It’s October, but, contrary to what most industry-watchers were expecting, there’s nary a peep from Apple TV on a refresh of its palm-sized set-top streaming player. But, a refresh is looking more and more important for Apple as it tries to hang onto market share in an increasingly crowded video STB space.
Apple generated more than $1 billion in revenue from the Apple TV units last year, which would translate to shipping about 10 million of the devices in 2013. That’s more than double what it sold in 2012, meaning that Apple TV is the fastest-growing product segment in the Apple orchard.
However, with this year’s launch of the Kindle Fire TV, ongoing content enhancements over at Roku and Google’s announcement of Android TV (a set-top that will be more robust than Chromecast), Apple is facing steeper competition than it once did. But it hasn’t updated its “hobby” since March 2012, more than two years ago, unless you count a minor chip update in January 2013.
But, it’s clear that Apple hasn’t abandoned the project. It continues to win content deals, and Apple CEO Tim Cook told journalist Charlie Rose last month that the company has a "great interest" in TV. Earlier in the year, at the annual shareholder’s meeting, he pledged that the Cupertino, Calif.-based tech giant will continue to increase research and development investment in the sector, and he noted that it has already significantly ramped up its interest in Apple TV over the past year.
Analyst Trip Chowdhry of Global Equities Research expects a refresh to come early in 2015. "It is only going to be that little box," he told the San Jose Mercury. "But it is going to be very powerful."
He said that sources have told him that social TV will be a key improvement, and that Apple is working with Facebook and Twitter to provide some direct integration.
Others say that Apple should do what Apple does best: take an ecosystem approach. Tighter integration across devices and a vertical stack of closed-ecosystem software and hardware is something that defines Apple’s playbook. It’s how the company drives demand for its content and services, so it would make sense to include Apple TV in any feature strategy that drives that further.
"The competition has gotten quite a bit more robust in this space," Joel Espelien, a senior adviser at The Diffusion Group, told the paper. "Apple is going to have to bring its real strengths to bear.”
To that end, Apple previewed its latest content porting capabilities, known as Continuity, for Macs and iOS devices at WWDC earlier this year, which is a capability oriented around seamless transition. For instance, the Handoff function lets a user start writing an email, text message or other missive on one device, and finish it on another. With Apple TV integration, it could in theory allow a user to start a movie or TV show on an iPad while on the go then be able to pick it up immediately and automatically on the big screen when he or she gets home.
It’s very much like the existing AirPlay functionality, except that no user intervention is necessary to pull or push the content from one device to another. And in fact, there’s no need to stream directly from device to device at all; the content is kept in the cloud, so users pull it down from there.
The seamlessness of it also trumps the Google Chromecast functionality, which allows users to “cast” any content from a Google Android device to the television.
Tech-head blog 9to5Mac noted that beta testers for Handoff using OS X Yosemite machines on the same local Wi-Fi network as Apple TVs are getting notifications to be able to integrate with the Apple TV via the new feature.
“Unfortunately, there does not appear to be any references on either the new Apple TV software or OS X as to what Handoff between iOS devices/Macs and Apple TVs could mean, but there are some speculative possibilities,” the blog said.
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