Apple Hints There's More In Store For AppleTV

Posted: Jan 29 2014, 4:53pm CST | by , Updated: Jan 29 2014, 4:56pm CST, in News | Apple

Apple Hints There's More In Store For AppleTV
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Sometimes with Apple, a small thing turns out to be a big thing, indeed. In this case, the small thing is the 4-inch black square known as AppleTV, which recently received a promotion to the top right-hand corner of Apple’s online store. The positioning is a big upgrade for the device, which has so far lived on an accessories page of the website. But the relocation didn’t bring with it any changes to the device, which got its last big makeover in March 2012. That may be about to change.

Apple’s secret hit product

The battle to place a digital box in your living room has been raging for years now, with most manufacturers finding little success. The closest things to hit products for TV streaming have been game consoles, the popular devices from Roku and the stealth bomber: AppleTV. A product Steve Jobs once dismissed as a “hobby,” AppleTV has been quietly finding its way into more and more living rooms since arriving the same year as the iPhone, 2007. CEO Tim Cook had reported the total at 13 million as of last May, suggesting it’s closing in on 20 million by now. And last year, Apple added WatchESPN, HBO GO, Disney and other channels to the device, greatly expanding its content offerings.

But outside of some Apple-centric features like iTunes downloads and AirPlay support — which allows you to mirror what’s on your iPad or Mac on the TV — the AppleTV has basically been Cupertino’s version of the similar Roku. That’s not in and of itself a problem; it’s also nothing particular revolutionary. And for a long time, Apple has been rumored to be planning something much bigger for the living room. Many had hoped that something was going to be a radical rethinking of cable TV, perhaps with a la channels you could purchase one by one.

Coming soon

That’s not going to happen this spring or really anytime soon. What could happen, however, is that AppleTV might become more of an entertainment hub. At its core, the little black square is an iOS device, with the heart of an older iPhone ticking inside it. So far, the only “apps” permitted to run on it are those special video apps you see like Netflix, YouTube and the selected channels. But that could change with a coming update. And when it does, the possibilities get intriguing.

Apple recently altered iOS on the iPhone and iPad to support game controllers and in the living room, that makes the AppleTV a $99 game console with potentially thousands of games. While few of them are going to be direct competitors for Titanfall on Xbox One, the typical iPad gamer might find it enjoyable to play on a bigger screen. It’s also possible that some developers might see an opportunity to offer titles to 20 million living rooms as intriguing, especially if an Apple marketing push promises to rapidly increase that number.

One downside of iOS games for developers has been their low pricing. But a powerful upside is that games are inexpensive to produce and with in-app purchasing, it’s possible to produce titles that gross tens of millions monthly if they become addictive hits like Candy Crush Saga. Overnight, Apple might well become a videogame powerhouse. While Sony and Microsoft might not be quaking, Nintendo’s Wii U could face its killing blow from such a move.

At 9to5Mac, there is some interesting hardware speculation as well. Currently, Apple sells a WiFi router and the AppleTV as separate products, but it might be considering offering them as one device. This would ostensibly improve video streaming quality by eliminating one wireless link and could also encourage customers to upgrade to the latest WiFi standard, 802.11ac. It’s one of those small things Apple does to push the technology, lock customers into their ecosystem, make a bit of money in the process and provide benefits to people all at once. Clever and effective.

But what about TV?

When it comes to video, things are murkier. Apple seems certain to continue rolling out additional video apps over time. But these will continue to complement, not replace your cable subscription. (The HBO, ESPN, Disney and even ABC apps all require you to authenticate with your cable subscription to see anything.) The 9to5Mac report suggests somehow an AppleTV might control your cable set-top box and provide you a better user experience for it. Attempts to do this in the past have been mixed.

Google was unsuccessful while the new Xbox One does it nicely. But since the Xbox offers no DVR functionality, it’s more of a novelty than anything really useful. Whether Apple can pull this off and whether they’re really anywhere far down the path of doing so seem like more than just open questions, they appear to be wishful thinking right now.

Still, the stars are aligning for a significant improvement in the little black box. Cook mentioned, as he has before, that exciting things were coming this year. Perhaps this will be the first of them. And perhaps we won’t have to wait long to see it.

Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook. Find the rest of my Forbes posts here.

Source: Forbes

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