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Apple released new beta versions of its operating systems this week, including not only iOS 13.4 and watchOS 6.2, but also tvOS 13.4, the latest update for the company’s set-top box.
tvOS updates haven’t really offered much to speak about as of late — even last year’s tvOS 13 release was a relatively pedestrian update compared to everything that was baked into iOS 13, introducing multi-user support, some user interface tweaks, some new screen savers, and of course support for Apple Arcade and support for PS4 and Xbox game controllers
So needless to say, we expect even less from tvOS point releases, but while tvOS 13.4 doesn’t appear to offer anything interesting for users to see, developers reading through the code have discovered that it could herald the arrival of an updated Apple TV 4K model.
Apple last updated its set-top box over two years ago, when it first introduced the Apple TV 4K version, and the last update before that was the original fourth-generation Apple TV in 2015, which is now known as the Apple TV HD. So with a two-year release cycle and Apple introducing Apple Arcade and Apple TV+, many of us were expecting Apple to release a new model last fall.
While there’s arguably not much for Apple to improve upon in its set-top box, since the 2017 model already supports most of the current 4K streaming standards, including Dolby Vision, HDR10, and Dolby Atmos support, the advent of Apple Arcade would seem to justify beefing it up beyond the A10X CPU, which is the same chip found in Apple’s 2017 iPad Pros, but one that’s anemic compared to the iPhone 11’s A13 chips or even the A12 found in the newest iPad Air and iPad mini. Only the iPod touch and the 10.2-inch iPad still use the A10 chip at this point.
According to code in tvOS 13.4 found by 9to5Mac, it looks like Apple is in fact planning such an update, with references to a mysterious new product named “T1125.” The current Apple TV 4K is designated “J105a” internally, while the Apple TV HD is “J42d” As 9to5Mac explains, the “T” prefix suggests it’s an internal model, and could even be a prototype. The rumours from last fall of a new Apple TV suggested it would carry a code name of “J305” so it’s unclear if that’s what the final designation will be or if Apple had a previous model that it chose to scrap.
The product references in the tvOS 13.4 code don’t offer any major insights into what the specs of the new set-top box would be, although the internal files suggest that it will be based on the “arm64e” architecture, which means it would be equipped with either an A12 or A13 Bionic CPU, although that seems like a given considering it would be pointless for Apple to release a new version of the set-top box with anything less.
Similarly, it appears that the maximum resolution will remain at 4K with the same HDR support, which isn’t surprising since Apple rarely lives on the bleeding edge of consumer technology. Even the Apple TV 4K came two years after competitors like Roku already had their own 4K devices on the market.
It’s hard to imagine what other features might be coming to an updated version of the set-top box, however faster performance alone could help solidify it as a platform for Apple Arcade, while also allowing developers to push the envelope and build more powerful and sophisticated games that wouldn’t tax the resources of current Apple TV models. It’s also conceivable that Apple could offer the new version in higher storage capacities as well, since even the current 64 GB model can get a little tight for gamers.