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We might see an Apple TV mini at tomorrow’s iPhone event

Apple TV Review
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

The star of the show at tomorrow’s Apple event at the Steve Jobs Theater is unquestionably the iPhone. What will the new model look like? What features will it have? Will there be a cheaper model to take over from the iPhone SE? What about the Apple Watch? Sure, we want to know about all of those devices and more, but a claim last week by Twitter account @never_released — that there will soon be a refreshed Apple TV — has us wondering if Tim Cook and his Apple posse will have “one more thing” when it comes to the company’s dedicated streaming media device. Some, like MacWorld UK, have seized on the tidbit as a possible indication that a long-rumored Apple TV mini could make it onstage for the first time.

The details of the claim, reported by MacRumors, aren’t especially juicy. The one identifiable change so far is that the next Apple TV will have an upgraded chip — the Apple-designed A12, or perhaps A12x. Those CPUs have already found a home in Apple’s iOS products, specifically the iPhone XS and the most recent 2019 iPads. The current Apple TV 4K has an A10x chip, the same brain that it has had since its release in 2017.

A new, more powerful processor would generally improve the speed and responsiveness of the Apple TV, but it could also be the bedrock on which Apple could greatly expand what the Apple TV is capable of. As the company pins more and more of its future growth hopes on services like Apple Music, Apple TV+, and Apple Arcade, the device that Jobs once called a “hobby” could become ground zero for Apple’s revenues in 2020 and beyond.

It’s also worth noting that the A12 processor is responsible for the myriad capabilities of the top-of-the-line iPhone. If that kind of processing power were to reside in a streaming media box, it would be wasted if it only handled streaming audio and video. Gaming is the obvious step-up area for Apple TV. It already runs hundreds of App Store games that have been tweaked for tvOS, but these don’t usually stray beyond what most people would consider casual gaming.

In the past, Apple has claimed that the A12x offers a 90% improvement over the A10x in some areas, which might be all the horsepower the Apple TV needs to take a seat at the console gaming table. In fact, “Apple repeatedly described the new iPad Pro’s GPU performance as being comparable to the Xbox One S,” according to Ars Technica (the iPad Pro runs on the A12x). For comparison’s sake, that would put an A12x-powered Apple TV somewhere between a Nintendo Switch and a PlayStation 4.

But even console-level performance might not be Apple’s endgame for the Apple TV. As one of the devices that are integral to Apple’s HomeKit ecosystem (along with the HomePod), we might see the Apple TV finally evolve into the nerve center for the home it has been predicted to become. A more powerful processor could let the streaming device take on that role, while never dropping a single frame of 4K video.

But what does all of this mean for the potential emergence of an Apple TV mini? Our guess is that if such a device were to launch (and given that smaller/cheaper aren’t standard parts of Apple’s product vocabulary, we are dubious), it would use the older A10 chip, and it would only offer Apple’s video and music services — not the new Apple Arcade. Still, with an almost guaranteed inclusion of AirPlay 2, Siri, and Apple TV+, a competitively priced Apple TV mini could provide some serious competition for the Fire TV and Roku sticks, and Chromecast too.

Will there be a new Apple TV unveiled September 10? Stick with us to find out — we’ll be covering the event from every angle.

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Simon Cohen
Contributing Editor, A/V
Simon Cohen covers a variety of consumer technologies, but has a special interest in audio and video products, like…
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