Up until now, Apple TV has been labeled a hobby by CEO Tim Cook, but that will likely change in 2014. Based on recent speculation, a new version of the device will be a much more formidable competitor to the versatile Roku and cheap Chromecast. In fact, it looks like Apple’s device has gaming aspirations and could integrate with cable TV. The Internet is abuzz with rumors of what a new Apple TV might look like, but Tom's Guide has investigated the most reliable sources to get a fuller picture of the set-top box’s possible next incarnation.
Over the last few months, Apple TV introduced a whole slew of new channels, including Bloomberg, Crackle and Red Bull TV, but the device still has less than three dozen channels, compared to hundreds on Roku. At present, Apple TV lacks apps for Amazon Prime Instant Video, Pandora, Nickelodeon, Aereo and CBS, among other popular services.
Computerworld theorizes that Apple's recent additions are merely the first push in a much bigger content strategy. Apple will almost certainly add more channels if and when it releases a new TV device.
Apple may also have a chance to innovate in the space. Consumers are increasingly unwilling to pay for a cable subscription just to watch shows such as "Game of Thrones" or "The Walking Dead." If Apple could offer individual shows as they air on a subscription basis (instead of a few days after they air, a la carte), it would go a long way toward setting the Apple TV apart from its competitors.
A Focus on Gaming
You can use the current Apple TV for gaming, but it's a somewhat cumbersome process. If you want to play iPhone or iPad games on a big screen, you'll have to stream them from your device to your TV via your Apple TV. Gaming with an iOS controller requires daisy-chaining four devices and hoping that every piece works properly.
Although Android consoles never took off in any significant capacity, an iOS console just might. iOS has a somewhat larger selection of games than Android — especially intricate, graphically intense games such as "Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions" and "The Wolf Among Us," which are just begging to be played on a big screen.
According to Apple news site iLounge, games will be fully integrated in the next Apple TV update, which will launch by March. If the current-gen Apple TV gets a dedicated gaming channel, it stands to reason that the next Apple TV will possess one as well.
One hurdle to gaming on the current-gen Apple TV is that it has no internal storage space. A future device may have a built-in hard drive with enough space to store games, movies and other apps. Putting games on the next Apple TV also might mean users could connect iOS7 Bluetooth controllers directly to the box rather than to their tablets or phones.
One of the Xbox One's most touted features is its ability to integrate fully with an existing subscription cable-TV service. Now imagine a device that has that capability, but costs $99 instead of $499. 9to5Mac reports from "solid sources" that the next-gen Apple TV will feature cable-box integration.
Apple fans theorize that the next Apple TV will have a built-in cable tuner. This will allow the box to receive cable signals, obviating the need for a separate cable box.
Additionally, the device could add a unique Apple interface to let you navigate channels, record content and find your favorite shows across a variety of services. Your odds of finding a favorite TV show or movie increase exponentially when you can search through Netflix, Hulu Plus and hundreds of cable channels.
A Wall Street Journal report from Mar. 2014 notes that Apple is in negotiations with cable provider Comcast. There are no solid details on this purported deal, but Comcast is rumored to be working with the iPhone maker to provide subscriber-exclusive cable content to Apple's set top box.
On Feb. 12, Bloomberg reported that a new Apple TV is in the works and slated for Christmas. Furthermore, Apple is in talks with Time Warner, potentially to negotiate content distribution between the two companies. If true, this could give Apple TVs access to channels like Disney, ESPN, ABC and PBS. The new Apple TV may also include a more powerful processor and an improved interface.
Voice Search with Siri
Apple TV's competitor, Amazon's Fire TV, pioneered the voice search feature for set-top boxes, and Apple won't want to be left behind. 9to5Mac reports that Siri, the popular voice search assistant on iPhone and iPad, will make its way to the next iteration of Apple TV as well. In the latest version of the iOS software development kit, sharp-eyed Apple fans found code for Siri with an Apple TV designation, making its inclusion in an Apple TV box almost a sure thing.
While there's nothing in the current Apple TV's software that precludes Siri, the hardware would make such an inclusion relatively pointless. Neither the Apple TV nor its remote has a microphone, so Apple would have to sell a microphone peripheral — a difficult proposition when a whole new Apple TV is likely only a few months away.
The voice search on the Fire TV is hardly a make-or-break feature, but since Siri is one of users' favorite voice search programs in the mobile space, it makes sense to bring it to a set-top box as well. Just having the code available doesn't mean that the feature will make the final cut, but this one seems like a likely bet.
The current Apple TV is not without its charms for hardcore iUsers, but a new model could give the device a much wider appeal.