Apple are one of the leading technology device providers in the world today. They're hugely successful with a range of products that never cease to delight and amaze. But there's one product that they haven't yet released, and is likely to cause one of the biggest shake-ups in the television industry ever when it does see the light of day. The Apple TV is the device in question. You just know it's going to be one of those products which will change the face of TV forever.
For now, you won't find an Apple TV in any Smart TV reviews, you won't see it in any Smart TV comparison guide, and you won't see it on the shelves with other Smart TVs in the stores. But there has been so much rumour and discussion that the possibility that it doesn't already exist in some form seems unthinkable.
Even the January 2012 CES show failed to deliver any hard information, with Apple announcements conspicuous by their absence. It's just possible that the silence is a well thought out marketing ploy - Apple products can dominate gadget markets overnight, as we've seen before. Silence could be an attempt to build up mystery and intrigue.
One thing is for sure, when the new Apple TV is confirmed it will cause a huge stir. It may well surpass all of the previous Apple innovations that have forced the manufacturing giant into the leadership role in technology products.
Why Does The Industry Believe Apple TV Is On The Way?
Rumours started just after the death of Steve Jobs in 2011, and were reinforced with the release of his autobiography soon after. In the autobiography it was revealed that Apple had found a way to build a TV that was easy to use and matched the high standards it implemented in all its other leading devices. Steve Jobs had reportedly always had a vision of an Apple TV that would revoutionise the industry.
Following on from this there were reports that Apple were already investing in building state of the art manufacturing facilities in Asia, and recently the rumours have been further reinforced with the revelation that Apple filed various patents over the last few years, one of which appears to be for a new type of remote control.
How Will Apple TV Change The Way We Use TV?
Apple smartphones changed the way we use mobile phones, and there's no reason to believe the same won't happen with their (truly) Smart TV.
The Apple TV will almost certainly:
Synchronise with all other Apple devices, including iPads, iMacs, and Smartphones. Every piece of media content you can enjoy now will be seemlessly viewable on the TV screen via Wi-Fi connection. You'll be able to use Twitter, Facebook, web browsing, and watch shows all via one integrated, easy to use interface. And that includes the ability to start watching content on one Apple device, and finish watching it on another.
Be operated by voice control - a true voice controlled TV in every sense. This will be enabled by the Siri voice command application which is already in use in the iPhone 4s.
Potentially be operated by gesture control. Imagine selecting shows and apps just by the movement of your hands.
Possess the simplest user interface imaginable. As we all know, ease of use is hugely important in regards to the complex technology that's becoming more and more available to us.
Integrate with iCloud in the same ways that the current set top box version of Apple TV can.
Deliver content direct from the iTunes store
Deliver ranges of customisable Apple apps specially designed for TV use
Contain facial recognition software that will respond to specific users. For example, come out of sleep mode when someone it recognises walks into a room
What Is Siri Voice Control?
Siri enables users to perform actions via voice command. The current version of Siri seen in the Apple iPhone 4s has capability to understand and act on a wide range of spoken commands, helping you find info online, get involved in social networking, and send emails.
Using a remote or keyboard to activate functions on a Smart TV can be cumbersome. Voice controlled TV has some huge potential benefits and it's easy to see how voice control could be used to improve the experience.
Could The Apple TV Be Gesture Controlled?
Aside from the prospect of voice controlled features, there's also a possibility we might see some form of gesture control. Apple may consider teaming up with Primesense, a leader in gesture and motion control technology.
PrimeSense demonstrated their Smart TV capability at the January 2012 CES show. While needing improvement still, users were able to use the technology to interact with Tvs - specifically to flick through a series of Netflix options by using hand gestures.
There's no doubt that the Apple TV would benefit from a combination of voice control and gesture control technology.
Could The Remote Control Be The Breakthrough?
It's recently come to light that Apple filed a patent for a new type of touchscreen remote control in September 2011. Patent details suggest it might function in two key ways:
By only showing options or controls that are relevant or used frequently, with others selectable for display as options.
By automatically detecting converged/connected devices and self-configuring to be able to control those devices as well as the TV itself.
Both of these make a lot of sense if Apple's target is to get an easy to use TV that gives a personalised experience when required.
Of course, just knowing there's a patent does not mean such a remote will ever see the light of day. Touchscreen remotes have been tried before without huge success with users appearing to prefer the hard button feeling of traditional models.
What Are The Alternatives To Apple TV?
Even before we've actually seen an Apple TV in real life other major manufacturers have been trying to get a head start. However, without knowing exactly what apple have planned they might be facing a headache. It's likely that anything Apple come up with would be 6 months to a year ahead of any other technology.
At the CES show in early 2012 LG displayed their ''Magic Remote Control'' - a remote that looks similar to a Wii controller. It allows you to point at a TV and choose different options and images to display.
At the same CES, Samsung gave indications that they're already working on voice and gesture controlled TVs.
Almost certainly Google TV is going to be one of the leading alternatives. Google have already announced plans in early 2012 to push into Smart TV gaming with promises to incorporate OnLive gaming into their services in future. The latest news is that Google may team up with either LG or Nexus in an attempt to provide a credible alternative to the Apple TV when it arrives.
When Will The Apple TV Be Launched?
There are believed to be prototype versions already in existence.
Stories have been circulating that both Samsung and Sharp - two rumoured potential partners in the Apple TV development - have been ramping up their production facilities to be ready for action in mid 2012. Other names have been mentioned as potential partners too, including Foxconn Electronics, Advanced Semiconductor Engineering, and Siliconware Precision Industries.
As it stands in early 2012, it appears that Apple are still working on finalising the hardware for the TV, though in lat January rumours are surfacing that there may already be an OLED display model in existence which could see an April/May release. So the initial belief that it's unlikely we'll see the Apple TV until at least the end of 2012 may not be true.
It's possible that a new version of the iMac with built in TV capabilities could arrive before the expected release of the fully fledged TV we're all waiting for. This iMac version could take the place of the current Apple TV Box that's had mixed reviews since its inception.
What Size Models Can We Expect?
It's likely that the first models we'll see will be sized between the 32 and 50 inches. It's hard to visualise anything smaller than that, especially as Sony's 24 inch Playstation 3D TV has received a number of negative comments about screen size.
Anything up to 50 inches does seem a sensible starting point. The Apple models are likely to be expensive. Just take a look at Apple MACs to see the pricing differentials between those and lesser PC or laptop models. By avoiding larger display TVs Apple may be able to keep the costs down to an extent.
How Much Will An Apple TV Cost?
Initial estimates would put an entry point 32 inch model at around $1500, but this is pure speculation at this early stage. If the display does end up as an OLED, $1500-$2000 would seem a likely potential starting price. Until we see what a model can really do, and how it's put together, any guesses at pricing are purely guesses.
What's The Current Version Of Apple TV All About?
First released in 2007 and updated in September 2010, the current iteration of Apple TV is a set top box. It's a small internet streaming device that you can hook up to your existing TV with an HDMI port or even utilizing your new TVís Wifi. Since the update, Apple have reportedly sold 4.2 million units.
With this capability, you can watch virtually any movie you want, because the Apple TV setup actually has Wifi of its own, and can access your wireless router. You donít have to sync to your iTunes or update any libraries before you begin; you can simply plug and play.
What Does The Apple Box Do?
Apple TV accesses the Apple Store on the spot, allowing you to play right from there. You can even access your iCloud account. So, if you have a bunch of TV shows in your iCloud, you donít have to try to burn them to DVDís any longer; you can simply hook up your Apple TV and access all the shows and movies that you currently have, as well getting them from the Apple Store on the spot.
The unit is a small black box with several ports in the back. It carries other features, such as an A4 chip, which will stream all your media at lightning fast speed.
Other features include:
∑ Access to Netflix, YouTube, Flickr, Vimeo, etc.
∑ Airplay Mirror will allow you to stream the contents of your Apple TV box on your iPhone, iPad, and iPod.
∑ You can use Photo Stream to play a slide show from your iCloud.
∑ It comes with an incredibly sleek remote.
∑ It takes up less energy than a nightlight.
∑ Last, if you donít have access to Wifi, but Internet access is available, it also has an Ethernet port.
Where Can I Get The Apple Box?
Apple TV units can be found just about anywhere Apple products are sold. You can buy them from Amazon.com or BestBuy and obviously from the Apple Store. The cost is roughly $100. Many review posts have raved about the competitive pricing, with predictions that sales could reach 4 million this year.
What Content Can We Expect From The New Apple TV?
Selling TVs, or any hardware for that matter, does not always guarantee a profit. Just take a look at Amazon's Kindle Colour Ereader as an example. There needs to be a balance of cost to consumer against cost of manufacturing and sales.
One way that Apple could offset the possibility of losing money on hardware sales could be by copying Amazon's approach with the Kindle - setting the TV up as a must have device, and tie users in to Apple's content stores such as iTunes along with other cloud based services.
If that is the intention, then Apple will need to work hard to compete with services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Vudu. One way to do that would be to start up their own subscription type services for streaming or buying content. Certainly that would seem to be a natural fit for an assault on the services market. Apple gaming via its 'Game Centre' is already showing big growth and would also work well as a TV service.
What Could Go Wrong?
There are dozens of reasons for salivating over the prospect of an Apple TV, but as with anything offering great promises there are a handful of potential problems.
1. Early hardware or software problems.
You'll have experienced this with any number of other devices. Expensive at first, and then an improved version gets released. With an expensive TV this is going to be much harder to bear. You won't be expecting to replace a TV every two years, unless there is a major change in the way we look at replacements of TVs. Traditionally replacement has been every 4-5 years, maybe longer if the set performs well. Personally I can't see this changing massively.
2. Does Apple have the manufacturing capacity?
When we look for TVs, often it's the scale of choice that makes a lot of appeal. The chance to choose between display technologies and sizes. Apple could limit themselves with a narrow range, and maybe experience manufacturing problems too. You'd have to think they have this covered though. Surely that's why there are rumours of manufacturing partnerships and secret manufacturing plants.
This is a difficult one to work out. If the Apple TV is a truly wonderful piece of equipment, many people will be falling over themselves to buy one. Whatever the cost. History has shown that Apple do not appear to worry too much about competing on price. The models will be expensive, and that could rule out millions of prospective purchasers. We're not going to know the answer to this until more detail on pricing becomes available.
Changes in the way we watch TV are seemingly unstoppable. And rightly so. After the recent improvements in display technology - OLED, QD TV, and 3D spring to mind - the time seems right for a new revolution.
Certainly we could expect to see a step away from the big grey box appearance. Apple products are well known for minimalist, uncluttered design. It's also likely that features that can be classed as add-ons right now - Bluetooth and high capacity Wi-Fi spring to mind as examples - are likely to be standard on an Apple model.That could have the effect of forcing true Smart features to become standard on all sets.
We can expect an Apple TV - if it sees the light of day - to be a powerful, attractive, and high quality piece of technology. There's a very high chance at this stage that Apple and the Apple TV will be leading the new Smart TV revolution.