Monday's Apple event was full of Apple TV news, from Apple TV+ and Apple TV Channels to star-studded, Apple-backed original streaming content. But one critical thing was missing, though: no new Apple TV set-top box.
This would have been the ideal time to announce a new Apple TV device to go with these new features, but instead we're still stuck with the overpriced, two-year-old Apple TV 4K and it's even older, non-4K Apple TV for 1080p streaming. That's because Apple TV, as we know it, is dead or dying.
For years, Apple TV has primarily been a media streamer, a physical device connected to your TV to let you watch iTunes movies and TV shows on the big screen. That changed this week as Apple started framing Apple TV purely as a service platform. While plenty of new features were described, Apple TV as a device was hardly mentioned. It was shown in a pile with the iPhone, iPad, and MacBook as just another platform that can use the service. Not a peep on hardware.
If that isn't enough of a hint that the physical Apple TV is on its way out, the announcement of Apple TV apps for smart TVs is another nail in its coffin. LG, Samsung, Sony, and Vizio TVs, along with Amazon Fire TV and Roku devices, will get Apple TV apps that provide access to Apple's iTunes video library later this year. We saw a hint of this at CES when Samsung announced it would be getting an iTunes app, but seeing such a wide selection of devices that will get Apple TV apps is shocking.
At $150 to $180, Apple TV hardware has long been too expensive when compared to Amazon Fire TV, Google Chromecast, and Roku TV devices, which start at $30 and offer 4K options beginning at $50. If you aren't deeply committed to iTunes and Apple's content ecosystem, that's a huge premium for a media streamer. Even the feature-laden Amazon Fire TV Cube , which streams 4K video and supports hands-free Amazon Alexa voice controls, costs significantly less than either Apple TV.
If you can access iTunes content on your smart TV, Roku, or Fire TV, what possible reason could you have to spend that much money on an Apple TV? iOS and macOS screen mirroring over AirPlay and perhaps button-press remote-bound Siri access are the only two options, and neither is very compelling (and AirPlay will also be separately added to several smart TVs later this year).
It's a smart move for Apple. Widening the availability of iTunes to other devices takes away its sense of exclusivity, but it means far more people will be able to spend money on movie and TV show rentals and purchases. That's a lot of revenue with no need for manufacturing or distribution of hardware. It's also hardly a loss for Apple fans, whose current Apple TVs will continue to work and also receive the new features, and who will be able to enjoy their iTunes library on their TV even if they don't have an Apple TV device.
This doesn't mean Apple is completely done with streaming hardware, though. As I mentioned, AirPlay is one of the few reasons to have an Apple TV. This is the perfect opportunity for Apple to reinvent the Apple TV as a streaming dongle like a Google Chromecast . Maybe call it an AppleCast or iCast. Make a smaller, simpler streaming device with no remote or on-screen interface that you control with your iPhone or iPad. Then set the price at less than half that of the 1080p Apple TV, to make it more competitive with at least the Chromecast Ultra , if not the standard Chromecast.
Yes, Apple would be coming to the streaming stick party several years late, but that's nothing new for Cupertino. It took far too long for the Apple TV to get a robust app store to access streaming services besides iTunes, and far too long after that for the 4K version of the device to come out. An Apple Chromecast equivalent that doesn't cost eight times as much would still be very compelling.
This is pure speculation, and Apple could simply let the Apple TV fade away. But whatever happens, it's clear the Apple TV media streamer is dying. And if you don't believe me, go to the Apple TV section on Apple's own website. Then start scrolling down, and consider how long it takes before you actually see the Apple TV 4K itself. It's just above the accessories.