Apple refreshes Apple TV with Siri, hardware upgrades


Michelle Clancy

| 10 September 2015

Apple has finally introduced a refresh of its Apple TV over-the-top (OTT) set-top streamer, the first in more than three years.

The palm-sized gadget will now start at $149 (up from $99) and feature a host of new user interface tweaks — but this is mainly an evolutionary update, not a revolutionary one.

On the hardware front, the fourth-generation Apple TV features a touchscreen, a 64-bit A8 chip and power, HDMI and Ethernet connections. The remote communicates by Bluetooth, and can also control TV volume now, so it conceivably can take the place of the universal TV remote. There's also a built-in accelerometer and gyroscope, and three-month battery life — and Siri is now integrated, for content navigation.

In terms of user interface, the content navigation bits are the main upgrade. Users can filter by genre, or age range. It also offers metadata integration: So, if you ask Siri, "who stars in this?" it will bring up a list of actors. The home screen gives access to movies, TV shows, the App Store, photos and apps.

What's notably missing are any new content deals or online video perks. The new Apple TV is identical to the new Apple TV in that regard — and according to at least one analyst, that's a problem.

"For Apple TV to succeed it will have to give people what they already want on a TV: TV shows," said Forrester analyst James McQuivey. "But for that to happen, the companies that own the best shows have to give Apple those rights, and from my conversations with them, Apple along with Google are the two companies that nobody wants to give that content to. The other option is to make your own content, a strategy Netflix denied it would ever do until the day that it did so. And it may be Apple's only hope to really make a dent in the world of TV content given how little content it can acquire rights to on its own."

Perhaps the company is aware that it has a content problem: taking a page from its mobile development, Apple has, significantly, debuted TV OS, available for developers, to jumpstart the app ecosystem and take advantage of the new hardware upgrades. That plays particularly well — no pun intended — in the gaming department.

"Apple excels at making tech products for non-tech people," said Jason Kingsley, co-founder of Oxford-based games developer Rebellion and chairman of TIGA. "The new Apple TV will help to widen our market, which from the UK games makers' viewpoint is fantastic. It's a developer's dream to have your work played by an expanding class of consumers. Just in time for Christmas too."

He added: "Whether talking mobile or console, there is always a physical interface challenge which can enhance or diminish which games are successful dependent on the platform. It's hard to translate the same experience from modest mobile screens to large TV ones. It will be interesting to see which new contenders surface. For Apple's App Store, it might enable a much needed shake-up, as whenever there's a 'new toy' to play with, there are disruptive companies which rise to the top to capitalise on new game play styles and take over from previous platform titans. Change helps creative ideas thrive, but impacts heavily on entrenched business models."