A new Apple TV could be arriving in 2021, but how will it compete with so many powerful streaming devices when it retails for three times the cost?
This year saw the release of several streaming sticks and dongles that cost around $US50 ($66), many of which offer premium features like Dolby Atmos, Dolby Vision, HDR10, and HDR10+. The very best of these, the new Chromecast with Google TV, checks most of the boxes for perks you might shell out extra money for with something like the Nvidia Shield TV or an Apple TV 4K. And at just 50 bones, the Chromecast with Google TV significantly undercuts the Apple TV 4K, which starts at $US180 ($238) for 32GB and hikes up to $US200 ($264) for 64GB.
So with rumours of a revamped set-top box coming next year, where does that leave Apple?
That likely depends on the direction that Apple plans to take its new box. Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman reported last week that Apple will focus on gaming, processing power, and a new remote for its revamped streaming device. Regardless of any updates to its contentious streaming remote, no magic navigation features will justify paying roughly $US100 ($132)-$US150 ($198) more for an Apple TV than a similarly spec’d dongle or streaming box. And if Apple plans to continue playing in the 4K sandbox for now, it will have to significantly slash its price to compete with the likes of Fire TV, Google TV, and Roku.
This is especially true given that Apple TV — the app, not the hardware — has slowly been added on smart TVs, rival streaming devices, and next-generation consoles, which makes shelling out for the box itself less compelling unless a hardware-specific feature like its Ethernet port or access to Fitness+ is a big deal to you. (I’m not convinced these features justify the cost for the average streamer.) Sure, the Apple TV experience used to be one of the cleanest offered by a streaming device, especially when compared to something like Fire TV. But even I — a longtime Apple TV evangelist — eventually plan to make the switch to Google TV.
One way Apple could get around this cheap and powerful dongle problem might be to do as it did with the HomePod line and release a “lite” or “mini” version of its box. Maybe this budget box doesn’t get all of the newer bells and whistles of the 2021 release but still gives Apple a competitive edge against rival streamers. Even at $US100 ($132) for a 4K dongle, stick, or box of some kind, a budget model would likely help Apple move hardware. And with the company banking on its services like Apple TV+ and Fitness+, both of which feature prominently on its set-top box, it’s in the company’s best interest to make its Apple TV devices as accessible as possible. Or maybe this new box will become the premium one and the current options will get a price cut.
Apple indicated this year with releases like the Watch SE and HomePod Mini that it was willing to meet consumers somewhere in the middle on pricing for fantastic products that skip only some premium features included on more expensive models (though make no mistake — you’re still paying the Apple tax). Maybe it’s time for Apple TV to get the budget treatment as well.
Know something about Apple’s plans for the Apple TV? Drop me a line at [email protected].
Editor’s Note: Release dates within this article are based in the U.S., but will be updated with local Australian dates as soon as we know more.