popular theory. Former Apple exec Jean-Louis Gassée wrote: "Cook has one thing right: The set-top box experience does place one back in time by 20 to 30 years. The solution? Channels, shows, special events should all be presented as apps. Click, pay and play, with standard fare for free. Catch the 6pm news when you get home at 9.30; watch two programmes side-by-side with Android 7 or iOS 9, all on your screen of choice: smartphone, tablet, PC or TV".
Gassee notes that the obstacle is the "tangled, encrusted business models that the Comcasts, CBSs, and Disneys cling to out of fear that Apple will wrest control of their content, that they’ll be disintermediated à la iTunes or the iPhone/iPad App Store."
Unfortunatly one major deal rumoured to have been close to completion was with Time Warner, who were then bought by Comcast, potentially putting a stop to any such agreement with Apple.
Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo also thinks Apple may work to integrate "more TV content, services and its App Store" into Apple TV with the next generation, in order to ensure shipment growth is not limited.
What new features will the new Apple TV have?
When the new Apple TV launched we expect to see the following new features described below.
Apple TV rumours: Games on the Apple TV
The latest reports are suggesting that when the rumoured Apple TV update could come in March and that it could include games functionality. iLounge reports that, according to "reliable industry sources," an update to the Apple TV will soon bring games support and a game store.
Games would be downloaded directly to the device and the controller would be a Bluetooth device, according to iLounge.
Apple has seen a lot of success with gaming on its iPad and iPhone devices and that might suggest that Apple will see as much success if it brings gaming to the Apple TV. Games developers may reach the same conclusion, and with games developers having already written games for the iPad and iPhone, they may be eager to write games for this new platform, especially if the processor and the operating system is the same.
However, rewriting an iOS game for the Apple TV may not be straightforward. It may not be simple to change the game's means of interaction from a touch screen interface to a hand held controller.
There's another reason why games developers may not jump at the chance of providing games for this new platform: right now there are 13 million Apple TVs, and not all of these Apple TV owners will want to play games. There are a lot more games consoles vying for the attention of games developers.
Regardless of the current Apple TV market share, gaming could open up the device to a new market of Apple TV customers.
We have previously speculated that the Apple TV could become a games console, with iOS already being a popular gaming platform.
The rumour that Apple could turn the Apple TV into a games console has been running for some time. Back in 2009 we reported an analyst's comments that the Apple TV had a future as a gaming device.
Apple TV rumours: Integrated storage and live TV recording
These rumours of new gaming functionality pose the question of whether the new Apple TV will offer storage. The original Apple TV offered a 40GB or 160GB hard drive when it launched in 2010, but this was omitted from the following generations. Over the years Apple has moved towards streaming content from iTunes and other services, but much of the competition to the Apple TV offers storage, so maybe a SSD inside the Apple TV would be a good call.
Another reason why storage could be a bonus is if the Apple TV turned into a DVR – offering recording of live TV.
In 2013 reports suggested that Apple was in talks with cable companies in the US, hoping to come to an agreement that would allow the Apple TV to be used as a DVR (digital video recorder).
According to the Wall Street Journal report, the DVR version of the Apple TV would let customers store TV shows in the cloud (rather than internal storage) to be watched when they like. It would also allow users to access the TV shows they had recorded on the iPhone or iPad.
Such a facility would turn the Apple TV into more than a mere streaming device and increase the content available to users. However, it has been reported that one of the major hang-ups is resistance by content providers to give Apple maker permission to make their programming available in this way.
Apple TV rumours: TV Tuner for live TV
To make the recording of live TV possible the Apple TV would need a means to receive live TV. Enter another rumour – this one suggests that the new Apple TV could include a TV tuner, enabling Apple to offer live TV as well as OnDemand services.
With the integration of a TV tuner users could manage all their entertainment from one single Apple-designed interface.
This is a nice idea, but integrating a TV tuner in the device could mean that Apple needs different hardware for different countries. A look at the range of TV tuners offered by Elgato, for example, demonstrates the fact that it is necessary to sell different units in different countries due to the different standards, frequency bands, and so on.
Apple TV rumours: Integrated AirPort Express
Reports have also claimed that the new Apple TV could include a built in AirPort Express wireless router. The AirPort Express wasn't updated last year when Apple updated the AirPort Extreme with 802.11ac technology, so, like the Apple TV, the AirPort Express is due an update.
The new version of the new Apple TV would include a 802.11ac router, writes 9to5Mac, explaining that this would improve video quality and stability as there would be no need to connect a separate wireless router.
However, where the AirPort Express is currently a similar size to the Apple TV, the AirPort Extreme features a much bigger box because the antennas needed to be further apart. If Apple integrated an AirPort Express inside the Apple TV it may need to be much bigger.
Apple TV rumours: integrated in the Mac mini
This one is pure speculation on our part, but a Mac mini that included Apple TV hardware would be the perfect media centre for the Apple loving household.
Apple TV rumours: Apps and an App Store
Another rumour has suggested that Apple may launch an App Store for the Apple TV. Many of the apps we use on our iPad and iPhone could find a home on the Apple TV. The iPlayer and Channel 4OD apps would be particularly welcome, as would weather apps, news apps, FaceTime, FaceBook and Twitter, and other means of entertainment.
Again, storage could be a necessity if users are able to download apps to the Apple TV rather than Apple host them in the cloud.
Apple TV rumours: motion control or voice activation
Other rumours have pointed to a new input method for the Apple TV. This could include motion controls, or Siri.
The new Apple TV's remote could include a mic for Siri input, allowing users to control the Apple TV via speech. Users could speak to their Apple TV, requesting that it plays the episode of The Big Bang Theory where Raj has a crush on Siri.
Similarly Apple could introduce motion controls to the Apple TV. Apple recently bought PrimeSense, the developer of the motion-tracking tech inside the original Kinect sensor for the Xbox 360.
A software update in January 2013 (Apple TV 5.2) meant that a Bluetooth keyboard could be used with the Apple TV – prior to that it was necessary to type by scrolling through the alphabet, selecting one letter at a time with the remote control. You can pair the keyboard under Settings > General > Bluetooth.
Apple's always been keen to make navigation possible with the minimum number of buttons and button presses, but we can't help but think that the current remote makes navigation on the current Apple TV a chore.
Apple TV rumours: A7 chip
Apple's iPhone 5s, iPad Air and Retina iPad mini sport the new 64-bit A7 processor, and analyst Ming-Chi Kuo thinks this A7 chip could be used in the next Apple TV, too.
Should the Apple TV gain this chip it would have enough power to run games.
Apple TV rumours: New Interface
It seems likely that the new Apple TV will feature a revamped interface that is a little more iOS-like than currently.
It is thought that the new Apple TV interface might unify the various apps and channels so that users can navigate all their content. For example, currently the same movie might be available to rent in iTunes and stream in Netflix, this new interface could make it possible to locate what you want to watch via your Apple TV from the home screen, rather than within separate apps.
Should Apple integrate a TV tuner in the new hardware the new interface may also include live TV channels.
New Apple TV rumours: new design and leaked images
We don't expect that the design of the Apple TV will change from the current model. However, if Apple is to include the Airport Express and a TV tuner inside the device it is possible that it will be bigger than currently.
We do expect that the ports on the back of the Apple TV will change.
Currently the Apple TV features the following ports: HDMI2, Optical audio, 10/100BASE-T Ethernet, Built-in IR receiver and Micro-USB (for service and support).
Thunderbolt might be introduced in the next version of the Apple TV, then users could connect their Apple TV to an Apple Thunderbolt Display and pretend that they own the mythical Apple Television. Currently the Apple TV can only connect to a HDTV with an HDMI cable.
Many who have decried the Apple TV's lack of a hard drive would be pleased if the company made the USB service port accessible for plugging in a hard drive.
Why everyone thinks Apple will launch a television
Following Apple CEO Tim Cook's comments that the television is an area of "intense interest" for the company, the web lit up with speculation about what the future could hold for Apple's widely anticipated living room take-over.
Most of the excitement surrounds the idea that Apple might have an actual television in the pipeline (fuelled by Steve Jobs’ comments in his biography that he had "cracked" television). However, many are speculating that Apple might intend only to update the Apple TV set-top box in such a way that Apple might be able to transform television without even having to build a box of their own.
"I'd like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use," Steve Jobs is quoted as saying in Walter Isaacson's biography of the Apple founder. "It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud. It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it."
Meanwhile Apple design guru Jony Ive says that Apple's next big product: "feels like the most important and the best work we've done, and so it would be what we're working on right now, which of course I can't tell you about." Both of these suggests that an Apple television - or iTV - is in the plan for Apple.
Indeed, reports from the Far East claim that there is a fully-fledged Apple television already in production.
However, at least for now, more likely that the company will be revamping its Apple TV set-top box with new features. Indeed, there is a school of thought that Apple would be better off concentrating its efforts on developing its current Apple TV device, rather than pursuing the idea of an actual television (described by some as the iTV despite that being the name of a UK TV channel).
With set-top boxes such as Roku and YouView becoming increasingly popular, as internet services like Netflix and Lovefilm grow, and more and more consumers are looking for on-demand TV solutions. Apple is a popular competitor in the set-top box market, so it's likely it'll want to up its game to ensure it stays on top.The Complete Guide to the iPhone 5s & 5c is on-sale now. Click here for buying information.