Upcoming Apple TV update is a swat at Chromecast and Roku. But is it too late?

Chromecast vs. Apple TV

Apple didn’t unleash a new Apple TV device during its September 10 event, but that doesn’t mean one isn’t coming later this year. In the meantime, however, Apple will reportedly issue an update to its Apple TV devices on September 18. According to All things D, the update will change the way users can stream music, videos and photos to their televisions and sound systems through an Apple TV set-top box. It will also allow iOS device owners to stream their personal media through other people’s Apple TV devices. 

Currently, streaming media from an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch through an Apple TV takes place between the two devices, linked together over a Wi-Fi network. In this case, the mobile device is the source of the music, photo or video content. With Apple’s planned update, however, users will have the option of selecting that media with their devices, and “flipping” it to their Apple TV, which will then stream from the cloud. This method takes the mobile device out of the loop as a streaming source, thus saving battery, and turning the device more into a remote control than anything else. Here’s the catch, though: In order to take advantage of this new feature, the media being streamed to the Apple TV box has to live in the cloud. That means it must have either been purchased from iTunes, or synced to the cloud using iTunes Match. This update would also allow users to stream media to other people’s Apple TV boxes, something that can not currently be done. 

This brings some functionality similar to Google’s Chromecast to the Apple TV, but in a much more limited way. Chromecast, by comparison, supports  streaming of content from third-party apps, whereas the Apple TV does not. This isn’t to say you can’t stream Spotify to your Apple TV, you just have to use the more conventional version of AirPlay to do it. 

The update comes at an interesting time, with Roku recently adding media streaming capabilities to its Android app (you can already stream content stored on an iOS device to a Roku box) and the ability to stream content from third-party apps, like Netflix. Spotify also recently announced Spotify Connect, which is sort of an AirPlay competitor. 

Is this a big update for Apple? Or is Roku way ahead of the game? Where does this leave Chromecast? Let us know what you think in the comments below. 

[Update: While it is currently possible to stream music (and only music) from the cloud that has been synced with iMatch through an Apple TV, the stream must be initiated from the Apple TV itself. This update would allow content to be selected with an iOS device and flipped to the Apple TV, where it would then stream from the cloud. The update also allows for movies and television shows to be streamed, a feature that is not currently available.]