The Apple TV 4K was unveiled in September 2017, and it's pretty great, but with all eyes on Apple as it prepares to launch Apple TV+, its new streaming service this autumn, we can't help wish for a new and improved 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 used to describe the Apple TV as a 'hobby' product, but with the upcoming TV+ service it looks like Apple is finally ready to transform the television industry as Steve Jobs told his autobiographer it would.
But despite Apple's plans to take on Netflix and Amazon with its new on-demand TV service, the future of the Apple TV set-top-box is uncertain. In fact, it is possible that Apple won't launch another Apple TV box, preferring instead to partner with TV manufacturers.
Samsung already offers Apple's TV app on a number of its 2018 and 2019 TVs, which means you can already buy or rent TV shows and films available on Apple's iTunes Store on some Samsung TVs. Sony and other TV manufacturers have also announced that they will support AirPlay 2, and Roku and the Amazon Fire TV will also be able to run the new service. This certainly hints that Apple may choose to work with TV and set top box manufacturers rather than update the Apple TV in the future. Find out which TVs will run Apple TV+ here.
It certainly seems that for once Apple isn't insisting that the new service be limited to Apple devices. 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).
The company has budgeted billions for the TV+ service that it revealed will launch this autumn, so we expect a new Apple TV to launch imminently. We expect to see Apple talking about the new TV service's launch date at 2019's iPhone event - likely to take place on 10 or 11 September. That event would be a great place to see a new Apple TV unveilled. Read about the next Apple event here.
You might think that the Apple TV is due an update soon, but based on past behaviours this has by no means been a long wait. The fifth-gen Apple TV came out in September 2017, almost 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 (almost 4 years)
- Apple TV (third gen): Mar 2012 (about 1.5 years)
- Apple TV (fourth gen): Oct 2015 (about 3.5 years)
- Apple TV (fifth gen, 4K): Sep 2017 (almost 2 years)
The question is does the Apple TV need an update though? 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.
The newer (September 2017) Apple TV 4K currently sells for £179/$179 (with 32GB of storage) or £199/$199 (64GB) - you can buy one from Apple here. The next generation of Apple TV is likely to be priced at a similar point.
The problem is that these prices look 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 will have 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 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 a huge surprise. In fact, Apple did cut the price of that box to £79/$69 at one point. However, it perhaps needs to be even cheaper than that, given the lower prices of the above competition (e.g. £39/$39).
Another thing to consider: 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?
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.
You can also expect some enhancements to tvOS - the version of iOS that works on the Apple TV. It was introduced with the Apple TV in 2015 and brought with it the Apple TV Store. We have information about the next 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. 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 combinesHomePod 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 coming to 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.
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 services coming to the Apple TV, including the Apple Arcade gaming subscription service, and the HomeKit Secure Video service, both of which wil arrive this autumn, the Apple TV will benefit from a next generation processor, such as the A12 which arrived with the iPhone XS.
We'll may also see one of the Apple made chips inside the Apple TV too, perhaps powering Siri.
What will Apple's new TV content include?
Apple is preparing to launch some TV shows - actual original content - and has made a lot of significant hires in that field. It is also in talks with movie studios about the chance to offer rentals of movies just weeks after they appear in cinemas.
There is more information about Apple's plans to make its own programmes in this article: Apple's TV and movie streaming plans
Why TV is important to Apple
With the iPhone being such a large part of Apple's business, and the Apple Watch potentially being the device that takes it into the future, could the Apple TV fall into oblivion? In the past Apple has let years pass without updating the device - could the same thing happen again? We doubt it.
The original Apple TV was announced in January 2007, shipping in March 2007, so it's been around for a long time. A lot has changed since it was introduced. Initially Apple referred to the Apple TV as a hobby product, but in recent years it has become a much more significant part of the business.
In fact, TV was an area of great interest to Apple's late co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs, who told his biographer Walter Isaacson: "I'd like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use... It will have the simplest interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it." The appearance of this quote in the Steve Jobs biography led to years of speculation that Apple would launch a TV set. Despite those rumours, an Apple TV set never appeared, but Apple remained interested in the area.
Apple CEO Tim Cook said in September 2014: "Think how much your life has changed, and all the things around you that have changed, and yet TV, when you go into the living room to watch TV or wherever it may be, it almost feels like you're rewinding the clock and you've entered a time capsule and you're going backwards. The interface is terrible, I mean it's awful. You watch things when they come on unless you remember to record them."
Apple's first move to reinvent the TV came with the release of the updated Apple TV in 2015, and with it tvOS and the TV App Store.
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 has announced that it will start supporting Apple iTunes Movies and TV Shows content on its new TVs, and that 2018 models will gain support in a subsequent firmware update, and Sony indicating that TVs released later in 2019 will also offer Apple content, it certainly seems like Apple is now looking at partnering with TV manufacturers rather than selling its own set-top-box. Read more about TVs that will offer iTunes Movies and TV shows here.
As Twitter COO Anthony Noto said (via a Geekwire story) during a CES panel in January 2018: "Over the next five years, we’ll see a melding of distribution devices. Today, you walk into your house and your cell phone attaches to your WiFi instantly. Over the next five years when you walk into your house, your cell phone will automatically connect to the television. There will be no device. There will be no Apple TV, no Chromecast, no Amazon Fire, [no] Microsoft Xbox."