Opinion: don’t hold your hopes high for next-generation Apple TV this year

Apple TV mockup (Curved.de 002)

Between the bigger iPhones, new and faster iPads, Apple Pay, the Watch and latest versions of iOS and OS X, the Apple TV project appears to remain on the back burner for now.

Whether or not the decision is meant to prevent spreading Apple too thin and keep its engineers focused on products that matter over a longer arc of time is anyone’s guess.

Now, I’m not pretending that I’m privy to Cupertino’s inner workings.

But the fact remains that, for the time being, Apple seems content with simply stuffing the set-top box with new content sources. Yesterday, for example, Apple TV owners saw the addition of Sports Illustrated’s 120 SPORTS network.

Of course, Tim Cook & Co. must do a whole lot more than simply keep adding new channels to the box. Fans, on the other hand, have been keeping their fingers crossed for an Apple TV hardware upgrade sporting a major OS update and new features like DV-R, live TV functionality, an app store to download and play games on it with the use of ‘Made for iPhone’ controllers.

Watchers are now hoping for an Apple TV refresh at WWDC 2015. But if I were you, I wouldn’t hold my hopes high for a major hardware revision to the set-top box in 2015, and here’s why.

It’s common belief that Apple’s been pulling strings for years trying to talk content owners into packaging and selling individual television programs on iTunes. But those big shot executives in charge of brokering lucrative content deals just wouldn’t budge.

Content is king: throughout 2013, Apple had generated over $1 billion in sales off media content ordered directly through the Apple TV.

What’s missing is premium television programming on iTunes. Stuck in the old ways broadcasters may be, but there’s hope on the horizon. As of recently, the landscape started to alter rapidly and it’s only going to accelerate going forward.

Apple TV Sports Illustrated 120 Sports Home menu

Dish’s new Sling TV service, for example, had cord-cutters pay notice: in exchange for twenty bucks per month, Sling TV delivers a package of ESPN and other premium live feeds over the Internet, no contract or cable subscription required.

Later this year, HBO in a major industry move will start selling online-only subscriptions. Sony’s joining the fray with a similar service of its own, called Vue, and it won’t be long before others follow suit.

Apple TV mockup (Curved.de 005)

As history has shown time and again, greedy television executives are not particularly visionary regarding taking their content to where their customers are.

But as soon as one of those big name broadcasters relents, the industry is bound to soften its stance on content delivery — if anything, out of fear of being left behind. And therein, my friends, lies a big opportunity for Apple’s underappreciated hockey-puck gizmo.

Moreover, Apple’s really, really good at timing.

Case in point: Apple could have released a larger-screened iPhone years ago, but chose not to until rivals mainstreamed phones with screens larger than four inches.

Apple TV mockup (Curved.de 004)

Up until last October, Apple was the only smartphone maker left that made phones with small screens. This has created massive pent-up demand for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus — the mother of iPhone upgrades, if you will.

If Apple had come out with a larger-screened iPhone a few years ago, it’d have arguably had a tough time selling it as four-inch phones was the gold standard back then.

The analogy with the Apple TV is obvious. While a revised box would no doubt sell in volume, a perfect storm of factors is coming together that will ensure that a future Apple TV upgrade won’t be just a specs bump.

A next-generation Apple TV should be a comprehensive upgrade that must establish a living room platform for years to come. Adding a few bells and whistles and repackaging the whole thing in a shinier enclosure just won’t cut it in the long haul.

Some pieces of the puzzle have fallen in place.

Already with its latest software the Apple TV acts as a hub which connects your HomeKit-compatible devices. An App Store for Apple TV apps and games should be a no-brainer. Apple’s latest A8 processor can play 4K video.

Apple TV mockup (Curved.de 003)

So, what the heck is Apple waiting for?

Two things: content and 4K.

Until iTunes starts offering movies in 4K and TV networks unbundle from cable and begin selling reasonably priced subscriptions through iTunes , I don’t think Apple will greenlight an Apple TV hardware overhaul.

Again, it’s about establishing a platform much in the same way the iPhone and iPad gave birth to a new platform in mobile and the Apple Watch will do the same for wrist computing when it starts shipping in April.

I’m sorry if that disappoints you, but putting a refreshed Apple TV hardware out there just for the sake of it won’t make much sense at this point.


Apple TV mockup commissioned by German magazine Curved.de.