Why Apple's TV revolution will come in a set top box

T3's Ben Furfie explains why he believes you'll never see an Apple TV set

Let’s talk about the Apple TV. It’s one of those rumours that has been doing the rounds for over a year now and seems to refuse to die.

Sure, the idea of an Apple iTV set seems sexy‚ unless you hate everything about Apple, in which case you probably couldn’t care less‚ but does it make sense? And with Apple poised to update its Apple TV set top box, is it even likely?

The short answer is no. I’ll even go as far to say, you’ll never see an Apple TV set. Never. If I am wrong, I’ll run the London Marathon in an Apple TV shaped billboard that says I got it wrong. I’m that sure.

I mean, when you really‚ and I mean REALLY, think about it, it’s a stupid idea. Why would Apple go head-to-head with Samsung, LG, Sony and Panasonic when it can simply produce a set-top box that achieves the same thing?

And not only that but how often do you replace your TV? Maybe once every five years. And then there are the multitude of sizes to think about. When it comes to TVs, one size certainly doesn’t fit all. So is Apple to produce a 32-inch model, a 42-inch model, 50-inch model and a 60-inch model? And how many of them is it really likely to sell in the first year.

It just doesn’t make sense.

So what does make sense then?

I have no doubt that Apple has big things planned for its Apple TV range.

The fact that Apple TV has in the last week been given its own section on the Apple store proves that. Apple has big plans for its TV accessory and it is moving things into place ready to execute its grand plan.

But what should you expect? I personally believe that Apple will unveil a new set top box that looks almost exactly the same as the current one and that most of the differences will be under the hood, so to speak.

It will be the TV revolution that Steve Jobs and Tim Cook have been hinting at.

Games, games, games

Gaming is rumoured to be a big focus of the next update. Apple is said to be developing an App Store especially for the Apple TV. A big focus of that App Store is likely to be games.

Such a move would put it in competition with Microsoft and Sony for sure, but the games company with the most to lose is Nintendo. After all, even if Apple packs in the same 64-bit A7 processor found in the iPhone 5S, it isn’t going to be anywhere near as powerful as the Xbox One or PS4.

The Wii U is another story. It’s something that is made even worse because of the Wii U’s unique selling point. That controller.

“Oh you’ve got one tablet controller, Mr Wii U? That’s nice. I’ve got four iPhones/iPads to use as a controller.”

Yup. If you think things have been bad for Nintendo in the living room lately, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Especially as Google will probably take a similar approach when it launches the Apple TV rival it is said to be working on.

It gets even more interesting when you remember that at the end of last year, Apple bought PrimeSense, the company behind Kinect - the Xbox One’s Kinect 2 is based on different technology to the original.

Gaming is unlikely to be the only thing Apple uses PrimeSense’s tech. Expect the Apple TV 4 to be able to recognise users and adapt the content displayed accordingly, similar to the Xbox One.

However, don’t expect Apple to try and shoehorn hand gestures into the interface - that’s much more likely to be its voice-activated, semi-reliable butler Siri.

It might also have a stab at taking the same approach as the Xbox One, offering inputs for your other gear so they can ALL be controlled via Siri. In fact, this is what some US rumour grinders seem to mean when they say the new Apple TV could include a TV tuner, and speaking of which…

Aerial combat

But could Apple include an actual, built-in TV tuner? While this mightn’t seem like a big deal to you, it would add a huge level of good, old-fashioned, over-the-air content to the device.

Up until now, the Apple TV has only had streamed and downloaded content. A TV tuner would be another way for Apple to encourage people to throw out their cable or satellite box and it wouldn’t be entirely surprising if alongside a new box, Apple announced deals with US premium cable networks such as HBO and AMC. However, it would make more sense for such content to come from the cloud rather than by a traditional cable or aerial socket.

Routin' tootin'?

Finally there’s the notion that Apple TV will come with a router built in. This would supposedly allow it to prioritise streaming traffic and cure bandwidth constipation caused by poor quality external routers and provide a way for iPhones and iPads to connect to the set top box to play games wirelessly at high speed without the need for Bluetooth. I think we can discount this one, though. Apple makes routers of its own. Why would it want to kill those sales, and push the price of its set-top box up to a much less affordable level?

But when...?

So when are we likely to see the next generation Apple TV? Some rumours have said that we may see it in March or April. Personally, I don’t think that makes sense, especially if gaming is going to be a big focus this time round.

Apple is the type of company that doesn’t play nicely with others. Apple is the type of company that will have deliberately timed its 2014 Worldwide Developers Conference to clash with E3 and announce it then.

It’s Apple’s way of claiming the market. “Pffft. Take your little trade show away. We’re in this market now,” you can almost hear it say.

While I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Apple do that, it could backfire on it. E3 is not CES. Given the choice of putting more focus on E3 or WWDC, most gaming and mainstream news outlets will focus on E3.

As for when you’d get your hands on it if that was the case, I’d guess almost immediately, so the middle of June.

That's all good, but...

Of course, the real question for UK Apple fans is whether or not the set top box will be worth it for them.

We can probably surmise that the games side will be good regardless. Apple’s success with the App Store has proven that.

However, from a TV perspective, Apple can announce all the US partnerships it wants. Hell, it could buy Netflix and HBO, but the reality is that unless it does a deal with Sky over here, the Apple TV won’t be a player in the UK market. Everything short of your toaster features iPlayer, 4oD et al nowadays. Apple needs premium content that other set-top boxes don’t have: Sky Sport, Sky Atlantic and Sky Movies, for instance.

After all, media players, from TVs to iPods, are ultimately all about content.

That’s something Apple showed it understood with music, but providing great movies and TV on demand, over the air, involves a whole other level of cost. To truly revolutionise home entertainment, the ideal service needs to be like The Pirate Bay or Megaupload, but legal - in much the same way that iTunes or Spotify provided a service almost as all-encompassing as Napster, but convinced people to pay for it. This service should be able to deliver content broadcast in the US to the UK and rest of the world with little or no delay - and vice versa of course. A truly global TV and movie vendor.

That is a big ask. Perhaps an insurmountable one. But if there’s one company that might be capable of doing it, it’s Apple and its $150 billion war chest.