What will Apple TV have

Apple TV: a device with no future?

Dan Moren, Kris Wallburg

The Apple TV is caught between two worlds. Neither in the world of streaming nor as a game console can the expensive black box stand out from the competition.

EnlargeThe Apple TV convinces with good hardware, but not with the price.
© Shutterstock.com/Lebedev Yury

The Apple TV: Perhaps the least popular of the major Apple platforms? Although the Apple TV has been around for about as long as the iPhone - it was demonstrated by Steve Jobs before the iPhone was announced, when it was still called "iTV" at the time - the set-top box seemed just one for the company for a long time to play a subordinate role.

That has only intensified recently as Apple partnered with third-party TV manufacturers and set-top competitors to expand the reach of its Apple TV + service and give those devices features like the Apple TV app and AirPlay 2 Offer.

Still, recent rumors suggest that an updated Apple TV might be in the wings, even if the improvements it might contain are largely mere guesswork. But with all the changes in the world of streaming and Apple's position in the industry, is there still room for the Apple TV as a standalone product?

Streaming everywhere

Streaming hardware is ubiquitous these days. Almost every TV on the market has its own built-in suite of applications for streaming popular services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, and many have extensive collections of apps. Likewise, Apple is facing stiff competition from other popular set-top box providers, including Amazon, Roku, and Nvidia, all of which offer almost all of their devices at significantly cheaper rates than the Apple TV.

Streaming boxes have become mass-produced for better or for worse. If you can watch Netflix on half a dozen different devices in your house, it's hard to make a case for buying the device, which starts at $ 150 (and that doesn't even apply to the more expensive models that support 4K video ).

Yes, Apple has positioned the Apple TV as a premium device, and it offers features that other streaming boxes only put in their own high-end devices, if at all, such as support for the Dolby Vision standard. But many consumers aren't even aware of these high-end standards - many have just gotten to the point of upgrading to 4K.

This leaves the general integration into the Apple ecosystem as the most important selling point for Apple TV. And since Apple is now also offering its streaming service on devices from other manufacturers, the exclusivity of this synergy is limited to a few areas, including the App Store in particular.

Game over

While the App Store on the Apple TV is surprisingly robust compared to many of its set-top competitors, it pales in comparison to what's on offer on Apple's other major platforms. Apps for the Apple TV can be divided into two main categories: watching video content and playing games.

Games is an area where Apple seems to have a competitive edge thanks to the similarities between tvOS and the gaming powerhouse iOS / iPadOS. Yet games never really got going on Apple TV. Even recent additions like Microsoft and Sony wireless game controller support didn't do much to make the Apple TV a major player in the game console market.

EnlargeDo you know how many games you can play on Apple TV? And do you even care?

This is in large part because Apple is stuck in an inconvenient intermediate position. While consoles from Microsoft, Sony, and even Nintendo are more expensive, they are primarily game consoles and secondarily streaming devices. The Apple TV is just the opposite, and potentially positions itself as the worst of two worlds: too expensive compared to most streaming consoles, and not game-focused enough to rival the Xbox and PlayStation.

The remote control

The other major weak point is the Apple TV's remote control. Much of Apple's innovative technology on the Apple TV went into the development of the Siri remote control, which has a trackpad and a microphone for using the virtual assistant of the same name.

While these features are nifty, the focus on them has made the remote controversial, largely because they made it less functional for its primary purpose of being a remote control. The symmetrical design of the Siri remote, for example, means it's all too easy to pick up upside down. And it's so slim and small compared to other remotes that it's very easy to misplace - an expensive proposition considering that it costs $ 59 to replace which you could easily buy a whole new streaming box for.

Apple is reportedly ready to address the remote loss problem by adding support for the "Where is" feature in the remote control. adds, but that's arguably the slightest problem. For a company that puts so much care into designing devices for users, the Siri remote feels like a failure.

Streaming luxury

Despite the commercialization of the streaming box market, it's clear that Apple still believes Apple TV is an ongoing business - and given the profit margin it's likely to make on the set-top boxes, that's only possible difficult to deny. The 4K high-end models start at 193 euros, with a 213 euro version equipped with 64 GB of storage. What do you need 64 GB of storage for? Apple says if you play a lot of games or download a lot of applications, but as someone who has downloaded a lot of both over the past few years, I haven't even come close to running out of 16GB. (And I've seen very few cases of users who felt that the 16GB model didn't suit their needs).

All of this is not to say that the Apple TV isn't an impressive piece of hardware when it comes to streaming. But it's definitely a niche market: a fancy sports car in a world full of sensible sedans. Sure, people may keep buying them, but very few people really need one, and ultimately, for most users, practicality will trump luxury.