Since the Steve Jobs days, Apple has been interested in making a big play for the living room TV. The scope of its plans has been scaled back to the Apple TV box we know today, however, because of the company’s inability to license the same premium and live video the cable guys get.
But loyalties are shifting in the video business. Major content rights holders like Warner Brothers, HBO, and Viacom have long honored an exclusive distribution relationship with pay TV providers (cable, satellite, and telco TV).
Now, that exclusive agreement is weakening. That HBO would be offering its content via HBO Now on Apple TV to consumers without a cable subscription would have been unthinkable five years ago.
The chances of Apple securing the content it needs to replace a cable subscription have just become much greater. A recent Wall Street Journal report said that Apple is readying its new TV offering, including premium and live news and sports content.
The absence of meaningful live local and sports programming has been the thing that’s prevented many households from cutting the cable and moving to a web-based service. According to the WSJ report, Apple is hoping to address that by adding such channels as ESPN to the Apple TV lineup.
Today, John Paczkowski, writing for BuzzFeed, also reported that the Apple TV box itself will be getting a much stronger processor, much more onboard storage, and a doubling in form factor. The resulting box will look more like a full-on set top box.
The BuzzFeed report said that Apple intends to unveil the new set top box at its annual World Wide Developers Conference in June. Also announced will be a long-awaited dedicated App Store for Apple TV, along with a new software development kit called TVKit that developers can use to create apps for it.
“If I’m understanding the company’s strategy correctly, the new Apple TV isn’t just a play for a stake of the streaming TV market, but for the mythical digital living room,” Paczkowski wrote. “Think TV, music, apps and a little bit of home automation as well.”
Reports say there will still be plenty of apps offered in the new Apple TV that will require proof of a cable subscription. (Imagine this bizarre set-up in the music world: You might have to prove a paid subscription to some commercial radio station before you could stream music on Apple Radio!)
The idea that Apple would offer music, apps, and other assets in the living room is a bit of a no-brainer, but the living room could also serve as an important beachhead for Apple’s home automation platform, HomeKit. Indeed, 9to5Mac reported that Apple plans to offer a limited set of home control functions from the TV set in the new Apple TV.
As the Xbox did long ago, the new Apple TV will likely rely heavily on voice control via Siri as a way of issuing commands to the TV. Other reports say the new Apple Watch will also be used as a remote control device. A new and improved hand-held remote control will likely ship with the new Apple TV, too.
The remote control function, in all its forms, has been a sticky and persistent problem not only for Apple developers but for the entire TV hardware industry.
Apple hasn’t introduced a new Apple TV since early 2012, and has recently cut the price of the existing one from $99 to $69.