By Chand Bellur
September 2, 2020 at 10:04 p.m. PT
- Apple TV, a device for consuming streaming media, gaming, and apps, first debuted in January 2007.
- Although the device isn’t a consumer favorite, Apple continues to refine its TV appliance with new updates every few years.
- Rumors suggest an updated Apple TV will ship sometime in 2021, with modest improvements.
A Brief History of Apple TV
Apple TV first hit the market over a decade ago, with a weak response from consumers. The industry, disrupted by Netflix and other streaming platforms, was at a crossroads. The first Apple TV, more of a lightweight home theater PC, was an artifact of the transition from cable to streaming.
Apple’s initial TV appliance featured a hard drive and functioned more like a DVR than the streamlined experience we enjoy today. This was a necessity, as few streaming services existed. The device, a pet project of Steve Jobs, was kept on life support until its redesign in 2010.
The second-generation Apple TV was a radical shift from its predecessor. With a meager 8 GB of SSD storage, the device was only capable of streaming media.
When it debuted, Netflx was the only third-party channel available. There was no App Store. Partners such as Hulu, HBO, and others gradually arrived over the years, carefully shepherded into Apple’s curated experience. This Apple TV did not run apps. It was a platform for simple, interactive TV — an extension of Front Row for OS X.
The second-generation Apple TV set the mold for future devices. Every proceeding Apple TV revision featured the same compact, hockey-puck design. The third-generation model brought screen resolution up to 1080p. Apart from this minor change, it was virtually identical to its predecessor.
The fourth-generation model finally brought the App Store to Apple TV. With 32 GB and 64 GB models, these capable units could run full-blown apps — even games. Given the similarities between tvOS and iOS, developers could port popular titles to Apple TV quickly. Although it still wasn’t widely adopted, this provided much-needed content to keep the product alive.
This unit also shipped with the controversial Siri Remote. Personally, I love it, especially for playing racing games like Asphalt 8. I have seen many users struggle with the remote, which is unintuitive and requires dexterity and skill development.
The most recent iteration of Apple TV increases screen resolution to 4K and offers more SSD space to accommodate UHD content. The Siri Remote features a white circle around the Home button, assisting users’ grasp. Before this minor innovation, it was all too likely users would hold the remote the wrong way, especially in the dark.
2021 Apple TV May Feature New Remote and Upgraded Processor
As with most Apple products, don’t expect radical changes. Apple’s main focus is on the iPhone, with other products moving to the wayside. As services become more critical to the tech giant, enthusiasm for Apple TV may grow.
The latest rumors suggest Apple will revamp the polarizing Siri Remote. Many users face difficulties with the Touch surface; however, it’s unclear how Apple will improve the experience.
Something similar to the Touch Bar on a Mac could prove compelling. An embedded display within the remote would make it much easier to use, but dramatically increase costs. None of the rumors suggest this. It’s purely speculative, but possible, given Apple’s widespread use of touchscreens across all products.
Apple TV is one of the few products out of Cupertino not to feature a touchscreen. Even the Remote App for iOS mimics the same blank Touch surface as the current Siri remote.
While the embedded screen might not materialize in the next Apple TV refresh, it may feature a better way to find a lost remote. Rumors suggest Apple will add the Find My app to tvOS, precisely to locate the remote.
Of course, a new Apple TV will feature a new processor. Apple will likely use the A12Z or A13 Bionic chips for this purpose, but they may opt for more power. This would enable the device to run better games, as Apple competes with vastly superior cloud-based gaming platforms from Microsoft and Google. Rumors suggest that Apple will launch interactive augmented reality content for their Apple TV+ service. A faster Apple TV will run interactive content and games better than some desktop PCs.
Apple TV: A Muddled Strategy
Apple TV is a bit of an albatross for the Cupertino company. The iPhone maker never seemed to have a sound strategy, only making it worse by introducing a streaming service with the same name.
Apple TV+ makes about as much sense as naming the Phone app “iPhone” on an iPhone. Why not rename the iPod as “Apple Music”? There are three Apple TVs — the device, the app, and the streaming service, only differentiated by a plus sign. It’s challenging to see marketing genius in this strategy, and users are confused. If anything, it underscores the platform’s neglect, as Apple’s myopic product development seems to only care about the iPhone.
Apple TV is such a mess, down to the branding; it’s impossible not to play armchair executive. The device needs a new name, such as tvPod. It’s small and compact, just like the other “pod” products. They could even make it look like a pod! Unfortunately, it’s too late for a name change. That would be even more confusing.
Overloading the term Apple TV with so many meanings loses all impact as it leaves the customer utterly baffled. What is Apple TV? Is it a device, a service, or an app? It’s all three, but they’re all different and perhaps worthy of distinguishing names. Where’s Apple’s famous marketing prowess?
Beyond ineffective marketing, the device is overpriced and superfluous. Most TVs come with apps these days. Viewers want to watch Netflix, HBO, and other major streaming services already available on their smart TV.
Apple TV is for two types of consumers — cord-cutters and fanboys. Mainstream appeal remains elusive for this Apple device, which runs against the very grain of the company.