It's been a long time coming, but the prophets appear to agree: Apple is finally ready to reinvent TV. But! Instead of a releasing a long-rumoured Apple television set, which would be a long shot, the Cupertino company will likely showcase a radically improved version of its stodgy set-top box. It will be great for gamers, and yes, it will finally — finally! — have apps and Siri.
The star of the soon-to-be announced Apple TV upgrade is undoubtedly a redesigned remote, according to most trusted rumourmongers. With a touchscreen interface, physical buttons, as well as a microphone for Siri, the Bluetooth-powered device will open up a world of possibilities for the little black box. Beefier specs, including a new processor, will also be an opportunity for developers who will reportedly be invited to build Apple TV-specific apps and games. Finally, that Siri integration could be transformative for home control, though it's hard to gauge how much Apple's focused on this angle.
Of course, it's always difficult to understand what Apple will do before they do it. Here's what we think is happening so far.
What will it be called?
This one's probably a no-brainer. Apple's called every single one of its television devices "Apple TV" since its initial release in 2007. There's no real reason to believe that it will break from that brand this year. Could the company call a new and improved device the Apple TV Pro or the Apple TV Plus or the Apple TV Illuminati Edition? Sure, but nobody really thinks any of that funny business is going to happen. The new and improved fourth-generation Apple TV will probably simply be called "Apple TV".
Based on its upgraded guts, many believe that the new Apple TV will be a bit heftier than its predecessor. Mark Gurman from 9to5Mac refers to the updated set-top box as "a taller, thicker Apple TV" with a "similar" design. Given that the box itself just sits there by your TV, this shouldn't be too dramatic a shift in shape.
What will shake things up is a completely redesigned remote, sources say. Many now agree with Brian X. Chen's report from May claiming that "the remote control will gain a touch pad and also be slightly thicker than the current version." Chen added that "the touch pad can be used for scrolling around and there will also be two physical buttons." One of the buttons will apparently beckon Siri while the other will be a Home button.
It's unclear if those buttons will remain side-by-side as they were on previous versions of the remote or if they will be moved to either side of a large touch surface, as pictured in our render above. The new remote will reportedly use Bluetooth 4.2 to talk to the box instead of an infrared sensor, so orientation of the remote shouldn't matter. And TechCrunch reports that the control will include an array of motion sensors that will let you use the remote as a steering wheel or like a Nintendo Wii remote — albeit without the need to point the damn thing at the box.
One major curiosity about the remote is whether it will include a regular old touchpad or a full-fledged touchscreen, like the iPhone. While the fanboy sites have been busy imagining what a touchscreen remote might look like, most of the reports floating around ahead of the announcement use the word "touchpad," so you might not want to get your hopes up. One thing is clear: There will be touching involved.
In the past, Apple TV's been a bit dinky in terms of processing power. The current version includes a single core A5 chip, the same processor that powers the iPhone 4s. According to Buzzfeed's John Paczkowski, new Apple TV will reportedly get a big bump, perhaps to the same A8 chip that's in the iPhone 6. This would enable all kinds of new possibilities for developers, especially since they won't have to worry about high processing demands draining the device's battery life, like they do on mobile. The Apple TV, after all, will still have a power cord. It will also reportedly have more onboard storage.
Expect spec bumps across the board, actually. The Bluetooth 4.2 technology will be joined by a faster 802.11ac wireless standard. The motion sensors in the remote will be complemented by a microphone that can be used to control Siri or play interactive games. (Karaoke anybody?)
Guts are good, but it will be up to the operating system to bring the glory. The new Apple TV will will reportedly run on iOS 9, which is scheduled to be released at the same time. That presumably means that many of the upgrades to iOS 9 will make their way over to Apple TV. Chief among them, of course, would be a more powerful, artificially intelligent Siri with new psychic features that anticipate your wants and desires based on past activity.
You can probably see where this is going. If you can talk to your Apple TV and the black box can anticipate your moves, there's a good chance that the new device will be the ultimate home hub. Apple and its partners even rolling out new HomeKit devices ahead of the September event, so it's easy to imagine that some of them might work with Apple TV. However, until we see connected devices in action, the specifics of Apple TV's role in the smarthome remain unclear.
Oh and in case you've heard the whispers, Apple does appear to be readying a streaming TV service that will work with the new Apple TV. The bad news is that this probably won't be ready until next year. The good news is that it will probably work with the old Apple TV too.
But really, the biggest difference will be the release of an Apple TV software development kit that will finally open up the platform for custom-built apps. If developers have found a way to make touchscreen games so much fun, just imagine what they could do with your entire living room. It also looks like Apple will allow third party companies to build their own Bluetooth-enabled controllers and other devices to complement what will soon be a well populated app store. Suddenly, the new Apple TV looks less like a competitor for Roku and Chromecast and more like a threat to Xbox and Playstation. Well, not exactly, but you get the idea. Gaming console!
How much will it cost?
All this fun doesn't come for nothing. While the third-generation Apple TV retails for a cool $US70, the fourth-generation Apple TV will reportedly cost between $US150 and $US200. Undoubtedly, you're going to have to pay more for that fancy remote and zippy process and apps and Siri and everything else.
When will it be available?
Here's a safe estimate: This thing will make for a great Christmas gift. Reliable reports claim that the Apple TV will be announced at the event on September 9 and start shipping in October. However, since the device has been delayed in the past, there's always a chance that the company will need a little more time to polish. But be optimistic. Apple would be crazy not to push these little entertainment machines as expensive but super fun-seeming stocking stuffers.
Illustration: Adam Clark Estes / Michael Hession