For all the excitement around the new iPhone 6S and 6S Plus and the iPad Pro, I’m starting to believe that the new Apple TV was in fact the most momentous announcement at this past week’s Apple press conference. I’ve been following the market for living room set-top boxes for as long as it’s been a market, and I’ve owned at least one of every generation of Apple TVs. And it’s possible—very possible—that Apple really got it right this time.
Of course, we won’t really know for some months. The first step will be getting the actual hardware, which doesn’t even ship until November—and you can’t pre-order it yet, either. But the real proof of my theory won’t arrive until 2016, when Apple’s long-rumored subscription TV service arrives. If it’s as good as many expect, it should put the new Apple TV over the top.
Until then, of course, we can see what Apple announced about the new Apple TV, and after it does arrive in customers’ hands, it will probably be worth comparing it to the competition, which today includes the Roku 3 market leader, plus a number of smaller (sometimes much smaller) players such as Amazon Fire TV, and Nexus Player and other Google/Android TV devices.
(Stick-based players like Chromecast, Roku Stick, and Fire TV Stick, and even Miracast sticks like the Microsoft Wireless Display are also potential competitors, of course. And video game consoles, you ask? Too expensive, big and loud, but sure. They play an indirect role here too.)
From a high-level, the new Apple TV looks and works much like the current (soon to be previous) version, but is physically a bit taller/bigger, comes with a new remote that includes voice-, touch- and accelerometer-based interactions, and will finally feature an app and game store. Many of the new features have of course been available in competing players for quite some time—the Amazon Fire TV is particularly capable, for example—but given Apple’s reach with both developers and consumers, I expect the new Apple TV to quickly establish itself as the must-have living room set-top box.
(Apple CEO Tim Cook apparently thought he was being profound when he breathlessly exclaimed that the future of TV was apps. How do I put this politely? Oh, right: no shit, Tim. Xbox 360 has been there for several years, as have TiVo, Roku, Amazon, and many others.)
Apple pushed games hard during its press conference, but I don’t see it. Roku, Amazon and Google have all made similar pushes on their own devices, and none have taken off with any kind of gamer. And the casual games Apple showed off last week looked like old Wii games. Not interesting.
The new Apple TV could take off just because of Apple’s reach. But it’s not just reach. Apple gets the details right, an important component of product design that still eludes Microsoft in particular.
For example, the new Apple TV’s remote is still devoid of superfluous buttons—but it will also turn on your TV, control the TV’s volume, and will even control other living room AV componentry. It offers compelling voice functionality, which isn’t unique. But then no one else really has a “what did he/she say?” feature where the box automatically rewinds several seconds and temporarily turns on captioning so you can catch something important you just missed, a typical TV scenario. This stuff is where is Apple shines.
Apple TV will also be compatible with all of the services everyone wants and uses out of the box, and the openness of its new app model means that services that are missing today—intriguingly, Microsoft’s Groove and Movies & TV, for example, plus Google Play—could and should show up there too. If that does happen, Apple TV will be the only box from which you can access all relevant services. That’s huge. Potentially.
Speaking of Microsoft, where the frick is Microsoft’s living room box? And don’t tell me that the $400-and-up Xbox One, with its enormous form factor and loud fan is in any way a viable competitor here. (Nor is the decade-old Xbox 360, which is even louder though is at least reasonably-priced.) Nor is paring a Windows PC or device with a Miracast dongle; that is unreliable and too technical for most people.
As is usually the case, Apple comes in high on pricing. Where all of the stated competitors come in under $100, Apple TV will cost $150 for a 32 GB version or $199 for a 64 GB version. That’s a big gap, and bigger still when you consider the stick-based competitors, which cost just $30 to $50. As it does with iPhone and iPads, Apple will keep the previous-gen Apple TV in market—for just $70—to provide the appearance of affordability.
But worries over pricing may be misguided. This is Apple, after all, and customers are used to paying a premium for what they feel are premium products. Too, Apple has that coming subscription service and a theoretical chance to be the one box anyone will ever need. If everything comes together, $150 or even $200 will seem reasonable. You’d be crazy not to get one.
So we’ll see what happens. For now, the new Apple TV looks pretty solid, with modern underpinnings, a great-looking UI, an app and game model with store, an advanced, multi-function remote, and support for the most important services that customers want.
Tagged with Apple TV