Looking at Apple’s product lines, the Apple TV stands out as one that has seen little in the way of major features. The user interface has remained the same and the UI design was far from stellar when it was first introduced. From a hardware design perspective, there’s not much you can do with a black box. For the most part, it serves its purpose, which is to get lost in a home entertainment center or mounted behind a television. We’ve seen a continuing stream of new channels and small feature upgrades like being able to hide channels. Having spent extensive time using a Roku, Apple TV and now Amazon Fire TV, it’s clear that Apple cannot afford to ship a new model with nothing more than upgraded internals. This might not be the year we get a TV product from Apple that revolutionizes how we watch television, but they can significantly improve a current product. Here are five things I’d like to see in a new Apple TV.
- Siri: Apple has all of this great voice recognition software that many of us use every day on our iPhones. With the channel count expanding, it’s become incredibly cumbersome to navigate an Apple TV, ROKU or Amazon Fire TV. Roku has added universal search, letting you pinpoint which services you can use to find a program. That works fairly well, but still requires you navigate a grid of letters to enter your search. Although it is limited to Amazon’s store, the voice search on the Amazon Fire TV is fast, easy to use and streamlines the process of finding and watching programs. As a heavy Amazon Prime user, voice search is not only a cool feature, it’s become one that I use each and every day. Amazon is expanding voice search to include Hulu, Crackle and Showtime. I suspect that at some point, Amazon will offer support for searching Netflix using voice search. I like what Amazon has done with implementation. Apple could go further by building it into the remote and iOS 8. Build in universal search and you solve one of the bigger problems facing Apple TV.
- Backlit remote: About that Apple TV remote. It’s small, comfortable and very tactile. It’s also impossible to see in the dark. Any serious home theater accessory needs to have a backlit remote. Regardless of how simple of a remote, it would benefit everyone to have a backlit Apple TV remote.
- App & Game Support: The Apple TV uses iOS. Apple’s App Store is brimming with iOS apps. Amazon has figured out that support apps increases the usefulness of their product and games add a fun factor for those who might not want to spend $400 on a next generation PS4 or Xbox One. Think about the quality of iOS games and put them on your big 60-inch TV. Sounds like a fun machine. Support for games has been rumored, so there’s a good chance this might happen. If they were to add support for third party apps, users could download apps like Plex to watch their library of movies. At this point, the Apple TV feels like the pre-App Store iPhone, an incredibly powerful machine that is handcuffed. Forget about how great this will be for users, what about developers? At $99 or even $149 (see #4), it’s relatively inexpensive, so adoption would be incredibly high. That would mean a lot of happy users and happy developers. Win, win.
- Game Controller Support: Even the casual gamer needs a serious controller. I’m not talking about the overpriced MFI controllers. Apple should build their own controller and package it. They don’t need to invent everything. They should build their own using the latest controllers from Microsoft and Sony as a model. Include it with the new, upgraded Apple TV and charge $149.
- Single Sign On For Channels: Take any of these 2014 streaming boxes and they have one thing in common, the setup sucks. You want the Disney XD channel? You have to grab a computer, visit an activation website, enter a code and enter login information for your cable account to confirm you have an active subscription. For a number of these new channels, the process is the same. What happened to the beauty of simplicity that was the calling card of Apple products. Evidently, that doesn’t apply to the Apple TV. Most, if not all of these channels are looking for the same information. Apple can easily have figure out a way to let you enter your cable provider login credentials and activate these channels. Every single manufacturer ignores this problem to the point where it has become acceptable. If they truly care about user experience on the Apple TV, this should be fixed.
These features will require added horsepower and storage. Throw in an A8 processor, boost the RAM and add a minimum of 16GB of local storage for games and apps. These sort of upgrades wouldn’t be considered revolutionary and definitely not what Steve Jobs had in mind when he said he had cracked the code. This doesn’t impact regular TV, which is still in desperate need of a company like Apple to fix what is badly broken. If this is a year of evolutionary upgrades, the list above would make for an awesome 4th generation Apple TV.
What do you want to see in the next-gen Apple TV?