Yesterday we saw Apple make modest, yet significant changes to the Apple Store. No longer relegated to an iPod accessory, the Apple TV is now a full-fledged product category. Apple has used words like ‘hobby’ when discussing the Apple TV, so the move to push it to above the fold is meaningful. The timing is a bit odd. It’s not as if the Apple TV, in its current form, offers anything new. It could simply mean that Apple is trying to build awareness of the product line ahead of what could be a major product refresh, one that could include a built-in router. That brings up an even bigger question. What would Apple build a router into the Apple TV?
Apple Thinks Your Router Sucks
Okay, maybe it doesn’t suck, but it doesn’t work as well with Apple products. Most experts suggest Apple’s routers are good, but not great. Having recently switched from an older Apple AirPort Extreme to ASUS RT-ac66u (which many believe to be the gold standard), I miss the stability of the Extreme. Sure I can install custom firmware on the ASUS, but even as someone who loves to tweak their products, I’m not interested in messing with my router. Out of the box, the ASUS has performed fairly well, with fantastic speeds. While it’s fast, it’s also quirky. My Nest regularly drops offline and TiVo sometimes drops connectivity. While I gain a bit in speed, I’m experiencing annoyances that were non-existent with Apple’s Extreme router. I’m using two top-of-the-line products. What about people using Linksys routers from a decade ago? These are the folks who didn’t even realize that serious improvements have been made in the last decade. For them, the Internet works and that box collecting dust in the closet doesn’t shoulder the blame should Netflix have buffering issues. If Apple is to about to get serious with Apple TV, having a quality router helps ensure that customers are getting solid, if not spectacular results from their router.
Make TV and Gaming a Priority
Mark Gurman at 9to5Mac points out yet another important feature and that’s prioritization. Plenty of routers offer prioritization, but often it requires you login to the admin panel of your router. Router software, while functional, is at the bottom of the UI food chain. It’s confusing and most users would be in fear of making any changes. Apple’s router could prioritize activities that are important, like TV. If this is going to allow gaming and do it without local storage, than a fast connection is going to be paramount.
Something Bigger Is A Foot
Right now, sources are indicating the new Apple TV will allow gaming and support for new content. Apple is also allegedly testing a built-in TV tuner that could theoretically control a cable box. If Apple is serious about TV, they need to be either input zero (an actual television) or input one. The latter seems to be an easier task or at a minimum, one that has a lower cost of entry for consumers. TVs are cheap and I’m not certain customers would pay the premium required for an Apple produced set. So what’s Apple’s play? Could it be cable card support? If so, perhaps their definition of cracking the code is some form of iCloud DVR? Think about it. They already have on-demand with apps from Disney, HBO Go and others. Streaming services like Netflix are baked in. The cog in the wheel is TV. DVRs are awful and expensive. If a company like Apple truly wanted to revolutionize the TV experience, the bar is set incredibly low. To do so, they’d need to be the center point for all connectivity. A router would be just one part of a bigger plan that could include support for cable cards. For those customers with older, legacy Apple TVs, maybe they would have access to this newer model for playback of recorded programming and even live TV. TiVo has done this using the TiVo Roamio + TiVo mini. The mini doesn’t require anything from your cable company to watch TV.
These are just a few reasons why Apple might be building a router into the upcoming Apple TV. Maybe there is more, maybe we are on the verge of seeing what Jobs meant when he said they had cracked the code.