When will Apple release the next Apple TV - the fifth-generation Apple TV - in the UK? And what new features, tech specs and design changes should we expect from the new 5G Apple TV for 2016 or 2017?
The fourth-gen Apple TV - the first Apple TV device to allow users to install apps - was unveiled by Apple at the iPhone 6s launch event on 9 September 2015, and went onsale weeks later. Nearly a year later, we're looking ahead to the launch of the next, fifth-gen (5G) Apple TV. Indeed, there are already rumours that a next-generation Apple TV might arrive in late 2016, although Apple could also be waiting until next year to release a special 10th-anniversary model.
In this article we gather all the evidence related to the fifth-gen Apple TV's launch date, as well as reporting on all the rumours and clues about the 2016 Apple TV's new features, tech specs and design changes. However, if you're (understandably) still interested in the Apple TV that's available right now, we've got plenty of information about the 2015 Apple TV, including pricing and the best places to buy.
Updated, 27 July 2016, to discuss Tim Cook's enigmatic comments about the future of the Apple TV at Apple's Q3 financial results call.
New Apple TV 2016 release date rumours: When will Apple release the 5th-gen Apple TV?
Our money is on autumn 2016, although Apple may choose to hold it back until the start of 2017 and make more of the product's 10th anniversary.
Here's when the four generations of Apple TV launched:
- 1st-gen Apple TV: January 2007
- 2nd-gen Apple TV: September 2010
- 3rd-gen Apple TV: March 2012
- 4th-gen Apple TV: September 2015
Evidently, Apple updates its Apple TV less often than its iPhones, iPads and Macs: there was a three-and-a-half-year wait between the first and second models, and between the third and fourth. Based on that, it would be reasonable to expect the 5G Apple TV to appear in 2018 or even 2019, and we certainly don't have firm evidence to dispute that.
But our instincts tell us that the Apple TV's position and status in the company's portfolio of products has changed. It used to be a sideline and a hobby, but with the growing importance of streaming media and smart-home applications, and with the arrival on the platform of games and its own App Store, Apple TV is moving to centre stage.
And we're not the only ones to think Apple is likely to start updating the TV more frequently from now on.
A report (link for subscribers only) in DigiTimes last year predicted that the fifth-generation Apple TV would go into trial production as early as December 2015, with volume production starting in the first quarter of 2016. Changes were said to include a dramatically improved hardware performance and new functions "to help it no longer serve only as a set-top box".
Tim Cook made some non-specific but intriguing comments about the future of the Apple TV at Apple's Q3 2016 earnings conference call. He made it very clear that Apple has big plans for its TV division, and plans to build "something bigger" with the product and surrounding ecosystem.
Near the end of the hour-long call, a question was posed by Kulbinder Garcha, the managing director of Credit Suisse:
"I think about some of the comments you've made about the TV market and how it's been stuck in the sixties and seventies, and the experience hasn't changed," Garcha said. "I understand that you've got the Apple TV box out, but in terms of driving actual video-on-demand services, is that something Apple wants to do themselves, do you want to partner, could you even build content? How do you think about that as an actual business opportunity, as opposed to, here's an Apple box and we sell some units but it's not that meaningful to the overall company in terms of size?"
Tim Cook's reply was enigmatic.
"The introduction of Apple TV and tvOS in last October and the subsequent OS releases and what's coming out this fall… think of that as building the foundation for what we believe can be a broader business over time," he said.
"I don't want to be more precise than that but you shouldn't look at what's there today and think we've done what we want to do. We've built a foundation that we can do something bigger off of."
New Apple TV release date: WWDC 2016 and tvOS 10
Back in spring we argued that the 5G Apple TV was unlikely to be launched at WWDC 2016, since the event came round less than a year after Apple rolled out the fourth-gen model and none of the previous Apple TVs had launched in summer. Indeed, Apple launched no new hardware at the event whatsoever. But the new version of the Apple TV's operating system, tvOS 10, got considerable stage time. As we often observe when discussing new iPhones and iPads, many of the most significant updates come not from new hardware but from free software updates.
Siri gets some big improvements in tvOS's new update: it can now search the Apple TV's movie and TV database with more complex queries. It can search YouTube, too, and any live streaming channels can be launched by saying "watch" and then the name of the channel. There's a new dark mode for Apple TV, which makes the background black instead of the bright white we're used to. And the Apple TV Remote app has been redesigned; it now offers all the Siri remote features and can be used for Siri queries using the built-in mic.
(Speaking of the Remote app, did you know that there's a SiriMote app that's been designed to let you control your Mac with an Apple TV Siri Remote? You'll be able to use the app and Siri Remote together to control playback on your Mac, but according to Apple Insider the setup is difficult. The app is free and works with El Capitan. You can download it from Eternal Storms at eternalstorms.at.)
One last thing Apple didn't mention, but has since come to light in Apple support documents, is that the requirement for Siri Remote compatibility for Apple TV games has been relaxed. That means they can focus on MFi game controllers, which are much more game-friendly than the Siri remote. See: Best Apple TV game controllers.
Read our Complete guide to tvOS's new features for more information on the software update.
New Apple TV release date: 10th-anniversary Apple TV
Looking again at those launch dates above, we feel like the looming tenth anniversary of the Apple TV might be a tempting occasion for a big update. Apple tends to dislike historical wallowing - famously refusing to build a museum in its new headquarters because "we're focused on the future, not the past" - but there is a precendent for an anniversary product in the form of the Twentieth Anniversary Mac (number 4 in our article The 5 weirdest Macs of all time).
New Apple TV 2016 feature rumours: Apple TV streaming service
Rumours that Apple will launch a TV streaming service have been around for a while. If you'd like more of an in-depth discussion of this topic, take a look at our separate article about Apple's streaming service plans. Unfortunately for anyone who was looking forward to the launch of the service, it sounds like it will be further delayed as Apple continues to negotiate with the TV networks in the US.
The December 2015 report from Bloomberg claims that Apple is putting its plans for the streaming service on hold because the cable companies and networks are proving resistant to the idea.
In fact, Apple may ditch the idea altogether, focusing instead on offering the tvOS platform for media companies to sell their content directly to consumers via the App Store, according to the Bloomberg report. Bloomberg reckons the reason for the resistance is Apple's demand for content at a price that the networks aren't happy with.
CBS CEO Les Moonves, who has often commented on the rumoured service, has also claimed that Apple has put the streaming service plans "on hold", according to Bloomberg.
Previously Moonves had hinted that the rumoured Apple TV steaming service would arrive in 2015. The revelation came during an earlier interview with Bloomberg TV in which he suggested his company would soon come to an arrangement with Apple.
Moons said: "Apple is having conversations with everyone about doing their own streaming services. We have had those conversations, as have the other networks. Do I think something will happen? Probably, but I don't know when."
This isn't the first time Moonves has made comments about the rumoured service. Earlier this year he made a similar revelation in an interview at a Re/code conference, giving the impression that he was in ongoing conversations with Apple.
Read on to find out more about the 2015 Apple TV...