Update: A good sign that there could be a 4K Apple TV on the horizon – 4K HDR films have started appearing on iTunes. Several MacRumors readers noticed that purchases they were making were appearing in their purchase histories as 4K HDR content, despite the fact that they weren't able to watch them in the higher resolution.
It's not certain but this does strongly suggest that Apple could be prepping its video library for the launch of a 4K capable Apple TV.
Original article continues below…
When it comes to TV streaming boxes, it’s safe to say the Apple TV isn’t exactly king of the hill. We’re currently in the product’s fourth generation, and Apple hasn’t delivered on the TV revolution it promised. In fact, it’s struggling to compete with other streaming options like Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, and Roku.
There are many reasons for its shrinking market share, from its relatively high cost to its uncompetitive content and its lack of 4K support. We go into them in much more detail here.
However, while Apple’s not at the top of its game with its TV streaming box, that doesn’t mean it’s out of the league completely. It still has a chance to get things right with a new, fifth-generation Apple TV, and here are all the rumors about the new device. With nothing confirmed as yet, all of this could be subject to change, but there's a lot of information out there to draw upon.
Cut to the chase
- What is it? The fifth iteration of Apple's connected TV box
- When is it out? Late 2017 is the likeliest time
- How much will it be? There's no official price point just yet, but the cost is likely to be tiered and dictated by hard drive size.
Alright, so, Apple hasn’t officially confirmed that a new Apple TV is imminent, but it also hasn’t said that there isn’t one on the way. In a recent earnings call, Tim Cook told investors that the company was happy with the way the new Apple TV was coming along while teasing that there's “more things planned” for it in the future.
Considering it’ll soon be two years since we saw the last update to the device and late last year the third-generation Apple TV was pulled from stores, we think this is a fairly good indication that there’s a new model on the way soon.
Though an announcement could happen at any time, there are a few points throughout the year when Apple is most likely to make some kind of Apple TV announcement. Initially we thought its Worldwide Developers’ Conference would prove to be the venue, but the conference passed without any mention of new hardware.
Now, a September announcement and October launch seems more likely. Particularly as September is usually the time Apple makes its big hardware announcements.
How much will it cost?
The current Apple TV will set you back $ 149 (£139/AU$ 239) for the 32GB version and $ 199 (£179/AU$ 299) for the 64GB version which makes it an expensive piece of kit compared to other streaming boxes on the market which frequently come in at under $ 100.
In light of this, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for Apple to drop the price of its newest model when it’s released or improve the content it offers to justify its higher price point.
It’s pretty much certain that the Apple TV fifth-generation will also offered tiered pricing and it’s highly likely Apple will keep the fourth-generation Apple TV around at a lower price point as a more affordable alternative as it has done in the past.
What features will it have?
The fourth-generation Apple TV was revealed more than three years after the third generation model, but to make up for the long break it was a fairly big update with a brand new operating system, a new remote and even Siri integration.
Something it was missing, however, was support for 4K and HDR content. When the fourth-generation Apple TV was launched at the end of 2015, 4K video was in its infancy and arguably not big enough to justify including support for it at that time.
Now that we’re a good chunk of the way into 2017, 4K support is pretty much a standard feature on larger high-end TVs and as streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon rapidly increase their 4K content streaming devices from Amazon, Roku and Google have been quick to release devices which support it too.
A good sign that there could be a 4K Apple TV on the horizon is that . Several MacRumors readers noticed that purchases they were making were appearing in their purchase histories as 4K HDR content, despite the fact that they weren't able to watch them in the higher resolution.
It's not certain, but this does strongly suggest that Apple could be prepping its video library for the launch of a 4K capable Apple TV.
This leaves the fourth-generation Apple TV looking woefully out of date compared to its competitors. If Apple has any hopes of retaining its small portion of the market share, its new device should be capable of streaming 4K content.
Power, speed and design have never been a particularly big problem for the Apple TV but it’s still likely the new release will be a little faster, a little more powerful and perhaps a little smaller or slimmer.
It’s also possible that Apple will introduce a larger hard drive option, or at the very least offer a way to expand memory externally. Earlier this year Apple announced it was upping the maximum allotted size for apps on the Apple TV from 200MB to 4GB. This is great in terms of bringing larger apps to the device, but the current Apple TV only comes in two sizes – 32GB and 64GB.
This means that even though it can hold larger apps, the fourth-generation Apple TV can’t hold many of them so the introduction of a fifth-generation Apple TV with 4K and HDR support as well as a 128GB hard drive option seems likely to us.
Aside from essential hardware changes, we imagine the biggest changes we’ll see will be in the device’s software, particularly as Apple’s CEO Tim Cook has said that the new Apple TV and tvOS were “building the foundation for what [Apple] believe can be a broader business over time.”
At WWDC 2017 Apple announced that the Amazon Prime Video app would finally be coming to the platform, although this announcement came with no mention of new hardware.
Developer logs spotted just last month suggested that Apple is developing a device that runs tvOS 11, which suggests that a hardware announcement is on the way to complement the new software.
Siri at home
Siri was introduced to the Apple TV in 2016 so we imagine its capabilities will only continue to improve.
It’s perhaps possible that Apple will use Siri’s integration into the Apple TV to expand into more smart home capabilities. Apple brought HomeKit control to tvOS 10 and then in tvOS 10.0.1 it supplemented this with support for App Launch and Wi-Fi Accessory Configuration which made it possible for HomeKit accessories to launch and configure via the Apple TV.
A possible next step is to bring the Home app currently available on iPhone, Apple Watch and iPad to tvOS 11 and turn the Apple TV into a fully-fledged home hub.
Not only would this give Apple TV a way to stand out from other streaming devices, it would allow Apple to simultaneously keep up with Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home devices without the trouble of introducing a brand new product to the market.
Content is king
A key area where Apple will have to improve is in the content it offers. Apple has never been able to meet its ambitions in the pay TV space – it’s failed to make agreements with key TV production companies and plans for a live TV streaming service have never come to fruition.
However, the recent increase in app sizes allowed on the device suggests we’ll certainly see some more gaming apps come to Apple TV in the future and Apple appears to be working hard to create its own original content with things like Carpool Karaoke and Planet of the Apps. This original content at the very least gives Apple something more to add to its TV app.
It’s also recently been reported that Apple is planning to introduce a service that would bundle channels together under one single monthly fee.
This service would take channels such as HBO, Showtime and Starz which offer separate subscriptions and bring them all together into one convenient bundle.
Nothing has been confirmed with regards to this and it would require a great deal of negotiation on Apple’s part to establish a bundle that would offer a competitive enough price to lure consumers in. However, it would be a creative solution to the fact that Apple currently only offers individual channels and apps.