Apple TV 2021 — here’s what it needs to be relevant

Apple TV 2021
(Image credit: Apple)

The Apple TV 2021 is expected to arrive at the Apple April event, but we don't quite know how Apple will market this update to help it stand out from the pack. And right now, it's already driving a hard bargain: the existing Apple TV 4K costs an exorbitant $179 — a price that practically pushes budget-conscious consumers away.

When you can get one of the best streaming devices for just $50, such as the Chromecast with Google TV and Roku Streaming Stick Plus, Apple's simply charging too much. While they might have locked in some people, such as myself, who appreciate a well-designed interface and integration with iOS — it's hard to see how on earth I'd recommend my relatives or friends buy one.

And there's no streaming service on the Apple TV you can't find anywhere else. Even Apple's own TV app is on Roku, Fire TV, Google TV, PlayStation 4 and 5, multiple modern Xboxes and smart TVs from Samsung, LG and Vizio. That means you don't need an Apple TV for Ted Lasso, or even your old iTunes purchases.

But what could make the new Apple TV 2021 worth considering? Here's what I've got in mind.

A better remote control

To say that the Apple TV's Siri Remote is divisive is to put it lightly. Its touchpad is too finicky for some, which pushed the creation of third-party remotes, like the Funct101 button remote for Apple TV, which offers physical buttons for navigation. Instead of asking that you negotiate a small surface and click on the edges to jump 10 seconds ahead or back, the Apple TV should have a seriously good remote that doesn't test your patience.

A September report from Bloomberg revealed a cool remote control feature could be in the works, noting "The company is working on a feature for the new remote similar to Find My iPhone that would make the TV accessory easier to find." And that sounds great.

Apple TV 2021 news

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

But the Roku Ultra already has a similar function, and it's much more affordable at $99 — which is still a lot for this market. Apple's version of this technology would need to be a bit cooler. Maybe Apple can use AR and the iPhone camera to show you where in the sofa your Siri Remote has fallen.

Gaming done right

This might be the most difficult request for Apple to achieve, but people will pay top dollar for video games these days — and they'll even put a lot of time into tracking PS5 restocks. And while Apple Arcade has had some cool games, it's faded from the conversation due to the new consoles on the block..

So, how could Apple sit in the same living room as the PS5, Xbox Series X and the newly rumored Nintendo Switch Pro? Well, it's all about games and performance. If the new Apple TV 2021 announcement includes news Apple had signed a big deal for an exclusive game with a major studio (or even an indie darling such as Devolver), people would take notice. More to the point, Apple should probably be making its own video game controller for the Apple TV, and offering it as a low-price add-on.

If the Apple TV 2021 had a processor on the level of the Apple M1 chip, or something much faster, game developers might take Apple seriously enough to invest some time. Apple could likely buy its way to a AAA-level video game, and find the equivalent of Ted Lasso — its Apple TV Plus show that I'm practically bullying friends to watch.

That said, studios probably want a device that's in a lot more households than the current Apple TV is. Which brings me to my last point:

A more affordable Apple TV

I don't know what you'd call it, the Apple TV SE? An Apple TV mini if it's just a Stick like the Fire TV Stick 4K? But the biggest problem Apple has right now is that the prices of the $150 Apple TV HD and $179 Apple TV 4K are too damn high. If you could take the Apple TV 4K and shrink it down and price it at $50? You'd have a device that could compete with the best of Roku and Google and Amazon's streaming devices. Heck, $99 would be a huge improvement.

Apple TV 2021

(Image credit: Getty Images)

I don't know if Apple's interest lies in making the Apple TV more affordable. One assumes that could have happened by now: it's been 5.5 years since the Apple TV 4K came out in October 2015, and the product line hasn't budged a bit. But the 4K streaming device market is filled with devices with similar features (save for a codec here and there), making price the ultimate differentiator for many. We love Roku devices, and they're better than Amazon's Fire TV devices in most ways, but Amazon still sells well because of their penchant for always putting their devices on sale.

Apple TV 2021 outlook

Apple should think about this little story about my friends Eric and Daniela, who were given an Apple TV 4K as a gift by a relative. They had just bought a Samsung Smart TV, which has plenty of apps already, and so they called me up to ask what they'd want the Apple TV 4K for.

I told them why I like the Apple TV, but they didn't really see the reasons I listed as being worth $179. And I understood. Then I explained it got them a free year of Apple TV Plus (worth $60), but they still wanted to know what else made this $179 box so special.

But because the Apple TV doesn't give you any content or big feature you can't get anywhere else, they wound up getting a refund. I love its minimalist ad-free interface, but that's not a big deal for everyone. If I could have explained its worth it for gaming, or how it solves the major headache of finding your lost remote, I bet Eric and Daniela wouldn't have taken the Apple TV 4K back to the store for a refund.

If Apple hasn't found some way to convince the Erics and Danielas of the world to plunk down for the Apple TV 2021, this next upgrade may just be exclusive to those who are firmly locked into the Apple ecosystem.

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.