The case for Apple TV -- why Apple's 'hobby' isn't as dead as critics think

in iPod + iTunes + AppleTV
There is no doubt that the Apple TV hardware is in dire need of an update -- but Apple is still well-positioned to grow its presence in the living room. Here are a few different approaches that Apple could take with a next-generation Apple TV set-top box.

The fifth-generation Apple TV 4K debuted in September 2017, two years after the launch of its predecessor. The stagnant hardware is fine for streaming services like Netflix, Disney+ or Apple's own Apple TV+, but it quickly begins to struggle when the the latest iPhone and iPad games -- including those available on the Apple Arcade service -- are run natively on the device.

The latest Apple TV runs the A10X Fusion chip, which is also found in the iPad Pro models that launched in 2017. While perfectly fine for basic streaming needs, the brains of the Apple TV doesn't exactly justify the same price tag in 2021.

Starting at $179, and going up to $199 for more capacity, the Apple TV pales in comparison to the $299 Xbox Series S, which streams from all services and plays the latest and greatest games. It's also competing with the likes of Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast, all of which have streaming stick options at the sub-$50 price point. And, Apple is competing with itself, given HomeKit and the Apple TV app on a wide array of smart televisions.

We know the Apple TV hardware is due for an upgrade, and we know Apple is likely to launch one in 2021 -- if rumors are to be believed. But what direction will the company take? Here are a few options to consider that could take the platform to greatness.

The established Apple TV route: Upgrade the SoC, nothing more

This feels like the most obvious and likely outcome for the Apple TV, especially when one considers the tvOS platform that it runs has not seen any major upgrades or overhauls in years. If the Apple TV is to remain a "hobby" in its maker's eyes, simply putting a newer and faster processor in there and maintaining the same price points is the easiest route.

That's not to say this route would be a bad thing. Imagine a set-top box with a fan-cooled A14X processor, capable of playing the latest games just as well as the iPhone 12 Pro and a theoretical 2021 iPad Pro. When paired with an Xbox or PlayStation controller, this system would be able to play Apple Arcade and App Store games for years to come.

Add the U1 chip to support spatial audio on the latest AirPods devices, and you've got yourself a great little home theater streaming device.

But this approach seems a bit boring, does it not?

The AirPort route: A whole home hub

The Apple TV already serves as a HomeKit hub, serving as a bridge that allows users to connect to their smart home devices when they are away from home. But what if Apple took this a step further, and brought back its AirPort router capabilities to be a true smart home centerpiece.

Though Apple abandoned its AirPort line of routers back in 2018, the landscape of Wi-Fi router options remains inconsistent, and is sorely lacking Apple's mix of quality and ease of use. To this day, Apple fans continue to clamor for a next-generation AirPort with robust wireless support and perhaps a foray into mesh networking.

HomeKit remains a growing segment of Apple's business, and tapping into the connectivity of devices is not only a logical step for growing the HomeKit platform, it also pairs nicely with making the Apple TV the connected center of the home.

A recent rumor claims Apple is exploring other connected home hub devices, including HomePods with screens. It's easy to see how these could be an extension of a next-generation Apple TV, serving as an entry point for users to connect with their devices and access data, while also expanding wireless coverage throughout the home and covering any dead spots.

The HomePod route: A smart soundbar

Side of the Sonos Arc
Side of the Sonos Arc

Or maybe the next-generation Apple TV could be less about Wi-Fi and more about smart home control (with quality sound to boot).

March's announcement that the original HomePod has been discontinued has left fans wanting for bigger sound than the excellent-but-small $99 HomePod mini can provide. Perhaps the HomePod was discontinued to set the stage for an Apple TV integrated into a booming smart soundbar.

This would not be some Frankenstein-like device -- or, in the words of Apple CEO Tim Cook, a converged refrigerator-toaster. Everyone knows that the built-in speakers found on television sets are constrained by physics, and crap, even on pricey high-end models.

Apple could justify the cost of a more expensive Apple TV, and also expand the presence of Siri in the home, by making the tvOS interface part of a soundbar that lives in front of your TV.

The Apple Arcade route: A gaming model bundled with a controller

Front of the SteelSeries Nimbus+
Front of the SteelSeries Nimbus+

Or maybe it's all about the games? After all, the current Apple TV hardware is fine for streaming 4K content.

But the one thing that can also use more horsepower is next-generation games. And while Apple critics might point out that the company's history in the "serious" games space is lacking at best, Apple Arcade is a crucial component of Apple's services offering and of the Apple One bundle upsell. For Apple Arcade to continue to be an appealing value-add for consumers considering Apple's services, the Apple TV needs to remain relevant, and capable of playing the latest games that are also available on iPhone and iPad.

It's difficult to take the Apple TV seriously as a gaming device when it doesn't ship with a workable gaming controller, however.

Apple has made strides by adding support for Bluetooth controllers for Xbox and PlayStation, but those are still $60+ purchases that must be made separately. And how many Apple TV owners know that they can use those controllers with their set-top box?

If gaming on the Apple TV is ever going to catch on, Apple needs to offer a model that ships with a controller, whether it be a standard Microsoft Xbox controller, or something entirely new and built for Apple TV designed by the company itself.

The much-maligned Siri remote for Apple TV could warrant its own separate post entirely, but suffice to say that it alone is not an adequate input method for gamers.

The iPod shuffle route: An inexpensive, simple streaming stick

Credit: Amazon
Credit: Amazon

Or maybe it's all about the price. Just as Apple had to pivot with the HomePod and go after a much more affordable segment of the market, perhaps the company needs to take the same approach to the living room.

The current streaming device landscape consists of the aforementioned inexpensive options from Amazon, Google and Roku, or a high-end market dominated by Microsoft and Sony.

The second-generation Apple TV, which debuted in 2010 and was the first to run a variant of iOS, hit an affordable $99 price point. The third-generation model, which launched in 2012, maintained a sub-$100 entry for consumers. It was with the fourth-generation model, which runs the tvOS platform, that the price grew to $149, and the current fifth-gen model raised the entry to $179.

If Apple has in fact priced itself out of the market with that level of functionality, perhaps the company needs to focus on an inexpensive and simple model that sticks to streaming and competes at the low end.

The unlikely route: Give up on the hobby

Apple TV+ has gone multiplatform, as the video streaming service from Apple is now available on competing streaming hardware, including smart TVs. Many new smart TVs also ship with support for AirPlay, taking another crucial Apple TV capability and making it nonexclusive.

So does Apple even need the Apple TV hardware anymore?

Aside from TV support for Apple Arcade, you could make a case that it does not need to continue making a set-top box. Like its exit from the router business, Apple could simply announce that there are plenty of other, adequate products in the market, and it is happy to support them with its own Apple TV+ streaming service.

This approach, however, seems unlikely for a number of reasons, most significantly that it would see Apple cede control over a key part of its users' daily lives. Apple's marriage of hardware and software, offering best-in-class experiences, is at the very foundation of the company, and abandoning its presence in the living room would seem to run contrary to that.

Consider the alternative: Offering Apple TV+ and AirPlay primarily on Android-based smart TVs from companies like Samsung, LG, Vizio and Sony, all of which have been found to collect and share considerable amounts of personal data for advertising and tracking purposes. As a champion of user privacy, Apple is unlikely to walk away and rely on external partnerships, knowing that it would be abandoning loyal customers who don't want or trust the competition.

The best route: All of the above?

If the Apple TV is to ever be promoted from its "hobby" status, that probably means that Apple would need to enhance and grow the product lineup with more options. So perhaps that means it employs a few of the potential outcomes outlined above, allowing the company to hit various price points and needs.

It's not difficult to envision a premium Apple TV with soundbar and/or built-in Siri smart home capabilities, being sold alongside an inexpensive $50 stick with access to the tvOS App Store limited to streaming apps. And perhaps in the middle there could be a gaming-focused model, shipping with a controller but not focusing on the extraneous voice and smart home controls that gamers might not care about.

Consider the iPad lineup. While the iPad hardware is essentially just a blank canvas, Apple's lineup has only grown over time to suit different needs at different price points. There are two iPad Pro sizes, at 12.9 and 11 inches, an iPad Air at 10.9 inches, a budget 10.2-inch iPad at just $329, and the 7.9-inch iPad mini. If the iPad can justify five different models in its lineup, why are the options for Apple TV so limited?

The launch of Apple One last fall feels like the strongest case in years for Apple to re-invest in its living room push. Apple Fitness+, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade and Apple Music aren't hobbies at all -- they're are all fantastic experiences that play best on your big-screen TV and home theater.


  • Reply 1 of 40
    22july201322july2013 Posts: 2,937member
    Another route is just to replace Apple TV with a wireless dongle that receives all its Apple TV content from another device, wirelessly, like a Mac or a HomePod.
  • Reply 2 of 40
    mknelsonmknelson Posts: 902member
    I have played several Apple Arcade games on my 4K model - it's good, but a newer processor would be killer.

    One of my more regular, if slightly odd uses, is to use the music app on my phone to control Airplay from the AppleTV to speakers in other rooms. The iOS14 interface for this kind of sucks though - you have to hit the Airplay "target", tap "Control Other Speakers & TVs", select the AppleTV, then go back into the Airplay "target" to add the remote speakers you want to play to. The previous Airplay interface just gave you a list of Airplay sources with all the possible destinations listed below. It was much faster to set up and break down.

    Add "thread" for some of the newer smart bulbs, switches, etc. and a new ATV would be an even better HomeKit hub.
    unsui_greproundaboutnowapplguyforgot usernamewatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 40
    davendaven Posts: 638member
    My vote is for a sound bar with different models. A basic model that does great sound plus the basic video streaming with audio input obviously and a gaming model with a higher powered processor that can do gaming well. And also a very low end dongle with the basics where everything plays through your tv as something to bring older tvs to be up to date.
  • Reply 4 of 40
    Would love to see them go after the high end -- on the hardware side, the soundbar with exceptional spatial sound, on the gaming side, the latest Apple Silicon and combine this with an investment in 2-3 "must have" games.  Think about the huge budget they used on TV+ original content and not worrying about an immediate payout.  Some high end cinematic quality games would draw people to the platform.
  • Reply 5 of 40
    doggonedoggone Posts: 321member
    Apple have the capability to break the AppleTV into different types. 
    1. A dongle for purely streaming. Keep the price to around $50
    2.  A box for streaming plus games and hub. Same price as the current model

    Apple did this with iPods and killed the other competition.  The mini first and then the shuffle finished them off. 
  • Reply 6 of 40
    Let's have that article on the Siri Remote, please. Mine just sits in a cupboard, while I use an iPad or an IR blaster to tell Apple TV what to do. I really object to having had to pay for that thing bundled with the device. I don't even live in a market where Siri is supported for TV, which makes the burn even worse.

    On the other hand, I can't do without Apple TV, because it runs some indy apps that Smart TVs don't.
  • Reply 7 of 40
    I like the Mesh router idea. Each mini could boost the signal through the home 
  • Reply 8 of 40
    I would say "all of the above," although the fact that Apple TV+,  Homekit, and Airplay are included in other devices does make me ponder the "give up the hobby" route. Gaming would seem to be a strong differentiator (although the whole home hub concept is unique as well), but see my example below.

    I especially like the soundbar concept, but I couldn't wait...last week I pulled the trigger on the Roku Smart Soundbar to replace my aging ATV 3rd gen and powered Altec 2.1 PC speaker system connected to my not-quite-smart-enough Sony 46" TV. The Roku was on sale for $149 and I think represents really good value, since I didn't have much interest in gaming. It is 4K and includes the AppleTV+ app (although I don't subscribe to it), as well as all the major streamers and then some. Airplay 2, Homekit and Bluetooth also included. Audio from TV comes in via HDMI ARC, so cable box, blu-ray, and other TV sources play through the soundbar too. You can talk into the remote for Siri, but I haven't tried that yet. So far, sound quality is decent soundbar level--a bit boxy sounding with default setting. Definitely better that the TV speakers, and a little better than the PC system (not bad considering PC system has a sub). I also ordered the Roku wireless sub (also $149). It just arrived today, so I haven't hooked it up yet. The sub should help (it better!), and I will play around with some of the limited audio adjustments to hear what happens. Overall, I don't expect audiophile quality, but for TV sound in a small living room, I think it should be pretty good.
    edited March 2021 nhughes
  • Reply 9 of 40
    hexclockhexclock Posts: 1,053member
    Or they could just leave the ATV as is, a very capable and reliable streamer that I use all the time without issue. Why reinvent the wheel?
  • Reply 10 of 40
    dewmedewme Posts: 4,239member
    I like the soundbar idea a lot, with all the HomeKit hub bells and whistles, 10 Gbps wired connectivity, multi-TB onboard media storage, but since we're dreaming, why not stick a wide-angle, auto-focus conferencing camera and beamforming microphones for FaceTiming and Zooming?

    I currently have a Mac mini attached to my home theater system and it has a web cam with stereo microphones attached that I use for Zooming with people. It's actually quite nice, comfortable for long meetings, and it allows multiple people to join in on the call from my end. It's a nice break from the head-in-a-box Zoom meetings. More like dude-on-a-sofa instead. Yeah, gotta start wearing pants again.

    Apple could exercise some of its audio beamforming magic to auto focus the camera on the person in the room who is actively speaking. Of course they'd have to steer clear of potential IP issues in this area, e.g., Cisco and its Presence technology.

    ... and if we're going to go a little deeper into our dreamstorming, why not throw in some of the iPhone's face recognition and Lidar magic to allow Face ID, gesture control for games, and (sorry kiddos) parental controls on what content your Apple TV will allow based on who is currently in the room watching the screen. Why not throw in simulcast of audio to multiple AirPods with individual language selection.

    Oh yeah, all this for $300 or less ... or at least starting at $300 or less. Goodbye HomePod, hello HomeMac.
    edited March 2021 nhughesroundaboutnow
  • Reply 11 of 40
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 6,102member
    Another route is just to replace Apple TV with a wireless dongle that receives all its Apple TV content from another device, wirelessly, like a Mac or a HomePod.
    It's called AirPlay 2 and all modern TVs have this built in already. Older ones, just add an ATV.
  • Reply 12 of 40
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 6,102member

    mknelson said:

    One of my more regular, if slightly odd uses, is to use the music app on my phone to control Airplay from the AppleTV to speakers in other rooms. The iOS14 interface for this kind of sucks though - you have to hit the Airplay "target", tap "Control Other Speakers & TVs", select the AppleTV, then go back into the Airplay "target" to add the remote speakers you want to play to. The previous Airplay interface just gave you a list of Airplay sources with all the possible destinations listed below. It was much faster to set up and break down.
    Why would you do this versus just streaming from your iPhone to those other speakers?
  • Reply 13 of 40
    22july201322july2013 Posts: 2,937member
    Another route is just to replace Apple TV with a wireless dongle that receives all its Apple TV content from another device, wirelessly, like a Mac or a HomePod.
    It's called AirPlay 2 and all modern TVs have this built in already. Older ones, just add an ATV.
    Correct, but a dongle would be a lot cheaper than an Apple TV, which is my implied point. And it would never need upgrading since it's just mirroring data.
  • Reply 14 of 40
    kkqd1337kkqd1337 Posts: 373member
    What’s certain is that without a major revision, it’s dead.
  • Reply 15 of 40
    JapheyJaphey Posts: 1,365member
    Whether they choose the soundbar route or the gaming route, either should support AirPort. I don’t see that as being it’s own separate option.  The holy grail would be one device that combined the two along with a rich accessory market that included a game controller and a camera for FaceTime and other teleconferencing apps. These, along with other add-ons, would be strictly optional for those who really wanted them. We all know how much Apple loves its high margin, high profit accessories. Apple Universal Remote, anyone?  

    Whichever high-end HomeHub or TV Pro route they decide to follow, I would almost guarantee that it will be accompanied with a low-cost streaming stick. 
  • Reply 16 of 40
    charlesncharlesn Posts: 277member
    The fact that an article titled, "The Case for Apple TV" actually fails to make a case for Apple TV kind of says it all, no? I've owned the Apple TV 4K since it launched and have no complaints, but what is the value-added from the consumer perspective for an Apple version of a streaming box that justifies the high price tag? I honestly can't answer that. 

    Question: no review of streaming boxes ever differentiates between them in terms of quality of video and audio output to the television... is there a difference? I think the quality of output from the Apple TV 4K is fabulous on my LG OLED, but since I've not used another brand of box, maybe they're all the same? Or is this an area where Apple could differentiate itself? 

    As for the proposed possible upgrade routes mentioned: I don't see Apple jumping back into routers after disbanding its whole Airport team, That decision to exit routers seemed pretty definitive, in line with when they exited the monitor and printer businesses. I also don't see Apple doing a low price, low margin streaming stick--that's just not their business model. Smart soundbar? Too much good competition in all areas of the price spectrum, and Apple has yet to crush it when it comes to delivering a truly high-end audio product. The only upgrade path that might make sense IMO is the Apple Arcade route. Not sure how big the gaming opportunity is for Apple, but if big enough, THAT could be a differentiator. 
    edited March 2021 williamlondon
  • Reply 17 of 40
    I vote for the same box & I/O, just a newer processor.

    If Apple wants to make a fundamental improvement, add a Thunderbolt/USB port for adding an external camera.

    And for the love of all that is good...  Make a useable remote!!!
  • Reply 18 of 40
    citpekscitpeks Posts: 185member
    It's not dead, it's just resting.

    For any of these possibilities to materialize, two things needs to happen -- 1) Apple management need to recognize that the home is more than just a hobby, and that it has a glaring unexploited market, if not weakness, in IoT hardware, and 2) it needs to take the initiative to rectify that.

    Meanwhile, the ATV rots, unloved, the HomePod (which began life as an audio, not smart speaker) is dead, and HomeKit is relegated to being a third-class citizen because Apple has let its fate rest with third parties, and done nothing to show how benchmark HomeKit products should look and act, least of all by producing such products itself.

    Early on, Siri was the leader, and HomeKit was something nobody else had.  Years later, they've both stagnated, and never fulfilled their early potential.

    Why should Apple users care, when Apple seemingly doesn't care, about the home, itself?

    Why don't Apple users have the option of IoT hardware that isn't produced by data-sucking companies like Google and Amazon, or disparate third-party vendors, each with their own app, and subject to privacy risks of their own?

    Surely, Apple employees must lament the situation when endeavoring to modernize their own homes, only to find that the offerings tied to the company they work for are far outnumbered by other options.

  • Reply 19 of 40
    mcdavemcdave Posts: 1,913member
    AppleTV & AppleTVX on a stick/card please. That way we could plug it into a new Nano enclosure, a Mini enclosure, the new Pro Display HDR (to create an actual AppleTV) or a new Apple sound bar format HomePod. The first three enclosures could also take a Mac-on-a-stick instead.
  • Reply 20 of 40
    Upgraded hardware with a few ports and allow switching to Mac or IOS to run as a cheap Mac of sorts. 
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