All concept visuals: martinhajek.com

All concept visuals: martinhajek.com

Having recently speculated on what Apple might have planned in the way of 4K displays, I thought I’d build on that to think about what it might have in store on the television front.

If you didn’t read my 4K piece, the tl;dr version is I think Apple will launch a 4K Thunderbolt Display in about a year’s time, once it has a new generation of MacBook Pro models able to drive one (or preferably two) at a decent frame-rate.

The question then is: what form might the long-rumored Apple Television take? After all, plug an upgraded Apple TV box into an Apple 4K display and you’d have an Apple Television right there. Why would we need anything more … ? 

There would be some logic to keeping the two boxes separate. From Apple’s perspective, it would only have to make one 4K display, and from the consumer perspective you’d have something that was more flexible and upgradeable. But I don’t see Apple going that route, for three reasons.

tv4

First, your average mass-market consumer isn’t going to see that as an Apple television. Say ‘home Mac’ to most people, and they think iMac, not Mac Mini plus Thunderbolt Display. Similarly, say ‘Apple Television’ and your average Joe is not going to think of an Apple TV box and a computer monitor.

Second, the screen sizes that make sense for displays and televisions are different. A 31.5-inch screen is a pretty big monitor but a rather small TV. For 4K TVs, 55- and 65-inch seem to be emerging as the two sizes of choice. A 55-inch monitor would be overwhelming.

Perhaps I’m wrong on that point. It wasn’t too many years ago that people had 27-inch televisions, so perhaps in a few years people will view 27-inch monitors as similarly quaint throwbacks. Maybe in a year two so we’ll all be using 55-inch monitors. I wouldn’t rule it out.

tv5

But there is a third, more compelling argument in favour of a self-contained Apple Television. Expectations. Not just selling something that is obviously a television to the guy in the street, but making something special enough to meet expectations.

An Apple television has been a long time coming, and the longer it takes, the more people will expect it to wow them. In Apple’s language, it has to be magical. However gorgeous it makes the casing, Apple can’t just hook up a slightly-improved Apple TV box to a 4K display and call it good.

For that matter, it also can’t just put the innards of the Apple TV box inside the casing of the 4K display either. It has to deliver something way more, and that something is pretty much guaranteed to include the user-interface.

Let’s face it, remote controls – even pretty touchscreen ones – are 20th Century tech. Reinventing user-interfaces is what Apple is all about, so it’s unimaginable that it wouldn’t do this to television.

tv3

There’s been a lot of speculation about what form that new UI might take. Siri has been talked about a lot. “Siri, run the next episode of How I Met Your Mother.” “Siri, record the rest of this series for me.” Clean, simple, hi-tech. I can see that as a distinct possibility.

But I don’t think it’s enough on its own. Siri isn’t cutting-edge any more. It’s useful technology, and friendlier than that old-fashioned remote, but voice input is now mainstream, not magic.

Gestures have also been discussed. A Leap Motion style approach, allowing us to point at things on the screen, flip through channels with the wave of a hand, that kind of thing.

If I had to guess, I’d say a combination of the two: voice and gesture. But whether I’m right or wrong on the specifics isn’t important. The key point is that ‘magical’ is likely to require hardware that the 4K Thunderbolt Display won’t possess.  Hardware that Apple will want to keep unique to the television.

tv2

So, what do I expect? Two models, 55-inch and 65-inch, both 4K, both self-contained. All the existing Apple TV functionality, a whole bunch of new content tie-ins – and a user-interface good enough to make us go ‘wow’.

Pricing? Not quite at Bang & Olufsen levels, but not at Sony levels either. I’m expecting a second ‘wow’ when we see the price, and unfortunately I don’t mean that in a good way.

And the existing Apple TV box? The one Steve Jobs always described as a hobby? I suspect it will become the 16GB iPad 2 of the television range. I expect it to hang in there for some years as an entry-level product, but offering none of the pizzazz of the real thing.

All concept visuals are from the excellent Martin Hajek

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59 Responses to “Opinion: What can we expect from the elusive Apple Television?”

  1. Nothing really. What people want is great content at a cheap price. What they’ll get is fancy window-dressing but the content will still be expensive and time to watch will still be in short supply.

  2. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the only consumer product in the Apple lineup (besides iPods) that weren’t updated this year the Mac MIni. Could the Mini morph to become the new Apple TV set top box? If so, perhaps a Late January/February announcement? There aren’t any scheduled new hardware products (other than Mac Pro in December) due to be launched until the next iPhone in September 2014.

  3. PMZanetti says:

    Size is related to distance. That isn’t going to change. Screens started small because of cost/technology limitations, then got bigger until they hit their sweet spots in the size/distance ratio.

    Monitors are not going above 30″ because of how close to them you have to sit in order to see small pixel content.

    TV’s keep getting bigger as people put them in larger rooms and sit further and further away.

    TV’s are about Size w/ clarity. Monitors are about pixel perfection, with as much size as you can tolerate.

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      That’s true, but it’s not *that* long ago that 17-inch was a decent-sized monitor, and 19-inch had the wow factor. I’m not *expecting* us to use 55-inch monitors in a year or two, but nor am I dismissing it as impossible.

      • PMZanetti says:

        I think we’d be there already if there were any reason for it….I suppose the only thing that could change it would be the advent of 4K, aka “Retina” displays at those sizes. We already know that blowing 1080p up any larger than 21.5″ doesn’t do anything positive for you….and the few decent monitors out there that get around this are ones like Apple’s 27″ iMac and Thunderbolt Display with unique resolutions of 2560 x 1440…or Dell’s 30″ monitor at 2560 x 1600.

        I find those large displays awkward to work with, although their resolution is appropriate for their size…like a 1080p display that just adds inches and pixels together.

        I think for a 55″ monitor to be usable, it would have to be 5120 x 2880 at a minimum to keep pixel/content size realistic. But, this would of course be NON-retina, unless you’re sitting several feet away from it…which you can’t do…because the icons/text/UI are all the same physical size as they would be on a MacBook.

        So if you’re able to sit close enough without it bothering you….we’ll want to make it a Retina display so that the benefits of size are not negated by the fact that any other smaller screen has a much sharper picture….so a 55″ Retina Display monitor….would clock in at a whopping 10,240 x 5,760 pixels….

        WOW. Someone makes that, I’ll consider mounting it to the wall off the edge of my desk, instead of sitting on the desk, and give it a shot. I wouldn’t need multiple monitors, as I’d have one continuous display.

        It would also cost more than my desk…and my computer…and probably my office.

  4. Phillip says:

    There’s no such thing

  5. PMZanetti says:

    TV’s are multi-year investments. People don’t run out and upgrade them every 12 months, or even 24 months. It is much more practical and cost effective to upgrade the small (cheaper) hardware that you plug-in to them.

    I cannot see Apple putting iTV, a 55″ $1,999 4K Television with integrated AppleTV/iOS software, and a $65″ $2,999 model…onto the market with any degree of longevity built-in.

    What happens when they release iTV ‘take 2′ the following year? You’re not going to have any early adopters upgrading to the newest model. TV’s, due to their sheer size and extreme cost, are completely out of this category.

    While you could make the argument that it is no different than iMacs…people don’t upgrade them every year…it is not as dramatic. Some people WOULD upgrade them every year as significant performance improvements mean significant productivity improvements. And Macs in general have a much shorter upgrade cycle on the market (3-5 years) than TV’s on the market (5-7 years).

    And, even though Apple is THE master of refreshing their hardware in such a way to convince any current generation owner to upgrade…..with TV’s, I don’t see what they could add to the hardware itself for Gen 2 that would not already be necessary and present in Gen 1.

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      I haven’t looked at the numbers, but I suspect TV refresh cycles are *much* shorter than they used to be. I know people who upgraded to 720p, again to 1080p and will do so again to 4K once the content is there. They may not be mass-market consumers, but I reckon there are enough of them around to make a viable Apple Television market.

      • PMZanetti says:

        I definitely see a market for the first go around….but for version 2, it would be more for the people who haven’t jumped in yet vs. the people who already purchased.

      • Ben Lovejoy says:

        I don’t expect to see the Apple Television before this time next year, and wouldn’t even like to think about what may happen a year after that. :-)

    • One thing is certain with Apple products, resale markets are strong for N-1 releases. The upgrade cost for early adopters will be a few hundred as the masses will start seeing the N-1 as a good value (like the N-1 iPhones).

      I question the wisdom of launching a full on TV. ATV offers a much broader potential market as it integrates with any HDTV and Audio System and comes at an easy to reach price leaving more $$ for the media consumption.

      Streaming is the key, and ala carte content will grow in importance. To be on that wave and help it crest will be the value spot in the living room market.

      The networks and movie producers have a huge, untapped market in subscriptions and rentals for content on day 1. How many movies have you forgone going to the theater, instead waiting for the DVD/iTunes? To sell one day rentals on Day 1 could be a huge market for movies, not replacing, but supplementing the theater experience (which remain a social gathering). They could even sell opening weekend rentals, then shut it down till DVD time, leaving theaters for the 6 months prior to DVD as the only option for those who choose not to rent opening weekend. And, the added viewers on opening weekend will stimulate even more theater traffic because everyone you know will have seen it, so how can you even think of waiting 6 months!

      Successful companies know to not drift too far from competencies. Apple is now king of media delivery and consumption. They should keep their focus on that to remain strong. A big screen TV able to display existing subscription content is not enough of a game changer to warrant the effort.

      • Ben Lovejoy says:

        The revenue from content is why I’m confident the existing Apple TV box isn’t going anywhere for years.

        I once met a very wealthy man who got movies for his home cinema on day one, direct from the studio. They used to be delivered by hand and are now delivered electronically. But they very definitely fall into the “if you have to ask the price” category!

    • The TV market was once a 10 year refresh cycle, then with the first generation of Plasma TV’s that moved to 7 years, with 1080p HD it was 5 years and with 3D TVs the market is getting closer than ever to a three year refresh cycle. FYI Macs are moving to a 2-3 refresh cycle – people aren’t keeping computers for 5 years anymore.

  6. What you described above as Siri + gestures is what Microsoft already offered with Xbox 360 for some years. So there is no wow in this combination at all.

    In my opinion the user interface is neither an option for a wow. I’d rather say it’s only a technical problem for apple right now to produce an UI that fits with television.

    I guess that Apple’s television will start in the US first and it will take a while (months to years) to get outside of the US because the wow will be related to the content and the opportunity to watch whatever you want, whenever you want. It’s similar to what iTunes was for music and let’s say iTunes radio. I’d say it would have been already there if Steve Jobs was still alive, because he’s the better visionary and he can better motivate and manipulate. Tim Cook still needs time to persuade the content producers that an Apple television is a second iPod and won’t cannibalize their revenue but will help growing it.

  7. I could see a 55″ monitor. It would just be very wide form factor instead of 55″ TV proportions. Basically replacing dual or triple screens. If it can fit in your peripheral vision at a desk, it makes sense that it will exist one day.

  8. bxstrmn says:

    I can say what I would like would be different user setups, so I can have my preferences, and other family members can have theirs. I like the interface on the Apple TV, however it is starting to get a little cluttered. I would like the ability to rearrange my channel icons the way I do apps on an iPhone or iPad, so I can have the channels I watch most right up front. This will also make it easier for visitors to find channels because that is always an issue when visiting someone, the channels are never the same number. This can easily be achieved by mirroring the tv to an iPad or iPhone and move it on there so a touch screen tv won’t need to add to the cost

  9. For an Apple TV to wow consumers there is a lot of functionality they’ll have to add. These are some ideas that I’d be wow’d by: extremely thin – 1/2 or less, extremely light – something with a super simple mounting process – 5 lbs or less, ultra-thin bezel, next standard of retina display at a 4K resolution, gesture and voice control and a 1080p FaceTime camera, completely wireless (except power – for now), no cable, no ethernet, no HDMI ports, no USB – replacing this with proprietary wireless solutions and a complimentary (not free, but adds to Apple TV) stand-alone box that you plug everything into and it wireless-ly transmits the signal. Now, on the software side of things is where they’ll really impress. The Apple TV will need a full iOS suite with an app store, it’ll have FaceTime and a built in browser. I think the killer feature will be iCloud DVR, not necessarily storing your shows in the cloud, by allowing cloud access to your recordings so you can stream or download them to your iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Mac or a friends Apple TV. Based on iTunes radio I think in order to wow Apple needs to make advertisers pay for the content like in iTunes radio – advertisers pay a premium for catered content with active links providing a better placed ad for more money. Additionally, like in iTunes radio if you subscribe to iTunes Match there are no ads in your iTunes Radio – they’ll do the same for the TV (though they’ll probably rename the iTunes Match service but offer the same features). Actually I hope all of Apples content goes to a Netflix-esque model, all your content for a monthly subscription price. Or free with ads. I also think they’ll put the content provider in the background – ie: You search for your favourite show in the iOS search bar and it gives you your results and then shows you a list of viewing options, like “Stream on iTunes”, “Watch on Netflix”, “Watch on Hulu Plus” – though why anyone would subscribe to Netflix or Hulu after Apple freemium model – idk. I think with the Apple TV they have a chance to revolutionize old media and blend it perfectly with new and deliver it in a way where they is no distinction between watching a viral video, to a tv show, to a movie to a web series.

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      A lot of interesting ideas there! ‘Wireless with separate connection box’ only makes sense to me when we get wireless power capable of powering a large TV set (quite a few years away yet, methinks): if you have to have a power cable running up the wall, you might as well have a conduit with the rest of ‘em.

      • I have to agree with Dylan. And the power cable could be low voltage with a transformer in the set top box. Then the cable running up the wall could be very flat and thin (even paintable to blend with the wall) or it could be dropped inside the wall just be drilling a couple of small holes. Keeping the cable input, power transformer, speaker wires and other inputs in a separate box is the only way the TV’s gonna be skinny and the only way it’s not gonna be ugly with wires all over the wall.

  10. Apple TV is a great little box and there’s so much potential to expand on it, especially now with the 64-bit A7 chip. Toss that in an ATV, open up an App Store for devs, and that coupled with the MFI game controllers we’ve been hearing about will give us some awesome console-quality gaming, purchased or rented right from iTunes and stored in the cloud. Add 3D playback capability to ATV and bring 3D movies to the iTunes Store so we can do away with blu ray. Iron out those content deals with the cable companies (like the rumored Time Warner ATV app) so we can lose the cable box. They could even upsell us iCloud DVR storage space.

    Can Apple build that “little box” right inside a beautiful class-leading display and price it reasonably? That remains to be seen, but it would be an awesome product. A television that you just hang on the wall and plug in the power cord. Connect to wifi for content, AirPlay audio to wireless surround speakers. No boxes required. No cabinets or shelves under the tv. No bundle of tangled cords. A true “theater” experience at home. One simple remote and an easy-to-use UI to control everything. Maybe the bezel of the tv could also act as an OTA TV antenna like the frame of the iPhone 4/4s so we can get those free local stations too?

    Time will tell. I’ll be waiting, fingers crossed.

  11. I’m in support for the guy who called Apple TV in the Mac mini. But I’d like to take it a step further and say a software update on the macs .. Watch tv on any divice over wi-fi Still keeping the Apple TV box for airplay and home tv compatability.

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      I think in the next few years TV will all get delivered over IP anyway, so you’ll be able to watch it on the device of your choice. It’ll need the equivalent of Google Fiber as the delivery mechanism, but that’s already (just) starting to roll out.

      • Even with standard speeds, here in the UK the BBC, ITV and other channels offer the ability to watch live, though compressed, still very watchable. All it takes is partnerships and apple could deliver a tv service built into the mac and possibly ios Eco-system. (Imagine a freeview app designed by apple)

      • Ben Lovejoy says:

        I’m in the UK too and watch Netflix and iPlayer, but that’s mostly SD and 1080p content. 4K content will be four times the bandwidth of 4K, and delivering all content that way (rather than just the top-up stuff) will need a lot more bandwidth.

  12. Huge difference here is:
    Every TV has the SAME resolution (720p/1080p) for each size! it’s the SAME resolution, just bigger pixels!
    Monitors have a native resolution, and SCALE the content if you change ‘resolution’. So a 55″ TV as far away from a 55″ monitor!
    4K is already on the new iPad.. scale it up to 55 or 65#, it’s still the same content!

    And do you REALLY think Apple will wait for a MBA redress to release a 4K TB display, when the ‘drumroll’ about 4K is all about the new Mac Pro?? If so, that is a shitty estimate in my book.. ;-)

  13. It won’t be Siri, because for every person who loves it and that it works for, there is another person that hates it and it doesn’t work for. Outside of the USA in particular, Siri is very spotty and not used that much.

    If you have to tell the TV to do something even twice, it’s already a failure and a simple remote control in your hand is a better choice. For me, (and for a lot of people) Siri just isn’t reliable enough for this kind of work. It cannot understand what you say enough of the time to function in the way that people imagine it can.

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      I use Siri all the time here in the UK. I don’t see it as a sole UI mechanism, as I say, but I suspect it will be part of the mix.

      • Granted. It works great for some people. It’s just that the construction:

        – Jobs said he “solved” the interface problem
        therefore:
        – what is the magic solution?
        answer:
        – Siri

        Has to be incorrect.

        Perhaps I read your article wrong, but so many others have been written that basically posit Siri as the answer to to modern TV UI problem and I thought you were saying the same thing.

        Scotland needs to watch TV as well, and a lot of other places where Siri doesn’t work at all. I’m in Canada and Siri just can’t understand enough of what I say (or anyone I know for that matter) to be useful at all. It literally gets every second command wrong and can’t take even a single sentence of dictation correctly.

        All I’m saying is that if Siri is all Apple has for the new “magical” interface … well that’s just sad.

        I can think of better things that could be Jobs’ “solution” and I’m still hoping that Jobs did so as well.

      • Ben Lovejoy says:

        No, as I say in the piece, I don’t see Siri as being enough to be the whole solution, though I do suspect it will be part of it. Amusingly, in a test with two friends, Siri coped perfectly with a broad Scottish accent and very badly with a Yorkshire one …

  14. Lindsay Ceil says:

    I obviously want another option to the crap time warner delivers to my TV… and i think apple will do it. But why would they produce 65 inch televisions? Where is the room in their retail space? I feel like its going to just be a set top box. 4K tech isn’t there yet and won’t be in the TV realm for another few years. Don’t think they would make these massive screens if they can just piggy back on what people have already with a revolutionary set top box.

  15. Paul Kerr says:

    Apple usually combines multiple novel uses for several technologies to make breakthrough products. Given the long term investment in the screen combined with the short term nature of the processor technology, an Apple TV set might look different. To get down to one cable to the TV it might carry the video and power in a single cable or connector between a small box like the current iOS box and the TV. The box could be replaced to get a new generation of hardware.

    It’s not necessarily a given that the processor has to be replaceable, either. An A7 or A8 might be able to handle all of a TV set’s processing requirements for many years.

  16. tonybabo20 says:

    I personally like the idea of 3D content in iTunes. I buy blu-Ray 3D movies with a digital copy if it’s not a 3D movie I buy straight from iTunes. 3D still does good in movie theaters and it is little gimmicky but what it needs is a better way to do it. This is what I think Apple needs to include in there TV to really give it the wow factor. 3D without glasses. I’ve see. Some video showing technology using eye tracking to create 3d effects it looks awesome and Apple is suppose to have worked on this. If they could add eye tracking with quality 3D that would be enough to get people go out and buy it, then add Siri and gestures and we got something like nothing else. From what I read you would need a 4K display and if the TV was 4k it be awesome. That’s what I want to see in the TV.

  17. I have no doubt that an Apple TV would deliver an outstanding screen quality at a very small form factor just by looking at the screens they provide in other products as of now.

    However the big challenge will be the content integration: You would have to unify all sorts of sources (cable tv, Netflix, Hulu etc.) within one user interface. Content providers however will be very reluctant to let that happen.

    Everything else would just be a Smart TV where you have to constantly change between different interfaces. This by the way has already been achieved by Apple: Using the Apple TV together with my iPhone 5s is way better than any Smart TV I’ve tried so far. The screen synchronizing between devices here has really improved so that I can easily play all the content on my iPhone on the big screen.

  18. Here’s how apple will introduce the Apple TV.

    Today, we’re going to introduce 3 major products….

    First, a game console…..second, a 4K TV, and third, a breakthrough home automation device.

    All of those combined into 1 seamless product that wows us. It will be the first TV to truly feel like a computer, much like how the iphone was the first iphone to feel like a computer in your pocket.

    This will feel like the first real computer as the center of your living room. I’m sure they figured out all the UI stuff long ago but its been content deals, and cable companies holding up the actual content value of the TV.

    If they can do those 3 things in one….thats revolutionary.

  19. zoidbert says:

    Watching my son play his Wii U the other day, I figure Apple will do a similar control setup for the (bear with me) 4K Apple TV. You’ll have the full-on monitor, but not touchscreen; you’ll use your iPad or iPhone to control it (kind of like you do with Remote & iTunes).

  20. Sorry if this has been brought up already, but if the interface was to include eye-tracking that would make the Apple Television quite unique. Eye-tracking combined with voice recognition would make for an intuitive way to interact with your TV — just look at video content you want to watch and say “Play”!

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      Yes, it’s been suggested. Though having used eye-tracking technology a fair bit personally, it’s very sensitive to distance – move you head forward or back as little as 6-9 inches and it gets confused.