Once Apple’s “hobby,” the set-top box will soon be ready to deliver on its potential.
Nobody likes cable.
Yet cutting the cord, while increasingly popular, still feels like a compromise—yes, you will save money, but you will likely find it impossible to access all of your favourite shows or channels.
Apple TV, launched only in 2007, has played an important role in the movement against cable TV. This it did despite experts’ skepticism. For example, two months after the first-gem Apple TV shipped, Forrester Research predicted that Apple would only sell a million Apple TV units because consumers “prefer advertisement-supported content over paid content.” Forrester also predicted that cable companies would be the clear winners over content providers such as the iTunes Store.)
Yet by March 9, 2015, Apple had sold over 25 million units.
This success made it hard to understand why Apple would neglect its own set-top box. Once called a “hobby” by Steve Jobs himself, it didn’t get much of an upgrade from 2012 to 2015. Jobs did tell his biographer, shortly before his death, that he’d finally “cracked” TV. But those who held their breath were ultimately disappointed. Competitors seized the opportunity; soon, devices like Roku, Google’s Chromecast streamer and Amazon’s Fire TV materialized in living rooms across the U.S, with Apple dropping to fourth place in the country’s households.
Fourth time’s a charm
The fourth generation of Apple TV improved things considerably. More powerful, the beefed up device boasts a new operating system, a slick remote, onboard memory, consistent iOS-like input, Siri support, and most importantly, access to the app store, which will no doubt do for Apple TV what it did for iPhone and iPad. (As Tim Cook himself said recently: “Apps are future of TV.”)
Thanks to apps, Apple can harvest the brainpower and creativity offered by other companies to delight users with new ways to consume content. For example, Rheo, a new app for Apple TV, sources Facebook videos, giving viewers something akin to the channel surfing experience that we all remember from our cable days, but with the type of content we consume now: videos on the web.) The end result? What used to be a simple set-top box now has the potential to become so much more.
So far, the fourth generation Apple TV is selling very well; as a recent report by Parks Associates found, Apple TV had the largest increase in unit sales year-over-year, with its share of sales in 2015 being 50% higher than in 2014. That said, Apple TV remained in fourth place among the four major brands.
A new Apple TV, a new future?
With Apple’s annual developer conference taking place this month, the rumour mill is busily generating all sorts of stories. The more reliable ones have Apple borrowing a page from Amazon’s popular Echo device, and letting developers take advantage of Siri’s voice control functionality across its products. Another rumour had Apple working on a standalone device similar to the newly announced Google Home, but it now looks like Apple is instead incorporating additional Siri functionalities into the Apple TV. The new generation of the media streamer would feature a built-in speaker, a microphone and according to CNET, even a camera.
Amazon advertises its Echo product as much more than a speaker. If the rumours about Apple TV’s upcoming features are true, Apple will be claim Apple TV is much more than a set-top box.
Together with a built-in speaker and microphone, the move to let developers access Siri shines as very smart. To quote the VentureBeat source, it will allow Apple to realize its ambition of turning Apple TV into the “hub of everything.” So, more than just helping users cut the cord, Apple seems more poised than ever to help us take control of our homes. In a world where even Apple-centric site CultOfMac confesses that “it’s a lot easier to say, ‘Alexa, play The Clash than pick up my iPhone,” this is an important move for Apple.
With the launch of the fourth gen Apple TV, the Cupertino company proved it’s finally paying proper attention to a popular product. And if the rumours are true, Apple might just use what it once considered a “hobby” of a product to conquer the future, not just of TV and online content, but of home automation as well.