The new Apple TV launched in October after a three year chasm of silence stagnating with outdated hardware. According to Digitimes, Apple is upping the pace of its Apple TV hardware iterations. The Chinese report indicates that Apple is preparing to start test production of a new fifth-generation Apple TV in early 2016. The new device would apparently feature significantly faster internals to ‘drastically improve the hardware performance’ and ‘add new functions’.
Coupled with the usual disclaimers about Digitimes’ spotty track record, the report is very vague on exactly what ‘new functions’ a new Apple TV could offer. The Digitimes report implies a launch within six months of the current generation’s debut. This may upset buyers of the 4th generation product but Apple has done stuff like this before (remember the iPad 3 -> iPad 4 six month gap).
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It is also unlikely that the product will ship so soon anyway; in general, take the report as an indicator that there will be new hardware of some kind in 2016. The long-rumored streaming Apple TV channel service is expected in 2016, so perhaps Apple will have new hardware ready to be released alongside it. This would allow the company to drop the price of the 4th generation box slightly, once again hitting the magic $99 price point in combination with a ~$20-30 streaming cable service offering.
It is also worth remembering that the 4th gen Apple TV was delayed multiple times with many accounts suggesting it was intended to be launched at WWDC in June. This would explain why Apple is already preparing new hardware for circa June 2016, matching Apple’s usual yearly refresh cycle. Whether the device will be released then or held until the fall will obviously be up to the company’s own plans.
Digitimes says the new hardware will go into trial production runs before the end of the month with ‘volume’ manufacturing planned for first quarter 2016. Although it seems unlikely, if the report is to be believed, Apple could launch new hardware at a spring media event in the March/April timeframe.