Bloomberg is reporting that Apple is testing a next-generation Apple TV media-streaming box that will have native 4K video output and other improvements.
The new set-top box is said to release “as soon as this year,” according to sources familiar with the development who spoke with reporter Mark Gurman.
Internally codenamed “J105,” a fifth-generation device will be capable of 4K streaming and should support “more vivid colors,” indicating support for the wide color gamut feature that Apple already introduced in latest iPads and iPhones.
In another sign that a 4K Apple TV may be in the works, Apple recently increased the maximum size of the initial download for tvOS apps from 200 megabytes to four gigabytes to provide a more complete, rich user experience upon installation.
Apple’s Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri said in a recent interview that Apple TV sales declined year-over-year from the 2015 holiday season to this past 2016 holiday period. According to research firm eMarketer, the fourth-generation Apple TV has lost market share since its release in the fall of 2015, with just 11.9 percent of connected television customers using it in January 2017 versus 12.5 percent in September 2016.
Curiously, the Bloomberg story reveals that the Apple TV team debated bundling a gaming controller with the current model to better compete with Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation consoles. Additionally, the fourth-generation Apple TV was originally meant to replace the cable box altogether as early prototypes had connectors for a coaxial port, which sends the live cable TV signal to televisions.
“Under this plan, Apple was to control the interface, collect fees from viewers and then share most of the revenue with the cable and media companies,” reads the report. That never came to be and Apple’s backup plan that called for a $30 to $40 per month skinny bundle of TV programming never materialized either.
Gurman states that one of the prototype version of the Apple TV software which was ultimately abandoned used four tabs in the center of the screen instead of an iPhone-like grid of app icons. Three tabs acted as shortcuts to the device’s main content types (video, music and gaming) and the other was for everything else.
Lastly, the team toyed with another idea that would let viewers pull up previews of content by hovering on each icon. This feature has made it to the current Apple TV software, albeit in a simpler form because only a few of Apple’s bundled apps support content previews in the form of widescreen thumbnails at the top of the screen.
There’s some hope left that the arrival of Timothy D. Twerdhal, the former chief of Amazon’s Fire TV unit who now runs Apple TV operations, will free up his predecessor Pete Distad to secure those content deals and revive the skinny bundle.