Apple is set to capture 32% of the set-top box market in 2011, with a new report released by research firm Strategy Analytics predicting Apple will sell approximately four million units.

Apple has emerged as the leading player in the rapidly growing connected TV player market, according to the latest research from the Strategy Analytics Connected Home Devices service. According to the report, “Connected TV Players: Another Battlefield in the Smart TV War,” global sales of connected TV players—also known as video streaming or internet TV set-top-boxes—will more than double in 2011, compared to 2010. Strategy Analytics projects that the market will reach almost 12 million units globally this year, with Apple alone predicted to sell nearly four million devices.

Other noteworthy statistics from the report– More Apple TV users are renting movies and TV shows in comparison other set-top boxes with 30 percent vs 20 percent. While noting Apple is leading the connected TV market while still considering it a “hobby”, Senior Analyst at the Connected Home Devices (CHD) service, Jia Wu, warns other platforms will have to catch up in anticipation of Apple’s “expected launch of smart TVs in 2012″:

“Apple is leading this nascent market, which it still considers a ‘hobby’. As Apple prepares for its expected launch of smart TVs in 2012, rival platforms must accelerate their development plans to keep Apple from running away with the connected TV business, as it has done in smartphones and digital music.”

An Apple branded  HDTV expected sometime in 2012 would more than likely integrate the majority of the Apple TV’s features, and possibly eliminate the need for the current form factor.

Last month we reported the next-generation Apple TV (3,1) is moving closer to release with codename “J33″ discovered in the iOS 5.1 beta release. As for what’s in store for that device, our findings in the iOS 5.1 beta, at the very least, point to low-power Bluetooth 4.0 that could enable a ton of new possibilities for advanced input devices, FM radio integration, and more.

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