Apple's fourth-generation Apple TV is now available to buy, but for two years leading up to its release, the rumour mill ran amuck with reports and speculation about what the set-top box might feature.
To help you navigate what's going on with Apple's hobby device, we've rounded up everything you need to know. We've included details about the new Apple TV, as well as the old (third-generation) model, which launched in 2013, and all the rumours that surfaced prior to this latest box. By the time you're done reading this piece, you'll know everything there is to know (and what might've been) in regards to Apple TV.
New Apple TV (2015): What are the specs and what can it do?
Apple unveiled the new Apple TV during its iPhone 6S event in September. That device is now available to buy. It looks a lot like the old Apple TV, but bigger. It's mostly different in that it has a new operating system, Siri-backed universal voice search feature, and an app store that offers not only apps but also games. It even comes with a touch- and motion-sensitive remote.
Check out the following articles to learn all about the new set-top box:
- All-new Apple TV: It's finally available to buy, and this is what it can do
- 11 cool features and other things you can do with the new Apple TV
Also, for more information on the new Apple TV (2015), check out our comparison guide, below, in which we explain all the differences between the new box and the old one that released more than two years ago.
New Apple TV (2015): When is it releasing and for how much?
The new Apple TV became available for preorder on 26 October but it is now available and ready to buy. You can order the new Apple TV from the UK Apple Store here and the US Apple Store here. Both offer free delivery.
The new Apple TV should be dispatched within one business day. Also, in the US, the Apple TV is available in Apple retail stores from 30 October, with Best Buy and Target also having limited stock available. In the UK, the new Apple TV costs £129 for the 32GB model and £169 for the 64GB version. In the US, the new Apple TV costs $149 for the 32GB model and $199 for the 64GB version.
If you want to know even more information about when and where you can buy the Apple TV, check out the following article:
Old Apple TV (2013): What is it and can you still buy it?
After Apple launched the third-generation Apple TV in 2013, about 1,300 days went by before Apple surprised with a fourth-generation Apple TV during its iPhone 6S event in September. And there was a 553-day space between the second-generation Apple TV and the third-generation Apple TV, so, in other words, many fans were used to waiting on Apple to update its hobby device.
That's not to say the company has ignored its set-top box over the years, having boosted functionality through content offerings and firmware improvements, but the third-generation kit definitely fell behind rivals in specifications. Content deals are one thing, but ease and speed of use on more recent devices like the Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, or Roku boxes surely prompted a new plan.
Priced at £59 ($69) now ($99 then), the third-generation Apple TV first released in March 2012, with 1080p video support and redesigned software, but this box received a minor update in January 2013, adding a smaller A5 chip but leaving core functionality untouched. It was still a black box (measuring 22.9 x 99.1 x 99.1mm), and it only came with an aluminium remote and power lead.
With zero buttons and only a single status light on the front, the third-generation Apple TV was simply designed and had to be controlled via its aluminium remote or Remote app. Around the back of the device were ports for connecting it to your TV. You'd see power in, HDMI out, optical audio out, Ethernet, and a Micro-USB socket. You connected it to your network via wireless 802.11b/g/n.
The set-top box featured an A5 processor, a 32-bit system-on-a-chip designed by Apple and manufactured by Samsung. It was the successor to the A4 (debuted in 2011 with the release of iPad 2). The chip's aging capabilities were most noticeable when Apple released new software for Apple TV alongside the launch of iOS 8. It made the box's interface line up with the look of iOS 7.
It wasn't a dramatic overhaul, but some rectangular tiles, such as Movies, TV, Shows, etc, were changed to look brightly-coloured and flat. The tiles served as app-like buttons or channels to Apple's streaming services, including iTunes Radio, iMovie Theatre, and third-party services like Netflix and HBO Go. The new software also brought iOS' primary typeface: Helvetica Neue.
In addition to playing movies, music, podcasts, and television shows through iTunes and third-party channels, the third-generation Apple TV supported AirPlay, allowing iOS devices and computers running iTunes to send streaming music to the television, as well as several features that were built into iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, like Family Sharing and iCloud Photo Support.
Oh, and if you were wondering, you can still buy the old Apple TV (2013) for $69 from Apple.
Apple TV: What did the rumour mill have to say?
Apple has already unveiled and launched the new Apple TV (2015), but if you want to know what the rumour mill had to say about the box for the two years leading up to its surprise release in October 2015, continue reading. We've included all the major reports, rumours, and speculation surrounding the set-top box - even the stuff that didn't end up coming to fruition.
You can also check out Pocket-lint's Apple TV hub for more rumour stories.
Citing sources close to Apple, App Advice said in 2014 that the new Apple TV would look similar-yet-smaller than the 2013 model. Strangely, the website also said it could take "visual cues from the Google's Chromecast or Roku's Streaming Stick, and simply attach to a television's HDMI port".
Other interesting bits in App Advice's report include a branded game controller and a new remote control, and these latter rumours are possibly closer the mark considering that "insiders" have told the New York Times that the next Apple TV will be primarily Apple's games console.
The rumour mill claimed the next-generation Apple TV will come with an all-new remote equipped with a touchpad and microphone, and if that wasn't enough, TechCrunch reported the remote would include sensors that allows it to detect motion and track as it moves in multiple detections.
It actually sounded a lot like the motion-sensitive remote that comes with Nintendo's Wii console - another link to Apple's gaming ambitions, perhaps - although that uses an IR sensor and it's not clear if Apple's upcoming Apple TV remote would rely on similar technology.
9to5Mac also said a new remote was coming, adding further fuel to the fact that the new set-top box would come with a "more capable and tactile remote control" as well as a "redesigned operating system bundled with an App Store". The New York Times backed up claims of a new remote control, although stating that the new version would be chunkier than the old remote because of an added touch panel.
Buzzfeed too said that the new Apple TV would have a physical remote that's “drastically improved” by a touch-pad input. Buzzfeed also claimed the new Apple TV would get a "significant overhaul". 9to5Mac then claimed prototypes of the new Apple TV were about “twice as large” as the 2013 Apple TV box, but the shipping product was expected to be significantly slimmer.
Speaking of the Apple TV's remote control, an Apple patent application (via AppleInsider) revealed the company was looking into ways of improving the Apple TV and iTunes desktop experience using iOS on a separate device. The patent application, titled "Browsing remote content using a native user interface," described a mobile app that's like a second screen for a connected media device.
That iOS-based remote was apparently different from the existing Remote app, which mimiced a hardware remote. The patent's description suggested iOS owners could use the forthcoming iOS remote to search the web for information, such as the name of the movie they are watching, and then they could display that information on the big screen.
Bloomberg claimed in 2014 that Apple's fourth-generation set-top box might feature a "faster processor". It was unclear if that meant the next Apple TV would ship with the A8, Apple's 64-bit system-on-a-chip (which could be found in the iPhone 6) or the A9 chip (which was expected to drive the new iPhone 6S). Buzzfeed predicted the former.
The site also claimed there would be an increase on the current 8GB internal storage to accommodate apps, which made even more sense considering the gossip around gaming. In addition, if it did offer games to download and play, a faster processor seemed like an obvious choice. Keep in mind the A8 chip has plenty of game-centric features to make it viable too.
Plus, TechCrunch suggested that an A8-powered Apple TV would run more efficiently than the iPhone 6, especially since it wouldn't have to conserve battery like a phone. Apple also, supposedly, planned to once again overhaul the Apple TV interface to go along with its forthing remote, and both combined woukd presumably make it easier to navigate through libraries.
The upcoming Apple TV, according to a report by Bloomberg from 2014, will feature an upgraded or revamped user interface. The new interface would make it easier users to "navigate between TV shows, movies, and other online content". 9to5Mac and iLounge also said the new Apple TV could feature fresh types of content and an Apple-designed interface layered on top.
Cable and video content
Apple was rumoured to be be in discussion with programme makers and channels in the US for almost two years, but we had still yet to hear anything solid on the proposals to turn the next Apple TV in an over-the-top cable TV alternative. Several services that offer live launched on the 2013 model, including Now TV in the UK, which has a selection of Sky and partner channels (Sky Sports and Sky Movies), but that's just an app.
The same was true of HBO Now in the US. Both of those services are merely third-party portals, however. They were not directly allied to Apple's own television subscription plans. Anyway, thanks to on-going negotiations with American broadcasters and channels, there wasn't expected to be much movement in the live TV area until 2016. And certainly not in time for the new Apple TV to launch.
You can read an entire rumour round-up for Apple's Apple TV content deals/subscription service here.
9to5Mac indicated that the next Apple TV could have its own fully-fledged App Store and a dedicated Game Store.
The tech blog previously claimed Apple was working toward letting content providers make their own channels/apps, and it was attempting to streamline the app development process by making it easier for partners to build them. Rumors of an App Store have continued ever since TechCrunch's MG Siegler hinted in February 2013 that an App Store might be Apple's next move as it aims to tackle living room.
There’s not been much else said on the topic of an Apple TV App Store, though.
As previously stated elsewhere, the next Apple TV was heavily tipped to bring gaming support, allowing the set-top box to double as a living room gaming console. iLounge reported as early as in 2014 that "developers are currently working on Bluetooth controller options, and it’s expected that games could be downloaded directly to the Apple TV rather than relying on another iOS device as an intermediary”.
9to5Mac added to iLounge’s report, claiming the next-generation Apple TV could feature a Game Store at launch that lets users download games directly to their Apple TV. It was unclear how games would be stored locally on the Apple TV. Although, it was thought that Apple could just use iCloud as a main storage facility for Apple TV games - at the very least, to save files.
App Advice, which cited sources close to Apple, said the next Apple TV would exclusively focus on being a gaming console. Specifically, Apple was "putting the finishing touches on a new digital marketplace that looks very similar to the App Store". The digital marketplace is for Apple TV games and apps. The new Apple TV was also thought to ship with a branded game controller.
Most recently, the New York Times also confirmed the next-generation Apple TV would support gaming.
TV tuner and wireless router
There were several rumours a while back about Apple allegedly wanting to take its Apple TV set-top box a step further than being a platform that simply delivers content from iTunes, Netflix, etc. 9to5Mac reported that Apple was testing a built-in TV tuner that would allow users to control their existing cable boxes with an Apple-designed user-interface layered on top.
A similar feature is found on the Xbox One. But since 2014, we hadn't heard any more news about the Apple TV including a TV tuner, and we seriously doubted it would be part of the new box's launch. That said, 9to5Mac's built-in TV tuner report also claimed that the fourth-generation Apple TV could come with a built-in AirPort Express, which is slightly more convincing.
Apart from eliminating the need for a separate wireless router, we figured integrating 802.11ac into the Apple TV might improve video quality and stability. Such a feature could be a premium option that costs extra, though.
Apple wanted to make the first-generation Apple Watch a "primary input device" for the new Apple TV, according to 9to5Mac. We're assuming that meant you'd be able to control the Apple TV with the Apple Watch.
HomeKit support was quietly added to the Apple TV when iOS 8.1 and Apple TV 7.0.1 rolled out. Some reports therefore claimed the next Apple TV would serve as a smart hub of sorts, similar to how Google is positioning the Nest smart thermostat to be a control center.
But that's not the full story: it appeared as though you'd likely use Siri through Apple TV to control your HomeKit-compatible devices. Apple TV woudn't be required to control HomeKit in general, though. Apple told ArsTechnica that the current Apple TV would be able to act as an intermediary, letting you issue Siri voice commands to your home indoors or from a remote location.
In other words, the next Apple TV wouldn't really be a smart hub that'll tie your HomeKit devices together but rather an entry point to your local network. The set-top box has been enabled to pass commands to HomeKit devices for you, but your HomeKit devices and Apple TV will need to be signed in to the same Apple ID for such functionality to work.
Keep in mind, as of September 2015, HomeKit had yet to be fully activated or "launched" by Apple. HomeKit debuted with iOS 8.
Want to know more?
Check out Pocket-lint's Apple TV hub for the latest developments. You will find our first impressions with the new Apple TV, along with a run down of what the box does and our full review will also be available soon.