UPDATED FEB 2016!
The Apple TV is a ‘hobby’ product of Apple. In spite of that label, it is a considerable source of revenue for Apple and a growing number of consumers are adopting use of the AUD109 unit, which Apple is experimenting with.
One of the biggest advantages offered by an Apple TV is the coupling of it with a Wi-Fi network, which then allows for connectivity to any current generation Apple Macbook/iMac/iOS device. It is important to appreciate that this compatibility is with current generation devices, starting from around 2011. If you have devices that were released around that time, even if you keep the OS software up-to-date, you may find hardware limitations. Whilst you can also use a cabled solution (with the right adaptor), the wireless solution creates a cable-free environment whereby you can easily provide presentations, photo slide shows, or even utilise third-party iOS apps, which use the additional screen output.
Furthermore, Apple has been making deals with content providers and slowly building up their own catalogue of ‘channels’, which creates a rival video streaming service to the likes of Foxtel, Nexus and Flixster. Should you configure your iTunes library to allow sharing on your own local network, the Apple TV can leverage your existing collection to play music, music videos or movies. AirPlay capability further extended this reach to allowing for non-iTunes content to play. One use I am aware of, but have not yet seen in real life, is the ability to connect an Apple TV direct to a video projector. It can only be a matter of time before Apple or a licensed third-party manufactures a projector with in-built Apple TV/AirPlay connectivity. I predict this will happen in the next 2-3 years, particularly now that Apple is pushing the 802.11ac Wireless standard. In fact, connecting the dots a little further will also suggest a product roadmap where Airplay is integrated into all kinds of display output devices — computer monitors, TV units, hi-tech fridges, car entertainment systems.
The launch of Apple’s Internet Music Radio service also reveals some of the thinking behind where Apple is moving. I, for one, wish Apple would extend AirPlay further. We see glimpses of what iTunes on a Mac can do — handle multiple AirPlay audio outputs. I would like to see AirPlay allow for multiple iOS device connectivity. For example, output display from an iPhone to an iPad. In time, this kind of capability will lead to gaming console environments where iOS devices serve as the controller. I also envisage uses of AirPlay at conferences and events where stalls can serve up content via AirPlay and allow for consumers to connect in via their own device.
Since the original write-up above in mid-2013, the Apple TV has finally had the upgrade and renovation that people speculated for a good year+. Released in October 2015 a month after official announcement, this fourth generation of the product is quite a sizeable and significant product development. With a completely redesigned underlying operating system – branded tvOS – the user interface brings a freshness to the customer experience. Coupled with the redesigned Siri remote with touchpad control, tvOS is an interesting piece of parallel software development that now stands separate to the existing iOS and OS X brands within the Apple software domain – each provide a standalone ecosystem for software developers to learn and code in. As a cousin of iOS, tvOS is built on the same Xcode language and thus porting iOS applications to tvOS is a great advantage for building up a library of tvOS apps.
Some of the most interesting features within the considerable arsenal that is tvOS includes the ability to integrate and interface with game controllers via bluetooth, which clearly helps promote cross-platform connectivity for gamers. Adoption of some of the more native iOS/touch-based interactions also helps to develop a convergence-type experience between iOS devices and Apple TV now – clearly gaming and apps are the new medium that Apple are cornering with this latest move. Similar to all consumer electronic devices, the content and applications are where the real value lie – that is after all the premise and business model behind the success of the XBOX, Playstation and Wii consoles. Only time will tell if developers get behind tvOS as a new front form content delivery.
Having upgraded our living room Apple TV to the new 4th generation device, I have used the device infrequently. Having access to all the various channels and apps is definitely great. For me, access to Netflix and YouTube would satisfy my primary needs. Now being able to add apps and viewing them on the large TV screen is a bonus. The key to really getting the most out of an Apple TV is to have a solid internet connection; particularly if you are constantly streaming. The new Siri command driven interface is really powerful and the smarts definitely make it stand out – particularly in the use cases where you can search the movie database by actors and genres, yet request it via natural speech patterns. The quality and accuracy of this feature can only improve with time, just as Apple Maps has.
The charging method for the Siri remote via lightning cable is the same approach adopted in the latest iMac keyboards where the rechargeable battery remains beyond access to the average consumer/user. When considering the recent rumours on a wireless iPhone charging system, that same potential could find great practical application for the Apple TV and the Siri remote. From my personal usage of the Apple TV and Siri remote, the battery life has not been a problem so at least in standby mode, the remote battery life seems to remain healthy. One of the little features I like is the HDMI CEC connectivity where powering on the Apple TV also powers on my Pioneer receiver. Unfortunately, with my Sony Bravia 40-inch LCD being some 15 years old and pre-dates the HDMI CEC technology, the television cannot benefit from this technology. Further exploration of the use of third-party remotes like a Logitech universal remote needs investigating, but in theory sounds positive, but for the fact that infra-red remotes require a direct line-of-sight whereas the bluetooth connectivity to the Siri remote, or the iOS Remote App on iPad or iPhone is clearly the superior technology…
The new pricing model and product construct where storage is offered as 32GB or 64GB at price points of $269 and $349 demonstrate that this purchase is a lot more serious compared with the previous third generation model which remains fixed at $109. Interestingly, the third generation model price point has not changed after all this time, so you can consider the two generation Apple TVs as sibling products, with this latest one being like an advanced newer iteration. In part, it will be interesting to understand how demand varies between the three models – and whether these two new offers are compelling enough to entice consumers to purchase. It makes sense for Apple to pursue this diversification strategy in the initial phase of launching the new version, before re-assessing the market to determine whether to withdraw the older generation model completely. For now, this broad approach ensures maximum customer positioning.
Monitoring the progress of Apple TV unit sales, and any clues on more accurate numbers will help us develop further insights into the true success of the product. To date, the reporting of Apple TV as a part of the broad “Other products/services” category makes it hard to discern the true state of the product, which remains a closely guarded secret from Apple. It is worth noting that this same category is what masks the sales record of Apple Watches.