I recently wrote for Stuff about the Apple TV. I think it’s a great device, and we use ours all the time, for renting movies, watching Netflix, and sending all manner of content from iOS devices to the TV and amp. It being an Apple product, the rumour mill’s now going nuts about how the device will evolve this year, not least because Apple finally ‘promoted’ it on the Apple Store, rather than burying it as an iPod accessory.
Macworld’s Karen Haslam has rounded up all of the rumours, which (as ever) vary from the sensible to outlandish craziness. And even things that might seem an obvious path for Apple to take are sometimes fraught with problems.
Games on the Apple TV. This is something people have been banging on about for a while, arguing Apple should be taking on Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft, despite not really having a clue about gaming. If anything, the recent iOS controllers mess should showcase Apple still has a lot to learn about gaming in general, with the company absurdly fragmenting hardware from the get-go.
More importantly, though, as Haslam hints at, the Apple TV would effectively be an entirely different platform from ‘standard’ iOS, merely sharing code. Games would lack touch and need to be controlled remotely. On that basis, Apple’s controller idea makes more sense—games that are fully compatible with the controllers (menus and all) could potentially work with Apple TV games. After all, the Apple TV is essentially a headless iPod. But for that to happen widely, controllers need to be far better and far cheaper, the games need to work more fully with controllers, and the Apple TV would need way more storage than the 8 GB it currently has, which would ramp up the price and move it away from being an impulse purchase.
Integrated storage and live TV recording. Macworld’s article talks about DVR recording, boosting content available to users. I imagine any argument the Apple TV will suddenly get a ton of internal storage to facilitate this is way off base, and, as Haslam argues, content will be primarily streamed. As for storing TV shows in the cloud, I think it’ll be tough for Apple to persuade many companies to go down that route, and it would also obviously impact on Apple’s own iTunes Store sales. Still, as someone outside of the USA, this won’t make a great deal of odds to me anyway—if Apple does provide an Apple TV with any kind of live-TV recording feature, it won’t make it beyond the USA for years.
TV Tuner for live TV. This would just be an added cost, and also duplicate something the vast majority of people already have. It seems unlikely in the extreme. More integration with existing on-demand services over the web, however, would be sensible. In other words, I want BBC iPlayer and 4oD on my TV.
Integrated AirPort Express. One of the stranger Apple TV reports claims the new model would include an AirPort Express router. Purely from a cost and complexity standpoint, this seems staggeringly unlikely.
More content‚TV shows and entertainment. This one’s a no-brainer, but my hope here is Apple encourages (as much as it can) faster worldwide rollouts of channels, and also looks to popular local channels outside of the US more often. Again, it’s insane Brits don’t yet have access to the likes of iPlayer and 4oD on the Apple TV.
Apps and an App Store. Similar issues exist here as with gaming, but apps are already on the Apple TV, such as The Weather Channel. The real question is how many people want to use their TV as a giant app screen. Television use has historically primarily been passive, gaming being the main exception. Apple’s ideal is to foist as many devices on people as possible, which points to continuing to encourage integration between iPads/iPhones and the Apple TV (via AirPlay) rather than attempting to get loads of apps for its black box. The obvious exception: aforementioned media channels.
Motion control or voice activation. A short quote from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy should suffice here:
A loud clatter of gunk music flooded through the Heart of Gold cabin as Zaphod searched the sub-etha radio wave bands for news of himself. The machine was rather difficult to operate. For years radios had been operated by means of pressing buttons and turning dials; then as the technology became more sophisticated the controls were made touch-sensitive–you merely had to brush the panels with your fingers; now all you had to do was wave your hand in the general direction of the components and hope. It saved a lot of muscular expenditure, of course, but meant that you had to sit infuriatingly still if you wanted to keep listening to the same program.
New Interface. This is a must regardless of what happens next. The basic interface is fine, but more editing control is desperately needed. Right now, you’re limited to deleting apps via the hacky method of using parental controls. Apple needs to provide a much more discoverable show/hide interface if it adds more apps and games.
Another question that Macworld doesn’t address directly is whether the Apple TV line will grow. The basic unit could continue, and new models could be released with more storage, to cater for things like games and apps. However, right now, the Apple TV isn’t a particularly big seller and it’s already competing with a slew of low-cost and quite high-quality rivals. Apple has to tread carefully to find that sweet spot of pricing, features and quality that would enable the Apple TV to thrive in the future, rather than become another tech also-ran. It also must ensure it doesn’t promote buyer’s doubt. It’s one thing to have a single cheap unit people will just buy, but it’s quite another to make people choose between several and worry about buying the wrong one.