- New Apple TV could launch in March 2020.
- Likely to be powered by A12 or A13 Bionic processor.
- Codename for new Apple TV found in tvOS beta.
The Apple TV 4K was unveiled in September 2017, and it's pretty great, but with all eyes on Apple following the launch of its new streaming service Apple TV+ on 1 November 2019, and the Apple Arcade gaming service in September 2019, we can't help wish for a new and improved - or at least cheaper - Apple TV.
The Apple TV is Apple's set-top box that combines a digital media player, a games machine and a platform for apps with the ability to stream content from iOS devices and Macs to a TV. Apple's gaming offering (especially following the arrival of Apple Arcade - a subscription gaming service that can be accessed on iPad, iPhone, Apple TV and Mac) is one reason why Apple needs to improve the Apple TV.
The other reason is TV. Apple used to describe the Apple TV as a 'hobby' product, but with the new TV+ service Apple is making its move in the fight to transform the television industry - something Apple's founder Steve Jobs told his autobiographer he wanted Apple to do. While the Apple TV isn't the only way to watch these programmes on your TV set, Apple does need to address its offering here.
There is one major problem with the Apple TV. It's not the product itself but its name. There are too many TV products made by Apple. There's the Apple TV set-top-box, the TV app (found on iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple TV, as well as Roku and Amazon Fire players, and some Samsung TVs) and the TV+ subscription service. We feel that Apple either needs to reinvent the Apple TV gadget to make it clearer how these different things fit together, or simply stop selling it and remove part of the confusion.
Could Apple discontinue the Apple TV? It seems like an unlikely scenareo given Apple's plans to take on Netflix and Amazon with its new on-demand TV service. But it is possible that Apple won't launch another Apple TV box, preferring instead to partner with TV manufacturers and other set-top-box manufacturers such as Samsung, which already offers Apple's TV app on a number of its 2018 and 2019 TVs. We look at other reasons why there might not be a new Apple TV below.
The Apple TV might not be the only device that you can stream Apple's new shows on, but it does look likely that Apple will upgrade its set top box to what wiil be the 6th generation of the device (if you were counting), rather than discontinue the device. When will that update come?
There is an indication that a new version of the Apple TV will launch in the spring of 2020. 9to5Mac has spotted that files inside the tvOS 13.4 beta that became available to download in February 2020 reference hardware codenamed T1125. This could be a new Apple TV. The two current Apple TV models are codenamed J105a and J42d.
We could see a new Apple TV at a Spring Event if Apple goes ahead and holds one in 2020.
We could also look at past behaviours to see if a new model is likely to launch soon. The fifth-gen Apple TV came out in September 2017, more than two years ago, but that's no time at all compared to some of the waits we'd endured. Here's when each of the models came out:
- Apple TV (first gen): Jan 2007
- Apple TV (second gen): Sep 2010 (gap of almost 4 years)
- Apple TV (third gen): Mar 2012 (gap of about 1.5 years)
- Apple TV (fourth gen): Oct 2015 (a gap of about 3.5 years)
- Apple TV (fifth gen, 4K): Sep 2017 (gap of more than 2 years)
The question is: does the Apple TV need an update? We think it does for a variety of reasons which we will discuss in more detail below.
One change we'd like to see is a change to the price.
Currently you can get a 32GB 4th generation Apple TV for £149/$149 - buy from Apple here. This model launched in October 2015 - it's a extortionately high price for a four year old device.
The problem is that these prices are very high when compared to dongles such as Amazon's Fire Stick (from £39.99) and the Google Chromecast (from £30), and the Roku offerings (£39.99). Considering the Fire and the Roku also access to the Apple TV+ content you might wonder what Apple TV has that these cheaper dongles don't... (More on that below).
It's not only that the Apple TV costs so much more than other devices. Are people really going to take kindly to paying more than £150 for a box if they also have to pay a monthly subscription for Apple's new TV service and the Apple Arcade gaming subscription service in order to fully benefit from the hardware? We think not! Currently you will at least get a year's subscription to Apple TV+ if you do buy one but that's not a hige incentive at the price.
It's possible that Apple could offer a cheaper Apple TV dongle to compete with the Fire Stick and Google Chromecast. A dongle might help the company reach the masses with its new streaming video service. An article on The Information in November 2018 claimed that Apple was indeed considering such a move. We'd love a smaller Apple TV that plugged directly into the back of our TV (which hangs on the wall and has no space for boxes around the side - and we're sure we aren't the only one with a set up like that.)
But it doesn't have to be a smaller Apple TV, Apple could continue to sell the current models as a lower price. In the recent past Apple has sold the Apple TV for £99/$99 (until 2014) so reducing the price to that level wouldn't be completely out of character. In fact, Apple has even cut the price of that box to £79/$69 at one point.
We think it's likely that Apple will reduce the price of the Apple TV at the same time as it introduces the TV+ streaming service on 1 November. We'd like to see the price lower than £79/$69 though, given the lower prices of the above competition (e.g. £39/$39).
New Apple TV features
The new Apple TV is likely to feature an array of new hardware features, which we outline in the below section. Later we will address the spec changes that are expected in the new model, incuding why a new processor could be neccessary.
Even existing Apple TV models have had a recent update, with an update to tvOS - the version of iOS that works on the Apple TV. We have information about the newest version of the tvOS here.
AirPod Siri support
You can pair the Apple AirPods with the Apple TV - with older AirPods it is possible to pause shows with a double-tap. Now that Siri commands can be used with the 2019 AirPods 2 (they can respond to "Hey Siri" commands - more details about the 2019 AirPods here), perhaps, it will be possible to activate Siri on the Apple TV via the new AirPods.
It is possible to use other Bluetooth headphones with the Apple TV, but there are some limitations as to how many Bluetooth devices can be paired, especially if one of them is an audio accessory.
Integration with HomePod
We think it would be great if the Apple TV and HomePod could work hand-in-hand, even if it was only for voice recognition - a feature that recently came to the HomePod with iOS 13. You can already use the HomePod as your audio source for the Apple TV (although there can be some lag, so right now we don't really recommend it).
What about an Apple TV that incorporated HomePod features. By which we don't just mean 'can play Apple Music', which is can do currently, but with all the Siri features found in the HomePod.
Our collegues at Macworld US have imagined a HomePod mini that combines HomePod and Apple TV features here.
Siri on Apple TV
Speaking of which, you can talk to Siri on the HomePod from across the room, and it can hear you even if it's playing music loud, it's time that the Apple TV could do the same.
Currently Siri can only hear your Apple TV commands via the Remote control.
A new Remote
Speaking of the remote, we don't like the Apple TV remote. Apple's theory is that having a lot of buttons makes a remote complicated to use, which is fair enough, but the Apple Remote is complicted to use. It's called the Siri Remote because you are supposed to use Siri to control the Apple TV rather than the remote itself, but we aren't really that sold on the idea of controlling everything with our voice. Unfortunately, the buttons aren't easy to locate without looking down at the remote, and the touch sensitive trackpad area at the top of the remote is too small to be really useful. In fact the remote itself is just too small to be held comfortably.
But most of us have lost out Remote anyway and are relying on our iPhones to control our Apple TV... (How about a Find My Remote feature).
Here's what we're expecting (or hoping for) in terms of spec updates.
Bigger hard drive
Given the 4K capabilities in the most recent Apple TV, we felt that an increased storage allocation was likely, but instead it comes in 32GB and 64GB models, the same as on the 4th-gen model. In fact, 4K movies can only be streamed, not downloaded, much to the annoyance of many Apple TV owners who don't want to be forced to stream a movie they own.
We expect that Apple will add a 128GB offering at some point, and it is conceivable that a 256GB version could be added. Mind you, we suspect that Apple's customers don't need so much, since they tend to be streaming content and storing content in iCloud.
Mac mini Apple TV
We've always thought it would be great is if Apple combined the Mac mini with the Apple TV so that you could have a media centre in your living room with all the features of both Mac and Apple TV.
With the TV app arriving on the Mac perhaps this functionality is already coming to the Mac mini - and all other Macs. Any Mac could be plugged into a TV screen and the TV+ service run from that device. Read how to connect a Mac to a TV.
The Apple TV 4K needed a faster processor, and sure enough it got an upgrade from the A8 chip, which was launched with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in September 2014 to the A10X Fusion.
With new power-hungry services now on the Apple TV, such as the Apple Arcade gaming subscription service, and the HomeKit Secure Video service, the Apple TV will benefit from a next generation processor, such as the A12 which arrived with the iPhone XS.
This looks likely based on the internal files inside the beta version of tvOS 13.4. The files indicate that the new hardware thought to be a new Apple TV will be based on the arm64e architecture which is the same as is used by the A12 and A13 Bionic chips.
We'll may also see one of the Apple made chips inside the Apple TV too, perhaps powering Siri.
Perhaps the biggest factor affecting Apple's plans in the television space is the fact that modern televisions come with all the software required to play the likes of Netfilx, Now TV, UK on-demand channels, and so on. Owners of televisions purchased in the past few years - in fact any owner of a 4K TV that Apple is targetting with the current Apple TV model - will have all the software required to run the sought after content on their TV.
And now that Samsung is supporting Apple TV+ content on its new TVs, and Sony and other TV manufacturers indicating that their new TVs will also offer Apple content, and Roku and Amazon Fire also offering the TV app, it certainly seems like Apple is now looking at partnering with TV manufacturers rather than selling its own set-top-box. Read more about which TVs run Apple TV+ here.