Will the new AppleTV impress or fall flat?

Guest article by Maria Ramos

It seems that technology giant Apple is broad-minded and omnivorous in the diversity of its product lineup. Desktop computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets, watches and streaming music delivery all comprise significant fractions of its revenue. Apple looked like it would add televisions to its list of game-changing devices and services almost a decade ago, but the Apple TV has been a non-starter. It possessed the ability to do what any modern television could do but not much more. This situation is about to change, though, with the announcement of a new Apple TV with much more extensive and interesting capabilities than before.

The new model was unveiled at an Apple event in San Francisco on September 9. CEO Tim Cook introduced not just the Apple TV but also new versions of the iPhone and changes to iCloud services. By discussing the Apple TV along with these flagship products, it’s possible that Apple is demonstrating a renewed commitment and heightened emphasis on television as a priority within the company.

One of the big paradigm shifts for the new Apple TV will be a focus on apps. While the earlier model did come with certain apps, these were chosen by Apple and couldn’t be added to or removed by the user. Now, people will be able to visit a dedicated app store and install, delete and configure apps to their hearts’ content.

Of course, an app store is only as good as the apps it contains. There’s a new operating system for Apple TV, called tvOS, and Apple has decided to release sophisticated development tools to encourage other companies to develop software for it. Programmers will be able to create universal apps that will work on the iPhone, iPad and Apple TV.

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Accessing all this new content would be difficult using the old remote control that shipped with Apple TV. It only had two buttons and a directional pad. The new remote can interpret voice commands and has a touch-screen interface. Leveraging its popular Siri technology, Apple has incorporated the ability for the TV to understand voice instructions. Viewers will thus be able to say, “Show me Sean Connery movies,” or, “Display the weather forecast for tomorrow,” and view the appropriate information on their television screens.

With the introduction of an apps store and an enhanced remote control unit, we’ll see the floodgates open for games on the Apple TV. This could be a way for Apple to steal some market share from console manufacturers like Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, but there seems to be little in the way of gaming innovations from Apple. There’s no dedicated controller for the new Apple TV although users can plug in third-party controllers. It’s likely that whatever gaming occurs on the Apple TV will focus on cheap or free titles from independent studios, not premier releases from the leading game producers.

Apple HomeKit compatibility is a big plus with the new TV. Through HomeKit, home automation and security system products can integrate through a common set of APIs for communication and user control. Ordinary homeowners will thus be able to view information about and issue commands to their smarthome appliances using the Apple TV.

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Problems with the TV include a lack of apps for popular media products, like Pandora and Sling TV, and the fact that Apple’s much-anticipated streaming TV service is not yet available. The unit also costs more than previous versions: $149 for a TV with 32GB of storage and $199 for 64GB of storage. The previous Apple TV only set buyers back $69 though it did ship with only 8GB of storage space.

The recent changes to Apple TV are a welcome improvement to a product that has not seen any upgrades for three years. Apple fans and existing Apple TV owners will undoubtedly be tempted by the new abilities of the recently announced hardware. Whether the mainstream market responds in the way Apple wants it to remains to be seen and will largely depend upon the offerings that will become available in the app store.

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