What is the Apple TV and what does it offer currently?

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 March, the Apple TV v6.1 update included a new security option so that iOS devices and Macs should be verified with a screen code before being using AirPlay. This will only be required once, and is, no doubt, an extra layer of security designed to stop malicious devices on the network from accessing the Apple TV.

Another new feature is the ability for a device to discover the Apple TV via Bluetooth, which could be useful if network traffic is heavy.

A further update was the ability to hide channels from the main menu. This was previously possible, but it is now much simpler. As with iOS, if you wish to hide an item, hold down the Select button on the remote and when the icons start jiggling, select the item, press Play/Pause and select Hide This Item. Previously you had to go in to parental settings to choose whether to hide certain channels.

Other updates to the Apple TV in March included the addition of the WWE channel in the US.

In February, Apple added a brand-new channel to the Apple TV to commemorate the 50th anniversary of The Beatles' American 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.

When the new Apple TV launched we expect to see the following new features described below. In particular we hope to see the UK's On Demand channels finally coming to the Apple TV since most of Apple's competition in this field offers catch up TV and On Demand options and Apple's lack of iPlayer and 4oD and the like is particularly astonishing in this context.

Will the new Apple TV have iPlayer? Why doesn't the Apple TV have iPlayer now?

One criticism of the existing Apple TV is its lack of UK on demand TV channels. Most notable for its absence is iPlayer, exacerbated by the fact that it is available on much of the competition, including Google's Chromecast. Will the new Apple TV have iPlayer, or will the BBC just continue to rely on its iPlayer app for iPhone and iPad?

The BBC has revealed that it decided to support the Google Chromecast at launch, despite still not offering iPlayer for Apple TV, because the "Apple TV currently works only with Apple devices."

The BBC states on its website: "Chromecast has SDKs available for a number of different platforms including iOS, Android, and the Chrome browser for laptop and desktop computers."

Although the Chromecast requires a mobile device or the Chrome browser to operate, it takes the streams directly from the content provider, not from your phone, and the Chromecast dongle does all the lifting of decoding and playing the video stream. This system is easier on the devices battery and more efficient in terms of network activity, explains the BBC.

While it is possible to stream BBC iPlayer from your iPhone or iPad to an Apple TV using AirPlay, in that case all the work is being done by the BBC iPlayer app on your iPad or iPhone, rather than on the Apple TV, which is battery intensive work for the device.

New Apple TV 2014 rumours: new Apple TV content - TV shows and entertaiment

As we mentioned above, Apple needs to get the UK's On Demand and catch up TV channels onto the UK Apple TV if it is to match the competition. Apple's main competition in this field: the Roku 3 offers access to the UK On Demand channels, as does YouView and FreeTime and many other TV streaming options.

Luckily, 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.

New Apple TV rumours

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 side-tracked.

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."

Unfortunately 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.

New Apple TV 2014 rumours: Continuity on the Apple TV

During WWDC 2014, Apple unveiled iOS 8 and Yosemite, which will both include a new 'Continuity' feature to allow you to work seamlessly between your Mac and iOS device. Apparently, Continuity is coming to the Apple TV, too. This may be a software update for the current Apple TV, but could also hint at a new Apple TV coming this autumn.

9To5Mac reports that users running iOS, OS X and Apple TV betas have spotted evidence that Continuity is coming to the Apple TV sin the future. Several people have seen notifications that read "Device available for Continuity... Apple TV is now available for Continuity."

This could potentially mean that a user who's been watching a movie on their iPhone on their journey home will walk into their house and see their movie automatically begin playing on their television thanks to the Apple TV.

New Apple TV 2014 rumours: Homekit

Also unveiled at WWDC 2014 was Homekit, a new smart home platform from Apple that is designed to make the use of connected home appliances including lamps, locks and more an easier and more seamless experience. One of the ways Apple could do that is through a new Apple TV. It could mean that you can use the Siri-equipped Apple TV to control the lighting, heating, security and more in your home.

New Apple TV 2014 rumours: Games on the Apple TV

Calls for Apple to add gaming to the Apple TV have increased following the launch of the Amazon FireTV. The FireTV offers more channels than the Apple TV, plus gaming. There are said to be 133 games available for the Amazon FireTV. Roku also offers games on its devices.

Apple does already offer some gaming on the Apple TV - although this is via the iPad.

Apple TV gaming

The new Apple TV will blend live TV listings with apps and video, and it will have a big focus on gaming, people familiar with the Apple Comcast talks told The Information. 

Other reports are also suggesting that when the rumoured Apple TV update comes 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.

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster told investors in a note that he expects that Apple will add gaming to the Apple TV.

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 gaming

New Apple TV 2014 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, allowing you to record 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.

New Apple TV 2014 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.

 
The specifications of Elgatos' EyeTV Mobile are different depending on the country you live in

New Apple TV 2014 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.

New Apple TV 2014 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.

New Apple TV 2014 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.

New Apple TV 2014 rumours: motion control remote

A magic wand for the Apple TV has been mentioned in a Steve Jobs email being used as evidence in court in the Apple v Samsung case. This "magic wand" was mentioned by Steve Jobs in a agenda for a managers meeting. It was intended for use with the Apple TV. The magic wand idea has also leaked in the past, with claims that Apple was looking at ways of controlling the Apple TV using motion. You can read the whole Steve Jobs email here.

KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo is one of the many analysts who expect the new Apple TV will offer motion controls.

An Apple TV job listing has lead to speculation that Apple is planning to add a camera to the Apple TV. This camera could be used for FaceTime calls, or for motion detection.

The vacancy is for a person to join Apple's Camera Software Team and within the job listing Apple refers to the Apple TV, among other Apple products (iPad, iPhone).

The job openings are for a Camera Algorithms Developer, Camera Tuning Framework Engineer, Media System Performance Engineer, according to Apple Insider, and the qualified candidates need to have experience working with camera capture frameworks.

Since Apple acquired PrimeSense - the developer of the motion-tracking tech inside the original Kinect sensor for the Xbox 360 - there have been claims that the company would add motion detection to the Apple TV as a way to control the device.

New Apple TV 2014 rumours: voice control remote

The new Amazon FireTV offers voice control, which has lead to calls for Apple to include such a feature in the new Apple TV. Rumours have pointed towards Apple using Siri as a new input method for the Apple TV for some time.

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster told investors that he expects that Apple will add voice control to the Apple TV.

It was thought that 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.

The latest rumours suggests that Apple has looked away from Siri for a method to control the interface of the Apple TV, however. It was thought that when Steve Jobs claimed he had "cracked" what was wrong with television, and masterminded a way to make it a better user experience, he was talking about Siri.

Other methods of controlling the Apple TV include bluetooth keyboards. This has been possible since 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.

Martin Hajek has some concept designs for a new Apple Remote.

Apple TV concept by Hajek
What the new Apple TV Remote might look like, accordgin to Martin Hajek.
Apple TV concept by Hajek

New Apple TV 2014 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.

New Apple TV 2014 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.

Related: 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 suggest that an Apple television - or iTV, ignoring possible confusion with the British TV broadcaster - is part of 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.