Currently in flux
At a Glance
Positioned as Apple's "hobby" project, the Apple TV could evolve into a key product as Apple works to revolutionize the television industry through revamped content delivery systems and hardware. Another set-top box is in the works and it could be followed by an Apple television set in the future.
- 20+ content channels
- AirPlay support
- Possible refresh ahead
- Full television being prototyped
First introduced in 2007, Apple's set-top box has always been described as a "hobby project" for the company. Designed to provide consumers with access to movies, TV shows, sports, music, and more, the device has never been a top seller. Despite that fact, Apple has continually supported the Apple TV, introducing new versions on a regular basis.
Over the course of the last three years, Apple has taken an even greater interest in the Apple TV, heavily boosting its functionality through both content offerings and hardware improvements. In addition to content from the iTunes Store, the Apple TV now offers more than 20 different channels, ranging from HBO GO to Netflix, with further deals in the works.
Apple's growing focus on content deals, along with specific comments from Steve Jobs on the company's interest in the television arena, has spurred countless rumors questioning the future of the device. Speculation has suggested that the Apple TV could be expanded into a gaming device, a cable box replacement, a full-blown television set, or a combination of all three.
Though the exact future of the Apple TV is still up in the air, it is clear that Apple has ambitious plans for both the device and its ultimate role in the television industry. As Apple CEO Tim Cook has repeated multiple times, television remains an area of "intense interest" for the company.
The Apple TV Today
Apple's third-generation Apple TV was originally released in March of 2012, featuring the smaller box design that debuted with the second-generation Apple TV, 1080p video support, and redesigned software. This latest generation box received a minor updated in January 2013, adding a smaller A5 chip but leaving core functionality unchanged.
In addition to playing movies, music, podcasts, and television shows obtained through iTunes, the Apple TV offers content from a multitude of third-party channels. It also supports AirPlay, allowing iOS devices and computers running iTunes to send streaming music to the television. iOS devices and Macs running OS X Mountain Lion can also take advantage of AirPlay Mirroring.
Priced at $99, the box supports Bluetooth and 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi. It includes an Ethernet port, a Micro-USB port, HDMI, and Optical audio.
Current channels in the U.S. include iTunes Movies/TV Shows, iTunes Music, iTunes Radio, Podcasts, Photos/Videos, YouTube, Flickr, Vimeo, Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO GO, Disney, Disney XD, Disney Junior, Smithsonian, Sky News, WatchESPN, MLB.tv, NBA, NHL GameCenter, Major League Soccer, Vevo, Qello, WSJ Live, The Weather Channel, Crunchyroll, Yahoo Screen, PBS, ABC, Bloomberg, Crackle, KORTV, Red Bull TV, WWE Network, ACC/Campus Insiders, and the recently introduced iMovie Theater, designed to work with the iMovie app.
With the latest major software update, 6.0, the Apple TV gained a new automatic "Touch Setup" feature, iTunes Radio, support for music purchases from iTunes, iCloud Photos, and AirPlay from iCloud, which allows the Apple TV to play content from iTunes in the Cloud instead of AirPlay.
The first significant update to the current Apple TV software, 6.1, includes AirPlay discoverability over Bluetooth, making it easier for education and business administrators to establish connections between iOS devices and the set-top box. The update also includes functionality for removing channels from the Apple TV without needing to access the Restrictions settings.
It has been well over 600 days since the last official update Apple TV, suggesting that the product is overdue for a refresh. For reference, there was a 553-day gap between the second-generation Apple TV and the third-generation Apple TV.
Current rumors point to a possible 2014 release for a revamped Apple TV set-top box that may also including gaming functionality.
The Apple TV of the Future
Rumors of an Apple-branded television set have been circulating for many years, with prospective release timelines and production schedules shifting as time passes without a hint of an official product.
Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster has been one of the most persistent Apple television advocates, first stating in 2009 that the company would develop a television set.
While Munster has long held on to his TV set beliefs, wider media interest in an Apple television set did not ramp up until 2011, when a former Apple employee revealed the company had entered into a partnership to produce an Apple-branded television set.
Rumors further picked up later that same year when Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs biography revealed that Jobs had wanted to revolutionize the television industry, much like he transformed computers, music players, and phones. "I finally cracked it," Jobs is quoted as saying. A television set would sync with iOS devices, Macs, and iCloud, and would do away with complex remotes, utilizing the "simplest user interface" imaginable.
Jobs' television revelation contrasted with an earlier statement from then Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook, who declared in 2010 that Apple had "no interest being in the TV market," suggesting sentiments at the company had changed between 2010 and 2011.
"I'd like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use," [Jobs] told me. "It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud."..."It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it." Walter Issacson - 'Steve Jobs'
In the wake of Jobs' statement, speculation about an Apple-branded television set hit an all-time high. Just days after the now-famous TV quote was published, Nick Bilton of The New York Times pointed to an anonymous Apple source who stated a television was a "guaranteed product for Apple," and that it had been in the works for years.
In January of 2012, multiple TV prototypes were said to be in the locked-down design studio of Jony Ive and in December of 2012, The Wall Street Journal confirmed that Apple was indeed in the early stages of testing television designs, though a television set was not yet a "formal project."
The iTV Name
The Apple television set has been dubbed the "iTV" by the media, a name that has quite a bit of history behind it. Apple originally announced the Apple TV as the iTV in 2006, but later opted to change the name ahead of its official launch.
2010 rumors suggested that the set-top box could once again gain the iTV moniker, but thus far, the name has yet to officially resurface. The iTV name itself is also a point of contention, as it is shared by UK television network ITV.
Potential iTV Specs
Rumors of potential sizing and pricing for the Apple television set have varied wildly over the years, targeting sizes ranging from 32 inches to 65 inches and everything in between. Most recently, rumors have indicated that Apple is in talks with LG Display for 4K "Ultra HD" panels in the range of 55 to 65 inches, though an Ultra HD product would presumably remain cost prohibitive at this point in time with similar television sets selling for $7,000 to $9,000.
Rumors have pointed to a number of different features that could be bundled into an iTV, such as voice control via Siri, aimed at doing away with remote controls. Motion control through movement detection, similar to Microsoft's Kinect offerings, has also been proposed, as has a potential touch screen remote control that would eliminate buttons. While Apple has patented a motion-based Wiimote-style "Magic Wand" control for use with a media system, it is unclear what form motion controls could take.
Speculation of Kinect-like motion control gained support in late 2013 with Apple's acquisition of PrimeSense, an Israeli company that was behind the original Microsoft Kinect. Apple may, however, have even broader plans for PrimeSense's motion-sensing technology.
iTV feature speculation has even ranged into the fantastical, with analyst Brian White claiming that Apple will introduce an "iRing" to facilitate motion control of the device. He also claimed that an iTV could interface with Apple's upcoming smart watch, which remains in development, and that it would ship with auxiliary "mini iTV" screens similar to existing iPads.
Because a total product experience that encompasses hardware, software, and user experience is of the utmost importance to Apple, talk of content has been inextricably linked to the television rumors. Steve Jobs' overall TV vision included effortless content consumption, requiring deals with cable companies and content providers that Apple has yet to secure. According to a multitude of content rumors, Apple is looking to revolutionize the way TV is watched, potentially through subscription packages.
Over the course of 2013, news of the Apple television set has died down as a product has failed to materialize and a potential release date remains unknown.
When I go into my living room and turn on the TV, I feel like I have gone backwards in time by 20 to 30 years. [...]
It's a market that we see that has been left behind. You know, I used to watch "The Jetsons" as a kid. I love "The Jetsons." We're living "The Jetsons" with this. It's an area of intense interest. I can't say more than that. Tim Cook on NBC's 'Rock Center' - December 6, 2012
I don't want to go into detail, as you might have guessed, but it continues to be an area of great interest for us. And I do think the Apple TV product and the relationships we've built around it and the work we've done technically around it provide a lot more knowledge that we would have had without that product. And frankly, the popularity of it has become much larger than we would have thought. Tim Cook at D11 Conference - May 28, 2013
Hints that Apple could be working to become a major player in the television broadcasting industry first surfaced in 2009, when The Wall Street Journal reported that both CBS and Walt Disney were considering participating in a subscription television service offered by Apple.
Such a service would potentially replace cable packages, allowing consumers to untether themselves from existing cable providers and existing subscription packages, which do not allow for a la carte channel purchases. CBS CEO Les Moonves later confirmed that CBS had indeed been in talks with Apple about a subscription service, but had ultimately declined due to fears that providing content to Apple would interrupt existing revenue streams, an issue that Apple has faced time and time again in its ongoing content negotiations over the years.
The Wall Street Journal further announced in 2011 that Apple was in the process of developing "new technology to deliver video to televisions," as talk of an a la carte subscription service continued, but still, negotiations remained difficult and Apple's plans failed to come to fruition. The company did, however, continue to grow its app library, adding content options like Netflix and Hulu Plus.
Because the deals to facilitate a subscription service that skirted cable companies all together were not going to materialize, Apple began to shift focus, working with cable companies instead of attempting to compete against them. In 2012, The Wall Street Journal reported that Apple was aiming to wedge itself between cable companies and consumers, designing a set-top box to play live television in lieu of a traditional cable box.
Apple was said to be in talks with cable providers like Comcast and Time Warner over a service that would see Apple combining cable content with its own interface and additional cloud-based DVR functionality, largely redefining the television experience to erase the distinction between live and "On Demand" television content, allowing users to pick and choose content on Apple's terms.
Deals have not come easy for Apple, due to disagreements over control and and pricing. As with all of its products, Apple wants strict access to the user experience, which cable providers are reluctant to hand over.
In recent months, Apple has continued to pursue deals with both cable companies and content providers, managing to secure content from companies like HBO, and ESPN through cooperation with cable companies. Users can access the content via their Apple TVs, channeled through Apple's user interface, but a cable subscription is still required. While Apple once aimed to replace cable companies, it now appears to be focused on enhancing existing television services instead.
One recent rumor suggested that Apple was attempting to negotiate with cable companies and networks to allow customers to skip commercials when viewing content on the Apple TV, with Apple later compensating distributors for the lost revenue. This could potentially be rolled into an entirely commercial-free subscription TV service, or tied in to Apple's earlier ambition to combine live TV with recorded content.
Of particular interest in Apple's content enhancement endeavor is a potential deal with Time Warner, which could be Apple's first major move towards positioning itself as a true cable box replacement. Under the terms of the deal, Apple would provide a Time Warner Cable app on the Apple TV, which would allow Time Warner subscribers to watch live television through the Apple TV.
A partnership with Time Warner would likely entice other cable companies to agree to similar deals, which, in turn, would give Apple access to enough content to reasonably redesign and re-imagine existing content delivery systems, skyrocketing the popularity of its former hobby project.
In February of 2014, The Wall Street Journal indicated Apple had scaled back on its TV ambitions. While the company was originally rumored to be seeking an a-la-carte cable service with advanced cloud functionality that would disrupt the traditional cable industry, it has reportedly abandoned those plans following continued difficult negotiations with content providers.
Instead, WSJ suggests Apple is seeking a more modest arrangement that would possibly see the company providing content from existing cable companies overlaid with an Apple TV-style interface. As far as DVRing capabilities, Apple is asking programmers for access to the most recent five episodes of current-season shows, a standard arrangement that companies have with other on-demand services like Hulu.
The Cable Box Replacement
Though much of the speculation about Apple's future TV plans and content deals have focused on a full Apple-branded television set, other rumors have theorized that Apple is instead working on a set-top box with expanded functionality that will replace existing cable boxes as outlined above.
There have been no hints on what such a box could look like or what functionality it would provide, but presumably, it would be similar to the Apple TV, working as a one-stop media hub that aggregates content from an increasing number of different channels and sources as Apple continues to complete content deals. It could also incorporate many of the functions of the rumored Apple television set, including voice or motion controls.
It is probable that Apple's "grand vision" for television is a multi-step process requiring several product transitions, beginning with a shift from the existing Apple TV to a more expansive set-top box that eventually evolves into a television set equipped with the total television experience that Jobs originally envisioned.
The Game Console
Beyond television, there's been continuing speculation that Apple could enhance the functionality of the Apple TV in other ways, mainly through the launch of an App Store and support for third-party apps.
Apps on the Apple TV have been long desired, with rumors dating back to 2010 indicating that such a feature was imminent. Steve Jobs believed an Apple TV App Store to be a possibility, telling Bloomberg in 2010 that it could happen when the time was right.
Rumors of an App Store have continued since then, with TechCrunch's MG Siegler hinting in February of 2013 that an App Store could be Apple's next major move as it aims to advance further into the living room. Rumors of game support on the Apple TV picked up again in January of 2014 after Jeremy Horowitz of iLounge indicated that a software update for the Apple TV might be in the works for a March launch.
Apps on the Apple TV could have major implications for a multitude of competing products, especially when it comes to games. The App Store now possesses a huge selection of games, ranging from simple arcade titles to AAA options from major developers.
Combined with MFi Game Controllers that are in development, a set-top box or television that connects to Apple's App Store could turn Apple into a major player in the console gaming industry as well as the television industry.
Nat Brown, one of the original Xbox engineers, has speculated that Apple could "kill" PlayStation, Nintendo, and Microsoft by introducing an App Store ecosystem on the Apple TV. Steam founder Gabe Newell has expressed a similar sentiment, stating that Apple could take the lead in the game console market.
In February of 2014, the Financial Times confirmed the next-generation Apple TV will indeed support gaming on the device.
The Current State of the Apple TV
Apple's television set project remains in development, with no solid release date on the horizon. According to the most recent analyst rumors, Apple is working on 55 and 65-inch 4K televisions set to be launched in late 2014, but other sources have suggested Apple's TV plans are on hold for the immediate future as the company focuses on other areas such as wearables.
Though Apple has no immediate plans to release a television set, recent rumors have suggested the company could introduce a redesigned set-top box during the first half of 2014, possibly in April. Hardware references to the new box have been discovered within iOS 7.
The new set-top box is said to include support for iOS games and it may also offer a full App Store. Apple is also said to be experimenting with wireless router functionality for the device, as well as testing an interface that would allow the Apple TV to serve as a cable box replacement, overlaying a user's existing cable content with an Apple-designed interface.
A new TV service may also accompany the new box, as Apple is said to be in continued negotiations with Time Warner and possibly other cable companies to provide TV shows and other media for the set-top box. Apple has reportedly scaled back on its plans for a television service, however, as it has continued to struggle to reach deals with content providers.
Rumors have suggested Apple is working on its own content delivery service in order to boost its Internet infrastructure to support additional traffic in the future. While this move will bolster existing services such as iCloud, it could also allow Apple to handle more traffic should the company move further into the television arena.
In January of 2014, Apple revamped its online storefront, adding a new category for the Apple TV alongside the categories for the Mac, iPad, iPhone, and iPod product lines. The Apple TV's new prominence on Apple's website suggests that it may be moving out of the "hobby" status that it has long been assigned by Apple executives.
During a February 2014 shareholders meeting, Apple CEO Tim Cook revealed the Apple TV had generated $1 billion in 2013, counting hardware sales and movie/TV show rentals. He also noted that it was "a little more difficult to call [the Apple TV] a hobby these days" given its ever-increasing growth.
Apple recently began offering a $25 gift card with the purchase of an Apple TV, which hinted at a possible update coming in the near future, but notable Apple journalist Jim Dalrymple indicated an updated Apple TV release is not imminent, once again leaving a potential release date for a new set-top box up in the air.
A recent product roadmap from KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo suggests that Apple is indeed working on an updated set-top box that will ship with an App Store and motion control capabilities. Kuo predicts a third quarter launch date for the product.