While it may not be as groundbreaking as other anticipated products like Apple’s much-rumoured AirTags, there’s little doubt that the Apple TV is well overdue for a pretty big refresh, and we’ve been hearing rumours all year that a new version of the set-top box is right around the corner.
Now Mark Gurman of Bloomberg is doubling down on his earlier reports while wondering what’s been taking Apple so long, with a headline that pretty much says it all: Apple TV is Missing the Moment.
It’s a sentiment that we can fully agree with. Consider that the “current” Apple TV 4K is a product of late 2017. For some added perspective, that means that it was launched at a time when the iPhone 7 roamed the earth, and even the HomePod was merely an announced-but-not-yet-released product.
Since then, Apple has released over a dozen new iPhone and iPad models, and in fact whole iPad lineups have risen and fallen in that time, and yet the A10X-equipped Apple TV 4K has lumbered along as something of a white elephant for all but the most committed Apple users.
While that’s probably fair for a set-top box that’s used for little more than watching movies and TV shows on streaming services — after all, until 8K becomes mainstream, there’s not much more Apple needs to do — the advent of Apple Arcade last year seemed to be the ideal time for a new Apple TV, and yet 2019 came and went with nary a mention of an update to the set-top box, and now it’s pretty much guaranteed that 2020 will have been the same.
We’re in the middle of a holiday gifting season during a pandemic that’s caused television viewership to surge. The Apple TV should be having a moment. It’s not.Mark Gurman, Bloomberg
As Gurman notes, the lack of an Apple TV from this year’s lineup feels like a very strange omission on Apple’s part, and in fact it really makes us wonder if the set-top box every truly graduated from “hobby” status for Apple. Certainly the company hasn’t been taking it as seriously as it should be, although it’s also realized that it needs to leave its walled garden behind if it wants services like Apple TV+ to succeed.
In fact, unless you’re deeply rooted in the Apple ecosystem, there’s not much that an Apple TV does for you right now that you can’t find on any other set-top box or smart TV — features like AirPlay 2, Apple TV+, and even Apple Music have all been extended to become available on devices from just about every other manufacturer, leaving the Apple TV as something of a curiosity for most users, relegated to its ability to run iPhone and iPad apps and support more esoteric features like HomeKit and iCloud Photo Library, although the latter can even more easily be beamed to any smart TV from an iPhone or iPad using AirPlay.
While Apple’s new Fitness+ service is also unique to the Apple TV among big-screen platforms, it also works on the iPad and iPhone, and it’s a brand new service, so it’s something of an open question how much of a selling point that will be for the set-top box.
Ultimately, about the only big thing the Apple TV brings to the table is support for Apple Arcade, the company’s subscription gaming service, but that in and of itself could become huge if Apple handles it properly, and it’s entirely possible that the delay in a new Apple TV is entirely about allowing Apple to refocus its efforts into that one area.
Something is Coming…
That doesn’t mean that there haven’t been a wealth of rumours about a new Apple TV coming down the pike. Reports appeared last spring of an A12X version in the works, and many expected Apple to at least have something to show off as early as June’s Worldwide Developers Conference.
By this past fall, reports were heating up even more, with the Gurman adding that Apple was working on a new Siri Remote that would boast support for its Find My app, letting you easily locate it around your home.
Then another leaker began to tie seemingly conflicting rumours together with the suggestion that Apple was actually working on two new Apple TV models, one of which would be the rumours A12/A12X-equipped version, while another premium model would pack in its latest technology with an “A14X-like” chip that would be specifically designed to power the next generation of Apple Arcade games.
Since an A14 chip would be overkill for a box that would be used merely for steaming 4K videos — even Apple’s current A10X is more than adequate for that — it would definitely be key to Apple putting world-class Apple Arcade games on the big screen, effectively allowing Apple to enter a market where it could begin to become an alternative to Sony’s Playstation and Microsoft’s Xbox platforms.
Of course, Apple would have a much longer way to go if it truly wanted to compete on that level, it wouldn’t be the first time that it’s started by simply dipping its toes into the water of a new market area, and it also may not be about displacing the game console behemoths so much as offering an alternative for those who sit in the larger grey zone between hardcore gamers and non-gamers.
Gurman remains confident that we will see an upgraded Apple TV next year with a much strong gaming focus, but the jury is still out on whether it’s going to be a success. If the Apple TV is going to remain relevant, it either has to take another massive quantum leap forward — perhaps even greater than it did with the first app-enabled version in 2015 — or at least drop its price significantly to bring it in line with its rivals.