Following the arrival of the Apple Arcade gaming service on the Apple TV in September 2019, and the launch of Apple's TV+ service in November 2019, it's frankly bizarre that the Apple TV itself hasn't been updated. In fact, the last new model came out way back in 2017.
It does seem amiss that Apple has failed to develop the hardware while it has promoted the Apple TV as a gaming console.
What's more, it's a surprise that despite announcing the new Apple One subscription service on 15 September - which will bundle the Apple TV+ service alongside Apple Music and iCloud - Apple still hasn't updated the hardware that enables you to watch the Apple TV+ shows on your TV screen. (However, Apple TV isn't the only way to watch - there are now many TVs with Apple TV built in.)
The lack of a new and improved - or at least cheaper - Apple TV is astounding given the amount of money Apple has spent creating content for the new TV service. 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 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.
So, having established that Apple needs to address the performance gap in Apple TV hardware, when is the new Apple TV likely to arrive?
Before we attempt to answer that question, is there a possibility that we may never see a new Apple TV? Could Apple discontinue the Apple TV?
Will Apple launch a new Apple TV?
Now that many new smart TVs and devices like the Amazon Fire TV, Roku, the new Xbox and PlayStation now 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 iTunes, 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.
9to5Mac revealed in March 2020 that a leaked early build of iOS 14 indicated that a new Apple Remote is in the pipeline.
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...
Release date: When will the new Apple TV come out?
We expect a new Apple TV model to launch in spring 2021. Most likely March, which is when the next Apple event is rumoured to be held.
Partly that's based on Bloomberg's prediction in December 2020 that an upgraded Apple TV would arrive at some point in 2021, but we're prepared to be more specific. Surely Apple has to turn this around in the first half of the year, or its set-top box is going to be completely left behind.
Throughout 2020 we were hearing from pundits and analysts that the new Apple TV was almost ready and just about to launch, and all the evidence suggests both that the project is at an advanced stage, and that customers want it now. The new Apple TV not appearing in 2020 was one of the year's big surprises, and Cupertino needs to either release a new model soon, or give up on it entirely. (Which we feel is unlikely, but could happen.)
We'll forgive a degree of scepticism because, as we mention, there have been lots of Apple TV rumours lately. There was a theory, for example, that the Apple TV would launch on 8 December 2020, until Bloomberg's Mark Gurman indicated that it had actually been delayed until 2021.
Delayed till '21— Mark Gurman (@markgurman) December 7, 2020
In fact, Gurman had previously been one of those expecting to see a new Apple TV in 2020, as he explained in a Periscope video on 21 April. But in a Bloomberg report some months after that, Gurman conceded that while a new model of the Apple TV media player was in development, it probably wouldn't launch until spring 2021.
"Apple has also been developing a new Apple TV box with a faster processor for improved gaming and an upgraded remote control, however that device might not ship until next year, according to people familiar with its development," he wrote.
A December 2020 report from Nikkei Asia added weight to claims that Apple will launch a new Apple TV in 2021. You can read more here: New Apple TV, MacBook Pro & iMac Pro in 2021: report.
Prolific leaker Jon Prosser had expected to see an Apple TV in 2020, and tweeted on 7 May that the new Apple TV was ready to ship. It still hasn't, of course.
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
Why is the Apple TV delayed?
According to Prosser the new Apple TV has been ready to ship since May. So where is it and when are we likely to see it?
We're not sure why it's delayed, 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 also possible that Apple could launch the new Apple TV without holding a keynote event. It could simply send out a press release, as the company has done for products in the past.
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, 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 (after 4 years)
- Apple TV (third gen): Mar 2012 (after 1.5 years)
- Apple TV (fourth gen): Oct 2015 (after 3.5 years)
- Apple TV (fifth gen, 4K): Sep 2017 (after 2 years)
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 - you can buy from Apple. This model launched in October 2015 - it's an extortionately high price for a four year old device, and as we mentioned above, it's powered by the A8 chip which Apple may 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).
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.
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 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 that Apple has its own games controller under development.
Here's what we're expecting (or hoping for) in terms of spec 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.
Prosser, on the other hand, suggests that the new Apple TV will feature an A12X chip - which is the same chip used in the 2018 iPad Pro.
There is evidence that Prosser could be right about the processor: files found in the tvOS 13.4 beta code back in February indicated that 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 may also see one of the Apple-made T-series chips inside the Apple TV too, perhaps powering Siri.
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.
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.
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.
A new remote
As per 9to5Macs report mentioned above, there is apparently a new Apple Remote in the works at Apple - evidence was found in the iOS 14 beta.
The 1 September 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 iPhone", but for indoor use. (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.
Speaking of which, that Bloomberg report (above) suggests that Apple is working on a feature for the new remote similar to Find My iPhone that would make the TV accessory easier to find. We've been hoping for a Find My Remote feature for some time and it seems our prayers are being answered.
You can already use your iPhone to control an Apple TV using the Apple TV remote control built into iOS. Find out more in our tutorial showing how to remote-control an Apple TV with an iPhone.
New features we'd love to see
The new Apple TV is likely to feature an array of new hardware features, which we outline in the below section.
Even existing Apple TV models will benefit from software related updates, with regular updates to tvOS - the version of iOS that works on the Apple TV.
Here are a few of the new features we'd love to see on the Apple TV.
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 from more information.
HomePod Apple TV Combo
This is another possibility, especially in the light of news that Apple has 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, 9to5Mac analysed it and found that version 13.4 of the HomePod operating system is now based on tvOS, instead of iOS.
This is significant for a few reasons. One is that power consumption isn't an issue for the HomePod or Apple TV as they are always plugged in, unlike iOS devices, so there isn't the need for code that allows for that.
9to5Mac also notes that both devices operate as a home hub for HomeKit since they are always connected, another reason why they should share common code.
A final reason is the fact that the Apple TV and HomePod are using older processors and by unifying the software it enables Apple to support those devices even after it stops supporting the same processors in iOS.
But the really interesting idea is if it could indicate that a future device could combine the features of both the HomePod and the Apple TV. 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.
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 AirPods 2 (they can respond to "Hey Siri" commands), 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
Regardless of whether the two devices merge, as discussed above, 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 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 it can do currently, but with all the Siri features found in the HomePod.
Our colleagues at Macworld US have imagined a HomePod mini that combines HomePod and Apple TV features. In the event things didn't quite work out that way - read our HomePod mini review for more thoughts on that front - but it's an appealing concept.
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.
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 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.
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 also have news that Apple TV+ could be banned in Europe if Apple doesn't commission more European shows!