This morning, we were introduced to new iPhones, with much improved cameras and faster processors. We were introduced to a new, bigger iPad Pro with an optional keyboard cover and a pressure-sensitive digital stylus. But it's the Apple TV, the diminutive set-top box that has been more of a quiet labour of love for Apple than its heroic mobile devices and MacBooks, that has seen the biggest upgrade and the biggest unlocking of potential.
The old $109 Apple TV was a bit of a quiet achiever. It didn't get anywhere near the fanfare of an iPad or an iPhone or a MacBook, but it sat hidden away on the edge of your entertainment unit, a little square black box, and gave you access to Stan and Netflix and a bunch of different Apple video and music services. It was a simple conduit between the 'net and your house's central screen. The new Apple TV, though, has been radically redesigned both inside and out. It's sporting the A8 processor from the iPhone 6, double the RAM, up to 64GB of storage, and a much more powerful graphics chip that betrays its aim to be a casual gaming box.
The new Apple TV is built around its brand new remote control, fusing the (still unmatched) natural language and voice recognition element of Siri, the minute touch sensitivity and easy two-dimensional navigation of a MacBook trackpad, integrated Wiimote-esque accelerometers and, y'know, the features of a normal remote control -- that's something that can't be understated, since I've tried a bunch of different set top boxes that don't get the basics like volume control right at all. Having a trackpad means easier navigation through the Apple TV's menu system in a manner that's more intuitive than clicking a directional pad, and it also makes gaming possible.
Apps are the big thing for Apple TV, and that's simultaneously slightly worrying -- we don't have the same great track record with streaming video on demand app development that the US does -- but also really exciting. Remember what the original iPhone was like before it had the App Store? (Spoiler: not great.) Now that there's a compelling reason for developers to create exciting apps for the Apple TV, with a new device, new input method and a brand new tvOS operating system, we might see the nascent platform becoming just as popular as the Xbox One or Playstation 4.
Apple actually had the Aussie guys from Hipster Whale, creators of Crossy Road, up on stage to introduce the casual couch gaming credentials of the new Apple TV, and they took the opportunity to show off a multiplayer version of their game. There was a great rhythm game from Harmonix too. Shared-screen multiplayer gaming is becoming regrettably less common with today's hyper-powered but centrally 'net-connected gaming consoles; could the Apple TV be the device, like the original Nintendo Wii, that brings all your friends back together in your living room?
Having a unified streaming video on demand device as the central hub of your TV viewing is the Holy Grail; it's one of the reasons I like the look of the Telstra TV. Given enough time and enough consumer demand, the new Apple TV could do that as well. But it will (I think) also be a relatively affordable, relatively gutsy little home gaming console -- the kind of thing that you'd kick back with and play a half hour of Crossy Road on. Then there's the whole extra appeal of Siri and her voice search, too.
Unfortunately, we don't know quite how much the new Apple TV will cost in Australia, or exactly when it'll be available. We do know that it's coming to Australia -- local reps for Apple tell us that "the new Apple TV is coming soon" -- and we can take a solid guess at pricing from the US$149 price of the 32GB and US$199 price of the 64GB variant; I'd say to expect $249 and $299 taking the terrible US-Australian dollar exchange rate at the moment into account. Similarly, the late October launch should mean we hopefully won't be waiting too much longer to get our hands on a local version. [Apple]
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