Unlike some companies — ahem, Samsung — Apple is notorious for keeping its future product plans under ultra-tight security. This makes the new product guessing game a little harder, but not impossible.
Apple hasn’t even hinted that a 6th generation Apple TV is in the works for 2019, but with an all-new Apple TV streaming service on the way, rumors about an accompanying new device have been heating up. As such, we’ve rounded up everything we can find about what Apple might be planning for this new device, adding our own prognostication along the way so you can get a leg up on what Apple has planned for its streaming future.
What’s missing from the Apple TV 4K?
Before we dive into the future, let’s quickly recap where we are now.
While the Apple TV 4K is a great streamer — especially for heavy Apple users — there are some flaws to address. For one thing, without a USB-A port, there’s no way to access movies, photos, or music on an external hard drive. While it’s easy to send such data from an iPhone or iPad via AirPlay 2, all other content must come from supported apps or a computer running iTunes on your home network.
Gamers can be picky about which buttons they like to mash, and there’s not a lot of choice right now.
In addition, while both the Apple TV 4th gen and Apple TV 4K support third-party Bluetooth game controllers, they must be MFi certified (made specifically for iOS or tvOS devices). Gamers can be picky about which buttons they like to mash, and there’s not a lot of choice right now.
The Apple TV has Siri and HomeKit built in, which in theory should help it act as a central hub for controlling a multitude of devices, but that promise falls short when it comes to home theater gear. Unlike the Amazon Fire TV Cube, which can send a variety of commands via IR or HDMI-CEC to soundbars, A/V receivers, and cable or satellite boxes, the Siri remote can only be customized for volume control.
What will a 2019 Apple TV cost?
Thefor the 32GB version, and that bumps up to $200 for the 64GB edition. The Roku Ultra, by contrast, can be picked up for on Amazon, while the is just $60, if you’re prepared to forego a USB port and the private listening remote.
Those are some big price differences. Apple has never shied away from being the most expensive option when it comes to its products, and it has defended this practice by consistently offering a top-notch physical device, with superbly thought-out software. But the TV landscape is changing, and so are people’s expectations.
Made for Apple TV
It’s possible you might not even need a 2019 Apple TV, as Apple has already started to tear down its own walled garden. As of 2019, several smart TV makers will support Apple’s AirPlay 2 wireless streaming tech, and Samsung has become the first TV maker to include iTunes.
Most 2019 smart TV models already possess the necessary computing horsepower and Wi-Fi connectivity to run almost every app and service supported by Apple TV. It may not be long before we see these TVs bear the label “Made for Apple TV” which will effectively mean owners won’t need an Apple TV.
In the past, Apple hasn’t had a lot of opportunities to subsidize the cost of Apple TVs. With only a relatively small share of in-app purchase revenue, and its iTunes rentals and purchases, it needs a way to make more recurring revenue as motivation to bring the price of the devices down. That might happen this year. Roku, for instance, recently added advertising to its bottom line, and now expects to hit a billion dollars in revenue.
If Apple can do the same with its new streaming service, it could potentially sell a much cheaper device. That device could be the existing Apple TV 4K with a lower price, or it could be a “stick” style device like the Roku Streaming Stick+ or . It’s even possible that Apple could give out a new device free with the purchase of a one or two-year subscription to its TV service, though we’d be shocked if this kind of deal lasted long.
Apple TV streaming service inside
From a features point of view, we don’t think the 6th generation Apple TV will move the needle much from where we are now. The current Apple TV 4K already has an excellent feature set. Apple’s business model for video content is about to radically change, however, which may mean its hardware could undergo a serious revision alongside.
Apple’s forthcoming TV service will reportedly include multiple subscription options, an advertising component, and the ability to watch your content almost anywhere. An exhaustive analysis of Apple’s recent patents reveals exactly why that is.
To support these new features, the next Apple TV may need several new hardware features, including support for the MoCA standard, a port for external storage, and some sort of biometric authentication to facilitate purchases of movies and TV shows. And there’s a decent amount of evidence that Apple has been investigating each of those options.
A MoCA connection
Hotels and other hospitality venues often use MoCA (Multimedia over Coax), a cable-based networking standard, instead of Ethernet or Wi-Fi. As the name implies, it offers a way to stream secure audio and video across an ordinary coaxial cable — the kind you get from your cable company.
Apple TVs have cropped up in hotel rooms across the country, which rely on the device’s ease of use and familiar interface to entice vacationers to part with their dollars after a long day of sightseeing. Adding support via a coax cable port on the next-gen Apple TV would make Apple’s gadget much easier for these businesses to install and maintain. And being able to watch your Apple streaming service when away from home is central to Apple’s long-term strategy.
A Siri that listens
Poor Siri. The way the “intelligent assistant” has been implemented by Apple on its various devices, you’d swear she has a split personality. Siri’s capabilities vary greatly from one device to another, and that needs to change.
The next Apple TV will likely let you summon Siri using just your voice via far-field microphones — e.g., “Hey, Siri!” That said, we expect the microphone button will remain on the remote for those who prefer manual control. In addition to Siri’s current Apple TV skills, the AI could be given a much-needed IQ boost, putting it at least on par with the iPhone. Just how different are the two platforms currently? Check out this comparison from Macworld. Apple TV does not shine very often.
As we touched on above, the current Apple TV doesn’t exactly give gamers a lot of choice in terms of Bluetooth controllers. And though we don’t expect gaming to become a significantly bigger focus on this platform, Apple could get a lot more people gaming if with more third-party controllers. Given that we believe some TVs will have a built-in Apple TV experience, it would make sense for Apple to widen its support for controllers beyond just the handful that are MFi certified.
At present, all account sign-ins, iTunes purchases, and so on are done through the terrible on-screen keyboard, or via an iOS device using the Remote app. We thought that might change with the launch of the Apple TV 4K, thanks to the late 2017 discovery by Patently Apple of a patent on the use of biometric sensors in a handheld remote, but alas it didn’t make the cut.
The diagram included with the patent (seen at the left) depicts the sensor as “a single control element” on a remote pointed at a TV. Apple actually specified that these visual representations are examples only and that the patent covers “any remote control device that is capable of transmitting instructions to [an] electronic device.”
Given the patent, we could see a fingerprint scanner included on future Apple TV remotes, which may also control Apple HomeKit. Since HomeKit acts as a hub to control compatible smart home devices, you could theoretically use a remote with such a scanner to control those devices as well. Including a fingerprint scanner adds another level of security for better, safer home control.
Your iPhone is your passport
If a fingerprint scanner on the remote would make it easier to authenticate yourself at home, what about when you’re away? The current Apple TV 4K and it’s HD sibling already make excellent use of iOS devices at home to make the initial setup fast and easy. But why stop there? With its built-in biometric security and all of your stored credentials and passwords, your iPhone is like a digital passport.
The next Apple TV could be configured to automatically check for the presence of a compatible iPhone (or potentially Android phone) and then prompt the user to authenticate. As an example, let’s say you’re over at your friend’s house (or at a hotel). They have an Apple TV, but unlike you, they don’t have an HBO subscription.
When they turn on their Apple TV, it recognizes your phone and asks you to use it, e.g. “Welcome Simon. Would you like to access your subscriptions on this Apple TV for the next four hours? Use the TouchID on your phone to authorize this.” Naturally, there would be a way to prevent this from happening, and a way to change the time limit, likely with a 24-hour maximum to avoid the abuse of subscription sharing.
Given Apple’s past reluctance to support external media, it’s unlikely that a USB port will be used for accessing content on USB hard drives or memory sticks (though it could do this too). Instead, we think this external storage will be used for a combination of DVR services and peer-to-peer file sharing.
If our crystal-ball gazing on Apple’s planned streaming services is accurate, much will depend on its ability to get video content to users quickly and efficiently. If someone in your neighborhood has already watched an episode of Walking Dead that you’re about to watch, it might make more sense to stream some or all of that episode from their stored copy, rather than acquire it directly from Apple’s servers.
So there you have it — our best guess so far about what Apple’s next Apple TV will look like. Check back here frequently as we’ll be updating this article as new details emerge.
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