At today’s Special Event, Apple finally announced an upgrade to its Apple TV set-top box. And after three years, boy is it a big overhaul.
A new experience
Apple CEO Tim Cook noted in the keynote that there’s more great TV shows out there than ever – but as good as the content is, “the experience itself hasn’t changed that much in decades.” He believes that “the future of TV is apps,” and wants to do something about it.
Tim’s idea is that the Apple TV needs a new approach. He outlines the key concepts behind the latest Apple TV – powerful hardware, a modern OS, a new user experience, powerful developer tools. And most importantly, an App Store. The new device combines all that.
After explaining that the company has been working really hard, and for a really long time (cue laughter), Tim invites Apple exec Eddy Cue onstage to tell us more. He’s wearing a bright red shirt – according to the laws of TV cliche that means he’s due to die before the end of the show (spoiler alert: thankfully he doesn’t).
Voice and touch
The new Apple TV is all “about voice and touch,” and to facilitate that is a brand new remote, featuring six buttons, a glass touch-sensitive surface, and a built-in microphone with full Siri support.
Siri will power a “universal search” feature, meaning you can ask it to find content and it will return results from multiple apps, all displayed on a single screen. That means you can ask for “animated shows for kids – just the new ones” and it will show results from iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, HBO and Showtime – with more to come.
There are a few smaller, but very cool features coming to Apple TV. Siri can understand very specific, nuanced search queries, like “find me that episode of Modern Family with Edward Norton.” If you miss some dialog, you can ask “what did she just say?” and Siri will rewind 15 seconds and temporarily pop the subtitles on for you. What a nice touch.
Sports fan? Apple TV allows multitasking such as watching two simultaneous games at once with picture-in-picture, and can bring up a huge array of in-game statistics and data while keeping the live game on screen. You can ask Siri pretty much anything while the TV plays and the answer will pop up along the bottom of the screen –much of it context dependent, like “who stars in this movie?” If you need more information, it can automatically pause the show and go full screen with details on weather, or bring up web searches.
Apple TV also includes full support for Apple Music, and has a brand new, bespoke App Store which will soon fill up with third-party apps and games. Developers will be able to make apps specifically for the TV, or universal apps that will work across iPhone, iPad and Apple TV – meaning a single purchase could bag you an app or game for three devices.
Oh, and there will be HD video screensavers, which display different scenes based on the time of day. We can see why Apple opened with that in its presentation – doesn’t sound quite so impressive after all that other stuff.
Harnessing the power of the A8 processing chip – previously seen in the iPhone 6 and iPad Air 2 – means that the Apple TV will be more than capable of HD gaming on the big screen. Though it doesn’t have the specifications to compete with high-end gaming consoles like the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, it may be able to steal much of the casual gaming market previously monopolized by the Nintendo Wii – or even create a new market with people who previously have only ever really played games on their phones.
On stage we saw a demo of an Apple TV version of one of the App Store’s biggest hits, Crossy Road. Although graphically similar to the iOS version, the big difference was that this game allowed simultaneous multiplayer gaming by connecting another iPhone via bluetooth. Though Apple didn’t go into much detail, it was confirmed that anyone with an iPhone or iPod touch could basically join in with compatible games, using their device as an additional controller.
We also had confirmation that Activision will be releasing Guitar Hero for the Apple TV, which could pave the way for other big developers to start making games for the device. Activision’s rhythm-game rivals Harmonix are also on board, and showed off a motion-controlled sports game.
Oh, did we not mention? The remote also includes accelerometers and a gyroscope for motion controls, much like the aforementioned Wii console. The difference is that Apple’s remote connects via Bluetooth 4.0, which means no shooter-style ‘pointing at the screen’ action. Though it also means no need for a sensor to sit atop the TV – and reliable connectivity from anywhere in the room.
Price and availability
Apple TV will come in at two different price points depending on the storage options chosen. $149 for the 32GB version or $200 for 64GB. That’s not bad at all considering what you get for your money – essentially a two-in-one living room hub that covers both TV and gaming. The older, less capable Apple TV will still be available for $69 as a cheaper alternative.
Apple’s new operating system tvOS – based on iOS, build for the living room – is available to developers immediately so they can start making apps. The new Apple TV itself will be released in late October, and should be available in over 100 countries by the end of the year.