Apple TV: Upgrades stuck between a rock and a price point

Today sees more speculation that Apple is preparing to upgrade its Apple TV device. But given the weak price point and less than stellar sales, upgrades may be more mundane than extraordinary.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Contributing Writer

September is harvest season for the Apple-focused tech blogosphere because it is when Apple normally debuts the new iPhone. And in the run-up to the official unveiling the air becomes so thick with "sources" and their high-octane rumor-fuel that you can cut it with a knife. But while the iPhone is the star of the show, spare a thought - and some rumors - for other products, such as the Apple TV.

9to5Mac offers up some tasty morsels of rumor combined with speculation that ranges from plausible to off-the-wall hog-wild.

According to "sources," the next incarnation of the Apple TV will have a software core built around the iOS 9 codebase. For Apple this potentially means a more unified ecosystem - possibly allowing for a new app ecosystem to form - while for users it means a more familiar and easier-to-use platform. All makes sense, and if Apple can make iOS 9 run on a 2011 vintage iPhone, the hardware requirements for a cut-down version on a new Apple TV aren't going to break the bank.

Then there's the app angle. It seems like a logical step for the Apple TV to become a mini games console. Apple wouldn't even need to update the remote, because an iPhone or iPad could, with the right app, double as an input device.

More processing power is also a no brainer. The current Apple TV uses a modified A5 chip. The A5's that powered the iPhone 4s or the iPad 2 were dual-core, but for the Apple TV it was downgraded to a single-core chip. Since the Apple TV is the only Apple product that sill uses this chip, it would make sense - from both a cost and supply chain perspective - to upgrade it to a chip that's used in other products.

Siri support is also not that far-fetched. If Apple can make it work on a smartwatch, making it work in a set-top box shouldn't be too hard.

But then we get to things like new remotes and massive storage, and this is where things get outlandish. The current Apple TV retails for $69, and it's likely that the new device will fall into the same price bracket. That means that remote controls that feature touch displays and Force Touch are more than likely out. And anyway, why would Apple bundle an all-singing, all-dancing remote control with the Apple TV when it can sell people an iPhone or Apple Watch to do the same? Apple is in the business of building ecosystems or products, not one-off devices.

I also don't see much point in increasing the storage capacity of the Apple TV much beyond 8GB unless Apple wants to support 4K or wants to give the device the ability to store downloaded content. And since Apple is moving more and more towards streaming, the latter makes less sense than ever.

The Apple TV is certainly an interesting product, but it sits in an awkward spot. On the one hand the price point of $69 is pretty much fixed, and on the other is the fact that sales are not stellar. Throw in there Apple's desire to have healthy double-digit profit margins on products, and the wriggle room is tight.

Expect to see evolution, not revolution.

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