Steve Jobs once described Apple TV as a "hobby" for the company. If the stream of reports trickling out of Cupertino turn out to be true, though, Apple is about to get serious about the business of television.
Apple, of course, keeps its cards pretty close to the vest when it comes to announcements, taking the wraps off a new product at a time and place of its choosing. But that hasn't stopped some intriguing rumors about Apple's TV plans from circulating in advance of a formal announcement.
Apple Streaming TV Service
Until now, the bulk of Apple's involvement with TV programming has been reselling other companies' content through its iTunes Store. But Recode reports that Apple may soon take a more active role in programming. Apple is reportedly in talks with broadcasters and cable networks to offer live channel subscriptions through its Apple TV set-top box.
Based on the rumors, Apple's reported online TV service looks like something between the Sling TV online streaming video service that launched in February and the Sony PlayStation Vue service that debuted on March 18. Sling TV starts at $20 per month for about 20 channels including ESPN, Food Network, and TNT. PlayStation Vue starts at $50 for more than 50 channels including most network and cable offerings. Apple's TV service is expected to come in at $30-$40 per month, with most or all networks and top cable-TV channels.
Recode's report notes that Apple has proposed this sort of thing before in the form of a $30-a-month service that it proposed to TV networks in 2009. It's unclear whether, six years later, Apple is ready to make broadcasters an offer they can't refuse.
One company that's been left out of any rumors of an Apple online TV service is Comcast, owners of NBC along with a multitude of other cable channels. But The Wall Street Journal suggests Comcast may be required to play along with Apple or any other online upstarts, thanks to requirements of the deal it struck with regulators to smooth over its 2011 purchase of NBC. Indeed, 9to5Mac says it's uncovered evidence of an NBC app that's slated to arrive on the Apple TV in the second half of 2015, even if it's not part of Apple's rumored online service.
Talks to create such a service are apparently ongoing, as Apple and broadcasters hammer out details such as the money and technology involved in this kind of service. Some had expected the service to debut during June's Worldwide Developers Conference, though Recode reported at the time that negotiations between Apple and content providers had pushed out the launch date. Now Bloomberg says that any Apple-backed TV service won't arrive until 2016.
Original Apple Programming
In addition to offering a cable alternative, Apple may be going one step further by producing some original content of its own. According to Variety, the Cupertino company is in talks with some major players in Hollywood, with the goal of possibly publishing its own movies and TV shows that would rival the exclusives offered by Netflix and Amazon.
An Apple TV Update
Don't expect Apple to sit idle while negotiations over a streaming service drag on. An update to the company's Apple TV set-top box -- the first since 2012 -- is expected shortly, perhaps as soon as the Sept. 9 press event Apple has scheduled for San Francisco.
Buzzfeed first reported on the updated Apple TV prior to WWDC, where the new set-top box was set to appear. The hardware is expected integration with the voice-activate Siri assistant and a dedicated app store. BuzzFeed further reports that the new Apple TV will run the same A8 processor found in the iPhone 6, and a redesign of the set-top box and a new remote control may also be in the planning.
In fact, a May report in The New York Times said that a redesigned remote will appear alongside any new Apple TV hardware that arrives this summer. Apple will reportedly ditch its minimalist three-button remote in favor of a slightly thicker version that also incorporates a touch pad. The Times report said Apple TV owners will be able to scroll via the touch pad; the revamped remote will also sport two physical buttons.
A report from 9to5Mac said that, in addition to a redesigned remote, the Apple Watch will be able to control the redesigned Apple TV as "a primary input device." That stands to reason since the Apple Watch also serves as a remote for the current Apple TV. 9to5 Mac also backs the notion that the next-generation Apple TV will have Siri integration and support for third-party apps, with a TVKit feature in Xcode allowing developers to build apps for the Apple TV.
More recently, 9to5Mac followed up with a more comprehensive rumor roundup. More complex hardware, a refined remote and Siri integration are all still on the way, the outlet said (citing only "sources"). The new Apple TV will resemble the old one, but with a slightly thinner frame. The device's biggest improvement, however, may be in its operating system. 9to5Mac claimed that the new Apple TV will run on a version of iOS9 optimized for big screens, much like Android TV on Android consoles.
The next Apple TV is also rumored to put a big emphasis on gaming. The set-top box's new App Store is expected to offer downloads of full games, which may be able to be controlled via the included remote or just about any iOS-compatible Bluetooth controller out there. That includes the more robust, console-style offerings.
A week before the Sept. 9 event, Buzzfeed dropped one more tidbit: The new Apple TV is expected to feature universal search. That means you'll be able to search for a movie or TV show in one location and find it not only in Apple's store but also on any channels offered on your Apple TV. Universal search would allow the Apple TV to more closely match set-top boxes like the Roku 3, which lets you search across a range of entertainment sources.
Buzzfeed's report also contends the new Apple TV will cost $149. The current model sells for $69, after Apple cut the price by $30 back in March.
No 4K Support (For Now)
Don’t expect the next Apple TV to stream 4K TV and movies from the get-go. According to an April report from BuzzFeed, sources inside Apple consider 4K to be too new and the market too small to invest a lot of time and money in streaming movies and TV at four times the resolution of regular HD.
Streaming (or even downloading and storing) 4K content requires specialized codecs and a ton of storage space for caching (even if the caching is done in the cloud). Even if Apple could provide these features without upping the box’s price, it doesn’t change the fact that many Americans don’t have fast enough broadband for 4K content at all.
A Fall Release Date
BuzzFeed stands by its earlier report about the updated Apple TV's physical design and streaming service plans, but has changed its mind about the release date. This time, sources close to the online publication suggest that the new Apple TV will debut in September, possibly alongside a new iPhone. Reports of the touchpad remote as well as the powerful A8 chip are, apparently, still well-founded. Perhaps the biggest news is that Apple will release its software development kit (SDK) alongside the new peripheral, letting more third-party developers produce their own content for the box.
9to5Mac also cited sources close to Apple, suggesting that the new device will be available in October. While it will likely cost less than $200, that could mean anything between $149 and $199, making it on the pricey side for a set-top box.
Regardless of when a new Apple TV actually ships, we'll find out soon enough how accurate these reports are. Apple executives will take the stage of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium on Sept. 9 to introduce new products, and it looks extremely likely that a Siri-powered Apple TV is on the agenda.