Apple plans to hold one of its annual fall media events on Wednesday, September 9th to introduce the new iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus with Force Touch, and after many fits and starts, it appears that the long-awaited next-generation Apple TV will also be unveiled. We’ve been reporting on this upcoming model since 2014, as Apple has been planning to update its set-top-box with support for an App Store for quite some time.
Earlier this year, Apple had locked in a June WWDC debut for both the new Apple TV hardware and software upgrades, but the company ultimately decided to delay the introduction until the fall. While some had speculated that the announcement was pushed back due to a lack of content deals, we are told that the delay was internally attributed to a concern over compromising iOS 9 engineering resources, as the latest OS release is focused at least as much on polish as on new features.
Why would the new Apple TV potentially take away resources from iOS 9? According to sources, this new Apple TV model, codenamed J34, will be the first model to run a full-blown iOS core. Specifically, the new Apple TV operating system will be a TV-optimized version of iOS 9. In addition to the new hardware inside, running iOS 9 will give the new Apple TV a series of benefits over the current model. Below, we explore what users can expect from Apple’s next-generation living room product.
New Device Hardware Design
After living with the same external look for over five years, a new industrial design for the next-generation Apple TV is a lock. We’ve heard that the new model looks like the prior Apple TV, but slimmer and slightly wider. As the Apple TV is a product that needs constant connectivity to wireless standard such as Wi-Fi networking and Bluetooth, it is likely that a mostly plastic body will be retained in order for the best compatibility with routers and Bluetooth remotes.
New Dedicated Remote Control
Speaking of remotes, another lock for the new Apple TV is a brand-new remote control. As we first reported, the new Apple TV is planned to include a larger remote control with new and more tactile keys. In addition, as indicated by both our sources and findings inside of files hidden within recent OS X 10.11 El Capitan developer betas, the new remote control will include touch-based input and gesture support. With Apple’s integration of Force Touch across MacBooks, Apple Watches, iPhones, and future iPads, perhaps the technology will make an appearance on the Apple TV remote as well.
The files indicate that the new remote control will include both Bluetooth technology and an infrared sensor, which suggests superior control responsiveness as well as the potential for backward compatibility with non-Bluetooth home AV equipment. As our Jeremy Horwitz noted earlier this year, the introduction of a new remote control could help open up the door for improved gaming. With an integrated touchpad, in addition to the Apple TV SDK we’ll discuss later in this article, Apple could open up the remote to developers looking to bring gaming to the Apple TV set top box. Critically, this new remote will likely pack enough technology to deter users from losing the controller, which happens a lot with the older Apple TV remotes.
The aforementioned El Capitan files also indicate that some sort of audio technology wil be integrated into the new remote control, and we believe that this raises three possibilities. First, it is possible that the new remote integrates a small speaker to augment the sound experience of the new Apple TV, which could be important for gaming. Next, perhaps the new remote will include an audio jack to connect to headphones to enable private listening/viewing, similar to the latest Roku models. Last and most likely, the audio feature could refer to a microphone that enables Siri support.
We’ve been hearing for a while, as also reported by John Paczkowski at BuzzFeed, that this next-generation Apple TV will include support for Siri. Currently, there are two main ways to control an Apple TV: the Remote app on iOS devices, and the small aluminum remote that makes typing characters difficult. Utilizing a microphone in the new physical remote, the Apple TV could make searching for content or beginning playback simpler by using the voice-based Siri system. For example, users will likely be able to search up a James Bond movie by saying “Search for Goldfinger,” or begin playback of an Apple Music playlist by saying “Play my Party Mix.”
Improved Proactive-Based Search
Speaking of search, it sounds like one of the reasons behind making the new Apple TV software directly based on iOS 9 is for its new Proactive search support. In iOS 9, Proactive search brings new, more powerful and accurate system-wide search support. As Jeremy Horwitz also noted in March, one of the biggest omissions from the current Apple TV is system-wide search support. For example, a user cannot search for “James Bond” and see results across the iTunes Store, Netflix, the Crackle app, and the Apple Music library. Apple is said to be planning to fix that with the next-generation Apple TV software, but we are told that the company may wait to integrate the new search features until the Apple TV is populated with third-party applications.
App Store + Developer SDK
Third-party applications support plus a full Software Development Kit for the Apple TV will be two tentpoles of the new device. This means that developers, just like with the iPhone and iPad, will be able to build apps for the Apple TV. These applications will likely be able to be downloaded via a dedicated App Store accessible via the new Apple TV.
We are told that Apple’s focus on Apple TV App Store apps has been video-centric applications, which would allow media companies to release new channels on the Apple TV on their own schedule, and not on Apple’s. Apple has slowly added channels to the current-generation Apple TV on a sporadic basis, ranging from every few weeks at times to every several months. Of course, gaming apps, news applications, and others could make sense on the Apple TV as well, but don’t expect opportunities for content creation akin to the iPhone and iPad.
More Storage + Faster Processor
In order to support additional content, new search features, the new remote, additional wireless technology, and apps, the new Apple TV will include a new processor, a dual-core variant of the iPhone 6’s A8 chip in all likelihood. This will be a substantial improvement over the single-core A5 chip driving the current 1080P Apple TV that was introduced in 2012. In order to provide better caching for video content in addition to space for App Store apps, a big leap in storage space should also be expected. The current Apple TV features 8GB of flash storage and 512MB of RAM, but we would expect that RAM count to at least double to 1GB (if not to the 2GB from the next iPhone), and flash storage to at least quadruple to 32GB. Perhaps there will be multiple storage tiers like with the iPhone now that the current 8GB Apple TV sits at the entry-level $69 price point.
To go with the new iOS 9 core and redesigned hardware, we are told that the new Apple TV will include a refreshed, more iOS-like interface. While the new system is likely to improve the current scrolling list of large icons, we are told that the general aesthetic will be similar to the current look. We’ve received one tip indicating that the new operating system looks somewhat like the mockup above, which is to say it will look more like an iOS Software product. When Apple launched the redesigned Apple TV operating system in 2012, it brought the new look to earlier-generation models, not only to the new 1080P box, so perhaps Apple will port over at least some new features to existing models. We are told that the new Apple TV iOS 9 builds internally run on both the current J33 Apple TV and future J34 model, but internal testing does not accurately forecast indicate public launch plans.
No Live Cable-Replacement Service (Yet)
Lastly, as we first reported early this year, the new Apple TV will not launch with Apple’s long-in-the-works Cable TV replacement service. Apple’s discussions with TV networks indicate that Apple wants to launch a $40/month plan for Apple TV users that allows customers to get their favorite channels without the need of a cable connection. The content would be streamed from the web and integrated with iTunes on the new Apple TV. Sources say that internal prototypes of the next-generation Apple TV are fully designed to unlock content via cable networks in the same manner as current and past Apple TVs, so it appears that the new TV service won’t launch until at least next year.
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