Apple’s Confusing Plans for the Living Room Are Beginning to Take Form

The long-rumored premium Apple TV is still in development and could tie into features coming in tvOS 16.
Apple TV 4K Credit: Mr. Mikla / Shutterstock
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If you’ve been struggling to figure out Apple’s home strategy over the past few years, you’re not alone. Many believe that’s simply because the company doesn’t really have one. However, there’s plenty of evidence that it’s working hard to figure it out. Still, it’s been a wild ride and an often confusing mess.

In 2020, Apple seemed to be on the verge of entering the living room with a bang. We saw the introduction of the HomePod mini, and tvOS 14.2 came along with an exciting new Home Theatre Mode, allowing two full-sized HomePods to be paired up with an Apple TV to create a stunning Dolby Atmos sound stage.

On top of that, rumors persisted of a powerful new Apple TV that would incorporate an “A14X-like” chip designed to handle the next generation of Apple Arcade games. It felt like an exciting time for Apple’s home entertainment ambitions.

Sadly, in early 2021, everything fell apart. First, Apple inscrutably killed off the full-sized HomePod only four months after announcing the Home Theatre Audio feature — which worked only with that original HomePod.

Then, as folks were still flocking to scoop up some full-sized HomePods before they all disappeared, Apple added insult to injury by releasing a new Apple TV 4K with features exclusive to the discontinued smart speaker. Apple even put a picture of the original HomePod on the back of the box to show users they could pair two HomePods for wireless surround sound — assuming they could still get their hands on two HomePods.

Apple partially rectified this a few months in tvOS 15 when it added the ability for the HomePod mini to be used with the Apple TV. However, the smaller speakers weren’t capable of Dolby Atmos 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound, making it a small consolation for those who wanted to build a wireless Apple Home Theatre experience. Anybody who has tried a pair of stereo HomePods against a stereo pair of HomePod minis knows they aren’t in the same league.

What’s Next for Apple TV and HomePod?

Since then, Apple appears to have tacitly shown a diminishing interest in tvOS. During the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynotes of the past few years, the Apple TV and tvOS have played a gradually diminishing role, culminating in this year’s WWDC, where neither the product nor its operating system got any mention at all.

Of course, tvOS 16 is still coming; it simply isn’t likely to offer anything exciting enough for Apple to take the time to talk about it.

However, even if this year’s tvOS release is relatively uninspired, that shouldn’t be taken to mean that Apple doesn’t have bigger things in store.

Reports of Apple’s work on new home devices have been making the rounds for over a year now, and just because these products haven’t materialized yet doesn’t mean they’re not coming eventually.

For instance, when collecting the various reports of a new Apple TV from two years ago, it became clear they were talking about two entirely different products. One of those was the A12-powered Apple TV 4K we got last year. The other one is likely still on the horizon.

Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, who shared some of those earlier reports, revealed in his Power On newsletter this week that the long-rumored premium Apple TV is still in development and could tie into some of the more subtle features coming in tvOS 16.

The new Apple TV, code-named J255, is in development with an A14 chip and an additional gigabyte of RAM. That compares with the A12 chip announced as part of the 2021 Apple TV last year and could be useful for additional gaming capabilities rolling out in tvOS 16.

Mark Gurman

For one thing, Apple plans to expand Game Controller support across all of its operating systems, including tvOS 16. That’s not surprising, as Apple has been improving game controller support each year since it embraced the PS4 and Xbox controllers in iOS 13.

However, combine these with other new tvOS 16 features like multiuser support so family members can automatically bring up their own profiles and games, and SwitfUI for tvOS to help developers create richer Apple TV apps and it’s easy to see how things are starting to take shape. Indications of a new Siri Remote have also been found in the iOS 16 and tvOS 16 betas.

Apple is also said to be working on a lower-cost Apple TV, so we’re again at the apex of hearing rumors about two entirely different devices. There’s likely to be less confusion this time around, though, since the entry-level Apple TV will be at the opposite end of the spectrum. Details are scant, but the general sense is that this will be intended to compete with devices like the Roku and Amazon Fire TV sticks, focused primarily (or solely) on video streaming.

The full-sized HomePod could also return this year, providing a much-needed solution for those Apple TV 4K users who missed out on the last model. It’s not expected to be as exciting as a display-equipped HomePod Hub or “iMac-like” HomePod Max. Still, Gurman’s sources say that it will include the same S8 chip coming to the Apple Watch Series 8, match the audio performance of the original, and may even have a display on top with multitouch capabilities.

[The information provided in this article has NOT been confirmed by Apple and may be speculation. Provided details may not be factual. Take all rumors, tech or otherwise, with a grain of salt.]

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