How Apple TV went from afterthought to exciting in one night

Apple TV has long been regarded by consumers as an afterthought in Apple’s product lineup. While each passing year brought new and much-touted updates to mobile phones, tablets and computing systems within Apple’s offerings, changes to Apple TV have been much less frequent. With the announcement of a new Apple TV on September 9th, it seems the company is finally taking big steps to enhance the appeal and popularity of this television. This is the first new version since 2012, and plenty of features have been added, which make it better than the previous model and open up the potential for future improvements.

Central to Apple’s new vision is a focus on the creation and dissemination of dedicated apps for the TV. The old Apple TV had a few apps that were pre-selected and installed on every unit, but the new apps will be collected in an app store, and users will be able to install and delete whichever ones they want. This is already the way things are done with the iPhone, iPad and Apple’s other mobile platforms. Bringing the Apple TV into closer alignment with Apple’s other products is the goal of universal apps: pieces of software that will only need to be installed once and will provide seamless access from any Apple device including the TV.

The launch of a new operating system, tvOS, will make it easier for third parties to program for the TV. There are already apps for Netflix, Hulu and other popular streaming services. However, there is a distinct lack of inbuilt support for Amazon Instant Video, Spotify and several other high-profile services. Also missing is Apple’s own streaming television offering, which many expect to arrive in 2016. We can probably expect this lack of functionality to be corrected in the coming months as app programmers become more comfortable with the new platform and OS.

In order to take full advantage of the new apps, customers will be happy to note that there’s a new remote. Unlike the previous one, which had two buttons and a few arrows to move around, the modern remote has a touch screen and support for voice commands. While using their TVs, viewers can speak to Siri, the virtual assistant popular with iPhone users, and she will do their bidding. Searching through show listings, rewinding and fast-forwarding, and turning on closed captions will all be possible merely by speaking.

Some industry observers feel that the new Apple TV has a chance to become a serious gaming platform. The introduction of an app store is a big step in this direction, but a few problems remain. There’s no gaming controller that comes with the TV besides the remote control, but it is possible for gamers to use controllers from other systems. A more serious issue is Apple’s stringent editorial policies for video games in its already existing app stores, which risk putting off serious game developers.

The rapidly growing home automation space could push sales of the Apple TV. Through its HomeKit framework, Apple allows users to control compatible smarthome devices from a single machine. Homeowners may be able to access their thermostats, security systems, HVAC equipment and other home appliances right from their TVs.

There’s a lot more under the hood of the new Apple TV than there was in the old model. The A5 chip has been swapped out in favor of the more powerful A8 processor. Storage space has gone from a paltry 8GB to 32GB. Unfortunately the price has also been “upgraded”: from US$69 to US$149 with a 64GB model selling for $199. The new Apple TV is expected to begin shipping in October.

The new capabilities of the Apple TV mean that it’s a serious contender to replace multiple technologies including traditional TVs, some game consoles and even certain pieces of home automation hardware. While there’s nothing earth-shattering about it, we’ll see it become more and more popular as additional apps are produced and as its problems, which are mostly minor, are addressed.



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