Some Thoughts on the Next Apple TV

According to the folks at 9 to 5 Mac, we could be getting a new Apple TV in the first half of this year.

From 9 to 5 Mac:

The reference is inside of an Apple TV framework related to the device’s AirPlay functionality. The mention of the next Apple TV is the highlighted “AppleTV4,1.” The current Apple TV is “AppleTV3,2? while “3,1? is the 1080P model introduced in March 2012, and 2,1 is the first iOS model introduced in September 2010.

The most current version of the Apple TV, the 2012 model, runs on a single-core Apple A5 and contains 512 MB of RAM and 8 GB of storage. In terms of processing power and memory, it comes in near the iPhone 4S or the iPad 2.

With games and apps becoming more demanding, those specs aren’t going to fly if Apple plans to do more with the Apple TV. Now’s the time to significantly update the company’s “hobby” box.

Obviously, upgraded hardware is important. I think Apple will bring the next Apple TV in line with the iPhone 5S and iPad Air. If we’re going to get apps and games — especially games that give consoles a run for their money — the next Apple TV will need more powerful guts.

Can Apple beef up the specs and still keep the price at $99? That’s the big question. I wouldn’t put it past the company to work some magic, but this could be a $149 or $199 Apple TV.

If that’s the case, we might see the current 2012 model stay at $99 for those who only want to stream music, movies and TV shows.

As for the rumor about the TV tuner — that is entirely possible. With HDMI-in, the Apple TV can act as a sort of “middle man” and pass content from a cable or satellite box through to a TV; the perk being that we interact with an Apple user interface instead of the default cable box UI.

I believe that Apple, at one time, wanted to play a bigger part in delivering live TV content. Unfortunately, it’s an enormous industry that is extremely resistant to change. The pass-through model (that is also used by the Xbox One) is probably the best we’re going to do for a while.

WWDC is coming this June, so Apple could either announce before that (say, March or April) or at the conference itself. Then we’ll see what Apple really has planned for TV.

Post-WWDC Crow Eating

So hey, guess what didn’t happen today?

No upgrade to the Apple TV software (which is basically a special version of iOS). No Apple TV SDK for app developers. Zilch. An entire section of the 2 hour keynote presentation focused on iOS and products like the iPhone and iPad, but the Apple TV was shown just a brief moment of love — a few seconds where the new AirPlay mirroring feature in Mountain Lion was demoed.

Does this spell the end for Apple’s rumored push into television? I don’t think so. Apple likes to put a focus on media in the fall, and that might be a great time to blow the doors open on some Apple TV changes and help move some units going into the holiday season. Or Apple could just keep teasing everyone with it. Either or.

(Quick sidenote: Check out this article from AllThingsD’s Peter Kafka about how the Apple TV revolution might actually come in the form of AirPlay and app-mirroring — a damn good theory.)

I’m pretty impressed with the changes coming in iOS — specifically the way Siri’s knowledge is being beefed up. As a sports fan, I’ll definitely be making use of Siri’s new ability to fill you in on scores and stats. The ability to tweet using Siri also made it into iOS 6 — a welcome addition, and one that was inexplicably left out of iOS 5. Siri also makes the jump to the 3rd generation iPad (which is the one thing I predicted correctly out of 603 words).

On the notebook side of things, the spec bumps for the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro lines are pretty par for the course. They usually get an annual refresh, and this was it. The next-generation MacBook Pro, though — wow. Apple went all out, and it shows in the $2199 price tag. On one hand, I know people are going to pay that, and I know the margins on the new MBP are likely huge and Apple will be just fine. But it’s a bit baffling that Apple would stick hard to a $499 iPad price point, but let the MacBook Pro’s price get out of hand.

Mountain Lion got a significant amount of time in the spotlight, too. OS X and iOS continue to bleed together, as Messages, Notes, Reminders, Game Center, and Notification Center make their way into Apple’s desktop operating system. The ability to use AirPlay to mirror your computer’s screen to an Apple TV might be the most interesting addition, and one that Hulu might not be too pleased about.

Overall, WWDC’s 2012 keynote brought some cool new features to both OS X Mountain Lion and iOS 6, and provided some nice spec bumps to the notebook lines. I’m still not sold on the new MacBook Pro, but we’ll have to wait and see how it’s received and check back on it in a quarter or two.

The iTV? It’s the Apple TV

I could be proven very wrong come December, when the supposed iTV is rumored to be launching, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Apple is not entering the TV set business anytime soon.

That’s not to say that the industry isn’t ripe for disruption; it is, but I don’t see that being the case on the hardware side of things. Television sets themselves are increasing in quality and decreasing in price rapidly, and if 3D taught us anything, it’s that the TV is one device people aren’t looking to replace as often as, say, a smartphone. Again, the sets themselves are good in terms of hardware. It’s the user interface that no one seems to be able to get right, and that’s not just the fault of TV manufacturers, but of cable and satellite set-top box manufacturers, too.

But why should Apple get into the low-margin TV hardware business to fix that when it can sell TV owners a better experience for $99?

The current Apple TV is plenty capable in terms of hardware; it just hasn’t had the software in place to start a revolution. The new UI upgrade that came with the March model is a step in the right direction, but there’s no arguing that, at this moment in time, the Apple TV actually offers less than competing boxes like the Roku. There are fewer content sources available by default, and there’s no system in place to add new ones.

I think this will be rectified in a few weeks at next month’s Worldwide Developers Conference, a place where Apple regularly unveils important chances to the iOS platform that powers devices like the iPhone, iPad, and, yes, the Apple TV. Here’s what I’m expecting for the Apple TV:

  • App Store (finally)
  • Siri voice control through Siri-enabled devices like the iPhone 4S… and the 3rd generation iPad, which I believe will be blessed with Siri in the next iOS version
  • Partnership announcements with cable TV providers where the Apple TV acts as a IPTV set-top box (much like the Xbox 360 is doing with Comcast and Verizon FiOS) — the perk here being that Apple controls the user interface

Three big upgrades and three ways for Apple to finally assert itself with the Apple TV. No more playing around. Support for applications that can finally begin to tap the potential hidden inside the Apple TV for years. Siri to give you a faster way to navigate through your content (“Play ‘Quantum of Solace,’ please”), both from the Internet and from your cable TV provider. And yes, cable. An Apple-designed interface to smoke the user interface on that Motorola box you rent from your cable provider. I hope this is the area that Steve Jobs cracked, because it’s been very bad for a very long time.

To me, it would make sense when adding Siri integration for Apple to also put out an upgraded remote with an embedded microphone (keep in mind — the 3rd generation Apple TV has a Bluetooth chip!), but Apple could also decide to leave that as a perk for users who are part of the mobile iOS ecosystem.

WWDC isn’t too far away (June 11), so we’ll find out fairly quickly how right or wrong I am with these predictions. I just don’t see the TV set industry as one Apple would jump into when it can insert itself into the conversation with its $99 “hobby” box, an OS upgrade, and the tireless work of its innovative developer community.

How mo’ can you go?

And by “mo”, I mean mobile.

After testing the iPad in various situations, I decided to sell my MacBook today. Now, before you chastise me for going off the deep end, bear in mind that I also have a desktop computer. That can handle “work” without issue. For everything else, I’m discovering that the iPad holds its own quite well. In fact, I typed this post on it – and I managed to do it without compulsively checking Twitter twenty times. I guess that is one situation where a lack of multitasking comes in handy, eh?

Just in case you’re afraid of missing something on the Twitter, there is a nice iPhone app called Boxcar that also works with the iPad. It’ll send you a push notification if you receive an @reply or DM.

Anyone else daring to make a similar leap?