It wasn’t just that I personally wanted an upgraded device (although I did), but it made no sense why Apple was giving up its head start in the living room to newcomers Amazon (AMZN) Fire TV and Alphabet’s (GOOG, GOOGL) Google Chromecast, jeopardizing a “billion dollar business.”
The wait has ended — Apple announced and then released the Apple TV 4.
Can the new Apple streamer win back fans and convince consumers to skip the competition — and pay more than the previous Apple TV cost — by offering new features like Siri voice control and an App Store?
Read our fourth-generation Apple TV review to find out.
Apple TV Review: New Hardware, New Capabilities
The previous-generation Apple TV (which remains in the lineup as the budget streamer option) was woefully underpowered compared to the competition.
With the new Apple TV, Apple is using the same 64-bit A8 chip that powered the iPhone 6. It has a new operating system in tvOS. The remote has grown in size, but gained motion-sensing capabilities, a trackpad and a microphone for Siri voice control.
The Apple TV 4 may look like a taller version of the old Apple TV, but its new hardware allows it to pivot from being strictly a media streamer to being a home entertainment center. It still streams video and music, but also plays games.
The new remote takes a little getting used to, especially the touch pad, which can be overly sensitive. However, once you get the hang of it, the old Apple TV remote seems dated.
Siri integration is currently limited to search in supported video apps — like Apple’s own iTunes and Netflix (NFLX) — along with basics like asking about the weather. But it worked pretty well and saves a lot of typing, although for some reason Siri consistently refuses to find Will Ferrell videos at our house, despite recognizing his name and manual search turning up dozens of entries.
Game-playing capability was surprisingly good. Control is the biggest issue (although third-party controllers are available to help out), but I was surprised by how good some of the initial-release games were.
My kids didn’t turn on their Xbox for the first week the new Apple TV was here, instead playing Asphalt 8, which supports Wi-Fi multiplayer with one person “driving” on the Apple TV and others joining in the race on their iOS devices.
The graphics and gameplay certainly aren’t current-generation console quality, but I’d say some can compare favorably with what you might see on an Xbox 360. And with games ranging from free to $10 or so instead of $50 a pop, this makes the new Apple TV worth considering for cash-strapped parents.
Apple TV Review: New Interface, New App Store
The new Apple TV also gains a new app-focused interface.
If you own a previous-generation Apple TV, the look is familiar but refreshed, and this time around, you have to add the apps — like Netflix or YouTube — yourself.
With tvOS, the Apple TV also behaves something like an iPhone or iPad. For example, you can hold down an app until it jiggles to move it, or scroll through the thumbnails of currently open apps and swipe to close them.
Of course the star of this whole ecosystem is the new Apple TV App Store.
The Apple TV 4 is like any iOS device. It’s the apps that make it, and so far, the App Store is off to a good start. There were over 1,000 paid and free apps at launch, and the number is growing. Some — like the previously mentioned Asphalt 8 — are universal apps that can be played on both Apple TV and iOS devices.
I should mention, AAPL did a stellar job of making setup of the new Apple TV a much more streamlined process. Instead of having to use its virtual keyboard to configure network access and iTunes info, you hold an iPhone near the Apple TV and it automatically imports that data to get you up and running quickly.
Apple TV Review: Specs
- 64-bit Apple A8 processor
- 32GB or 64GB storage
- Siri remote includes Bluetooth 4.0, IR, accelerometer and gyroscope, Lightning connector (with rechargeable battery), dual microphones and glass Touch surface
- HDMI 1.4, 10/100BASE-T Ethernet
- USB-C service/support port
- 802.11ac Wi-Fi with MIMO
- Built-in power supply
- 1.4 x 3.9 x 3.9 inches, weighs 15 ounces
- MSRP $149 (32GB) or $199 (64GB)
Note: specifications are for the new Apple TV review unit, not the Apple TV 3.
Apple TV Review: Conclusion
Apple TV’s new competitors leapfrogged past AAPL in market share last year by getting smaller and cheaper.
The Google Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV Stick cost a fraction of what Apple was charging, and as HDMI dongles, they were a fraction of the size of the Apple TV.
This year, both Amazon and current media streamer leader Roku introduced 4K video support.
AAPL’s approach with the new Apple TV bucks these trends. Rather than shrink, the Apple TV 4 is about a third again taller than the previous generation. Where the Apple TV 3 was priced at $99 (then dropped to the current $69), the new Apple TV starts at $149 and tops out at $199.
4K video support? Nope, it still maxes out at 1080p HD.
Apple is betting consumers will be willing to pay more for a set-top box that does more, while passing on technology that’s still not mainstream (4K video). The key to whether this Apple TV is able to vault Apple back into a living room leadership position will be software developers and the App Store.
If the new Apple TV enjoys the kind of developer support the iPhone and iPad have had, a library of high-quality and inexpensive apps will drive sales of the device and may even make it a threat to traditional video game consoles.
If not … well, it can always go back to “hobby” status.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.