Next Generation Apple TV References Found in iOS 5, But When?

One of the most common Buyer's Guide related question we get asked is "Is it a good time to buy an Apple TV?"

We've never tracked the Apple TV in our buyers guide because it's a product that seems to have no regular release cycle. Apple maintains that the Apple TV is a "hobby" project, and that attitude shows in its infrequent update cycle. The Apple TV is unique in that it is more of a living room appliance whose primary purpose is to play iTunes content on your television. As a result, as long as the Apple TV can play all present iTunes content, there's no compelling reason for Apple to offer a major hardware upgrade.

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The Apple TV has only seen two major hardware revisions during its lifetime. First was the original launch back in 2007 and the second was September 2010 when Apple released a smaller iOS-based version. We noted in June that iOS 5 opened the door to a true 1080p-capable Apple TV, but no evidence of such a device had been seen.

9to5Mac has now spotted a reference to a yet-unreleased "AppleTV3,1" in the latest version of iOS 5. This suggests that Apple is working on a next generation Apple TV in its labs. The previous models have carried the codenames "AppleTV1,1" and "AppleTV2,1".

A new Apple TV could integrate Apple's new A5 processor, which offers much faster graphics processing, and include true 1080p support. But unless Apple plans on offering 1080p content on iTunes, that feature would be of limited use to the majority of consumers. Fortunately, Apple has been rumored to be prepping movie studios to start submitting 1080p content to iTunes.

We should note that when previous iPhone references have been found in iOS releases, we've seen a lead time of up to 15 months. So, an imminent release is not guaranteed.

Software evidence of Apple's future devices tends to appear rather early in the development process, as evidenced by iPhone3,1 appearing in iPhone OS configuration files in March 2009. That device turned out to be the iPhone 4, released 15 months later.

We also suspect that any new Apple TV may run up against Apple's future plans for television. There have been persistent rumors that Apple could be taking on the TV market at some point in the near future. The NYTimes revisited this speculation in the days following Steve Jobs' death.

But many in the tech industry contend that television is ripe for technological makeover, and that the next big challenge for Apple, after the death of Mr. Jobs, is likely to be in that area.

Last year, NYTimes' said that Apple was in negotiations over a new television subscription service but ultimately failed.

So, we can't be certain when Apple might be launching a new ApplebTV, but believe it would be tied to other offerings, either 1080p HD iTunes content or another television initiative altogether.

Related Roundup: Apple TV
Buyer's Guide: Apple TV (Caution)

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Top Rated Comments

MattLafferty Avatar
165 months ago
Apple TV may be the "hobby" at Apple HQ, but around my house it's essential! Being new parents, we skipped the summer blockbuster season... and now Apple TV plus iTunes means every week or so this fall has been summer movie night on the big TV. Similarly, Netflix, AirPlay, baby photos off the Mac as a screensaver... no hobby device here.
Score: 33 Votes (Like | Disagree)
kultschar Avatar
165 months ago
Surely the app store will be coming to ATV!!! Its begging for apps!!
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
HobeSoundDarryl Avatar
165 months ago
But unless Apple plans on offering 1080p content on iTunes, that feature would be of limited use to the majority of consumers.
Why say this? Why continue to feed the perception of it as a one-dimensional product (only content from the iTunes store is applicable)? For the majority of consumers the first source of content for iTunes was NOT the iTunes store but ripping their own CD collection.

With :apple:TV, content is sourced from many places other than the iTunes store. For example, an iPhoto collection probably has NO photos "purchased" from the iTunes store, yet they flow to the home TV via :apple:TV.

Ripping a DVD collection is far from the simplicity of ripping a CD collection, but it can be done... and is done... to make the personal movie collection readily available on the home TV via :apple:TV (no iTunes store link required).

Almost every decent camera and any camcorder can shoot video. Apple provides tools (like iMovie) to edit that video. Renders from iMovie can go right into iTunes. Those will easily play on :apple:TV too. Personally, I have our whole home (family) movie collection in iTunes and readily available on :apple:TV (none of that came from the iTunes store).

Now, good cameras, iPhones and most HD camcorders shoot 1080p video. iMovie will edit & render that in 1080 too. It will go right into iTunes as 1080 content too. It just can't get from iTunes to the HDTV as a 1080p stream (the current model down converts it 720p). It is the ONE weak link in this Apple chain.

The point is that there are abundant (and legal) sources of content for :apple:TV besides the iTunes store. It is not just a device through which to buy or rent content from there (even Apple agrees by adding other sources like Netflix support, airplay, etc).

I think it makes great sense to launch an 1080p capable :apple:TV BEFORE there is 1080p content in the iTunes store. The hardware must lead. Until there is lots of 1080p :apple:TVs in homes, there is no way for any studio to even test the profit potential of 1080p content for :apple:TVs in the iTunes store.

Get the hardware going into homes and the software can follow. Between the time those 1080p :apple:TVs start going into homes and when some Studio decides to test 1080p content, the :apple:TV3 will still play all existing content to it's fullest potential, much like quad core hardware in Macs can still run software coded for single core hardware. Lead with the hardware and the software owners will be tempted to exploit that newer hardware (it doesn't work the other way).

Personally, I'm very encouraged by this new discovery. Hopefully, it's not another 4-year delay for the next round of new hardware. I've got 4+ years of 1080HD video shot on camcorders begging for a native Apple solution that doesn't involve downconversion to 720p. And for my own situation, I could care less if there is ever 1080p content for rent or sale in the iTunes store.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
filmantopia Avatar
165 months ago
Now that Steve's gone, who is going to pursuade the networks to lower their prices for Apple's TV subscription efforts?
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
CWallace Avatar
165 months ago
New hardware should not be necessary for App Store support, however.

That being said, the greater graphics processing power of the A5 would be beneficial for gaming in addition to 1080p playback.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
flux73 Avatar
165 months ago
Apple TV with Siri ? :cool:

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Yup, that's what I was thinking too. The one way that Apple could create a TV that no one else can copy is to make it voice-enabled and to eliminate the need for a remote control. This would be awesome for me to not have to explain to my parents how to operate my TV/Stereo system for the 1000th time (no exaggeration). Imagine...

"Play some jazz music"

"Make a slideshow of photos from my trip to China"

"Turn on NPR"

"I want to play a video game"

"What are the most recently release movies?"

"I want to watch the next Yankees game"
Siri: "Sorry, there are no Yankees games in the next 6 months..." :D;)
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)