Following the arrival of the Apple Arcade gaming service on the Apple TV back in September 2019, and the launch of Apple's TV+ service in November 2019, it's frankly bizarre that the Apple TV hardware hasn't been updated since 2017.
It does seem amiss that Apple has failed to develop the Apple TV hardware while it has promoted the Apple TV as a gaming console and ploughed money into developing content for the Apple TV+ streaming service.
In the light of this, the lack of a new and improved - or at least cheaper - Apple TV is embarrasing. Here's how the current Apple TV lineup looks:
Apple TV 4K: Unveiled in September 2017 it's powered by the A10X Fusion chip, found in the 2017 iPad Pro models, and based on the A10 chip used in 2016's iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. From £179/$179. This was the 5th generation Apple TV.
Apple TV HD: An even less powerful model than the 4K, the HD Apple TV (4th generation) launched in 2015 and sports the A8 chip found in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus (which dates back to 2014.) From £149/$149. This was the 4th generation Apple TV.
However, Apple TV isn't the only way to watch Apple TV+ as there are now many TVs with Apple TV built in and the streaming devices from the likes of Roku and Amazon support Apple TV. This may well be why Apple doesn't care that the models of Apple TV is still sells are so underpowered and unimpressive. Some might question if this means that Apple is more likely to discontinue the Apple TV than update it.
However, there is also plenty of evidence that a new Apple TV is due to launch in 2021, as well as some exciting news about future hybrid Apple TV products that could combine the HomePod and iPad - more on those rumours below.
Will there be a new Apple TV?
Now that many new smart TVs and devices like the Amazon Fire TV, Roku, the new Xbox and PlayStation include the Apple TV app and support AirPlay 2 (for streaming content from your iPad or iPhone), is there a need for the Apple TV?
Perhaps not if the purpose of the Apple TV is to watch the content on Apple TV+ and anything you have bought from the iTunes Store, or AirPlay from your Apple device to your TV screen.
However, the Apple TV offers more than a way of watching content. It also includes its own App Store and lots of games - including access to Apple Arcade games.
There are reports that suggest that Apple is going to reinvent the Apple TV as a games console, with a new games controller, and games to rival Zelda: Breath of the Wild. More on those rumours below.
The most credible of these reports came from Bloomberg in December 2020 - that report claims an upgraded Apple TV will arrive at some point in 2021.
So, while the Apple TV might not be the only device that you can stream Apple's new shows on, it does look likely that Apple will upgrade its set-top box to what will be the 6th generation of the device (if you were counting), rather than discontinue the device. The next question is when...
When will the new Apple TV come out?
There is an expectation that a new Apple TV could arrive very soon and with an Apple event scheduled for Tuesday 20 April 2021 that date is looking most likely. We have a separate article about what we expect to see at Apple's spring event.
The Apple TV is one of the new products expected to launch at the event (we're also expecting to see a new iPad Pro).
The expectation that a new Apple TV will launch soon isn't new. In fact back in 2020 there were multiple rumours suggesting that a new Apple TV was imminent.
Bloomberg's Mark Gurman had expected to see a new Apple TV in 2020, as he explained in a Periscope video on 21 April 2020.
Gurman wasn't alone in that expectation. In 2020 a number of pundits and analysts were convinced that the new Apple TV was almost ready and just about to launch.
For example, Jon Prosser had expected to see an Apple TV in 2020, and tweeted on 7 May 2020 that the new Apple TV was ready to ship.
New Apple TV 4K with A12X - 64GB/128GB ready to ship. ?
Codename: Neptune T1125
Another one of those things that could drop any time. Apple got no chill right now ??
I'll let you know if/when I hear a date. Who knows, maybe Apple can keep it a secret from me ?— Jon Prosser (@jon_prosser) May 7, 2020
The new Apple TV not appearing in 2020 was one of the year's big surprises. Hopefully we won't have to wait much longer. Code in the iOS 14.5 beta includes a reference to the Apple TV Remote. This might not sound all that unusual except for the fact that Apple usually referrs to it as the Siri Remote. iOS 14.5 is expected to be released soon. For more information read: Fresh evidence that a new Apple TV is on the way.
Yet more evidence came a few days later when 9to5Mac claimed its sources revealed that the new Apple remote has the internal designation B519. The previous model has the code name B439.
And then code in tvOS 14.5 was found to include references to "120 Hz" and "supports120Hz" in the PineBoard (that being the system that controls the Apple TV interface, like the SpringBoard for iPhone and iPad). We'll discuss what a 120Hz Apple TV could mean below. Read more: Code in tvOS 14.5 for upcoming 120Hz Apple TV.
Why is the Apple TV delayed?
According to Prosser the new Apple TV has been ready to ship since May 2020. So where is it and when are we likely to see it?
We're not sure why it's been delayed, it could be as a result of component shortages (which are plaguing manufacturers in the wake of COVID-19), but we suspect that Apple is hanging on for the opportunity to launch its new Apple TV in a blaze of glory alongside a raft of new shows on Apple TV+. Right now, TV production faces delays because of the coronavirus pandemic, and there's not much to announce.
It's not the longest wait we've ever had for a new Apple TV though. It's now approaching three and a half years, but there was gap of almost four years between the first and second generation Apple TV.
Here's an overview of when Apple has launched new Apple TVs in the past. The fifth-gen Apple TV came out in September 2017, more than three 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 (4 years later)
- Apple TV (third gen): Mar 2012 (1.5 years later)
- Apple TV (fourth gen): Oct 2015 (3.5 years later)
- Apple TV (fifth gen, 4K): Sep 2017 (2 years later)
How much will the new Apple TV cost?
One change we'd like to see is a price drop. The Apple TV looks overpriced in comparison to the rest of the market - especially when you consider the age of the components used.
Currently you can get a 32GB 4th generation Apple TV for £149/$149 (buy from Apple). This model launched in October 2015. It's an extortionately high price for a four year old device and it's powered by the A8 chip, which Apple may even stop supporting in the next year or so.
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 can also access the Apple TV+ content you might wonder what Apple TV has that these cheaper dongles don't... (More on that below).
One thing that the Apple TV has going for it is the storage supplied. But those GBs of storage seem redundent when we are all used to streaming content. And it's not as if we can record onto the Apple TV.
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 huge incentive at the price.
We'd like to see Apple 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 beside it - and we're sure we aren't the only ones with a setup 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 cut the price of that box to £79/$69 at one point.
We'd like to see the price lower than £79/$69, though, given the lower prices of the above competition.
In October 2020 a tweet suggested that the new Apple TV model will be equipped with an "A14X-like" processor and able to play games with graphics like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Apple Arcade is getting BIG money poured into it. There are currently titles in the works that are aiming to rival the likes of Breath of the Wild, which is why new A12X/Z AppleTV, "A14X-like" AppleTV, and Controller are in the works.
Some games will require A13 and up to run 💁🏼♀️— Fudge (@choco_bit) October 3, 2020
Fudge isn't the only leaker to refer to the new games controller. Generally accurate leaker Jon Prosser has also said that the new Apple TV could become even more attractive as a gaming platform thanks to the launch of a new gaming controller from Apple. Prosser said back in August 2020 that Apple has its own games controller under development.
Here's what we're expecting (or hoping for) in terms of spec and feature updates.
One possible reason for the delay could be that Apple is waiting for a better chip. Prosser had indicated that the new Apple TV would feature an A12X chip - which is the same chip used in the 2018 iPad Pro - but perhaps Apple's set it's sights higher than that.
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 seems likely to benefit from a next generation processor, such as the A14 powering the iPhone 12 line.
Indeed, a Bloomberg report on 1 September 2020 suggested that Apple is giving the Apple TV a faster processor "for improved gaming". However, that report indicates the new Apple TV might not launch until 2021.
Should Apple decide to use an A14 chip instead, that would allow vastly improved graphics performance and up to 6GB of RAM, according to the 9to5 Mac report mentioned above.
We may also see one of the Apple-made T-series chips inside the Apple TV too - these could be used to power Siri. Alternatively, could we see the M1 Chip in the Apple TV?
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.
Rumours do indeed suggest that the new model will offer 64GB or 128GB storage options.
Then again, we do wonder whether we really need any storage for this device if it's just for streaming TV shows. On the other hand, if it's a gaming device then the storage would be beneficial.
Reports suggest that the new Apple TV might get HDMI 2.1 which offers an Auto Low-Latency Mode that can adjust a television's settings to better display fast-moving content without any lag.
The Apple tvOS 14.5 beta includes references to '120Hz' and 'supports120Hz', as discovered by 9to5Mac.
Until now all Apple TV units have only supported 60Hz. Unfortunately this will remain the case because they lack the necessary hardware to support the standard - 120Hz requires HDMI 2.1, as mentioned above.
Users will also require a 120Hz TV in order to take advantage of the technology.
If the new Apple TV is capable of 120Hz users with a 120Hz-capable TV will be able to enjoy more demanding games and experience a smoother interface.
New Apple TV remote
There is apparently a new Apple Remote in the works at Apple.
9to5Mac revealed in March 2020 that a leaked early build of iOS 14 indicated that a new Apple Remote is in the pipeline. Further to that, the beta of iOS 14.5 includes reference to the Apple TV Remote - rather than the Siri Remote, as it is called at the moment.
This isn't the only references to an Apple TV Remote. A September 2020 Bloomberg report also indicates that there will be an upgraded remote control. Bloomberg stated that we will see a new function for the remote control that makes it possible to find it if you have lost it. In other words, a variant of "Find My". We look forward to being able to find our Apple TV remote many years after we lost it...
We hope Apple overhauls the remote, which we don't currently like very much. 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 complicated to use too, for other reasons.
It's called the Siri Remote because you're 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 our remotes anyway, and are relying on our iPhones to control our Apple TVs. Want to use your iPhone to control an Apple TV? Find out more in our tutorial showing how to remote-control an Apple TV with an iPhone.
Currently Siri can only hear your Apple TV commands via the Remote control. However, some changes could arrive with a new model.
For example, 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.
You can also 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 AirPods 2 (they can respond to "Hey Siri" commands), perhaps, it will soon 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.
There are also plans, it seems, for Apple to evolve it's Apple TV with the help of some other Apple products, although this may not happen for some time.
A Bloomberg report discusses Apple's plans for two future Apple products. One will fuse the HomePod and Apple TV with a camera that could be used for video conferencing via the TV screen.
The second product - a smart speaker with a touch screen - will combine an iPad with a HomePod and mount a camera on a robotic arm that could follow the user around the room during a video chat.
The Bloomberg report indicates that these projects are currently in the concept stage and it could be a few more years before they become a reality. Read more here: Apple planning hybrid HomePod/Apple TV and HomePod/IPad products.
HomePod Apple TV Combo
We've been predicting that Apple could combine the HomePod and Apple TV for some time, especially in the light of news in April 2020 that Apple had switched the software on the HomePod from iOS to tvOS, according to a 9to5Mac report.
When the HomePod Software 13.4 update arrived in March 2020, 9to5Mac analysed it and found that version 13.4 of the HomePod operating system was based on tvOS, instead of iOS.
This indicates that a future device could combine the features of both the HomePod and the Apple TV.
Our colleagues at Macworld US have imagined a HomePod mini that combines HomePod and Apple TV features.
HomePod iPad Combo
As we speculated in an article about how Apple could improve the HomePod, we'd like to see Apple add a screen to its smart speaker.
Such a product may be in the pipeline, based on that Bloomberg report mentioned above. Apple is said to be planning a HomePod with an iPad screen mounted on the front. It sounds a bit like the Amazon Echo Show 10 which combines a display that moves automatically with Amazon's speaker. Echo Show 10 costs £239.99/$249.99. Buy one here (UK) and here (US).
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 on 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 from more information.
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 Netflix, 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 targeting 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, Sony and other TV manufacturers are supporting Apple TV+ content on their TVs, and Roku and Amazon are offering the TV app on their devices, 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.
Another reason why Apple could discontinue the set-top box is the confusion its existence causes. 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.
For more information about what Apple will launch in the next 12 months, read our guide to the new Apple products coming out in 2021.
We've seen Apple TV+ subscribers asking why they have to pay for movies and shows in iTunes when they already subscribe to the service, if you are also confused read: What is free on Apple TV?