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Apple: Watching and Waiting Since 2012

Apple has a long-established pattern of watching technology trends, letting other companies introduce new products, then  learning from their mistakes and swooping in with a version that quickly dominates the category.

It did that with the iPod (taking out virtually all MP3 player competition), the iPhone and iPad—which was far from the first tablet to hit the market, but quickly became the first to be a commercial success. All three of those products—iPod, iPhone and iPad—were game changers that revolutionized the consumer electronics industry.

The new Apple TV 4 is showing every sign of following a similar pattern.

While Apple has been selling Apple TV media streamers since 2007, the company essentially put product development on hold in 2012, after releasing its third generation streamer.

Since that time, media streamers have hit the big time. Roku, the Fire TV and especially Google’s Chromecast exploded in popularity and soon overtook the Apple TV in sales. The Chromecast led a wave of tiny, inexpensive HDMI stick-style streamers while Roku and Android TV boxes introduced gaming. The Fire TV introduced voice search and both it and some Roku streamers now support 4K video. In the past three years, Netflix and other video streaming services have also become far more popular, encouraging a growing movement toward “cable cutting.”

That hiatus of over three years was confusing, but in retrospect it makes sense. With so much going on in the living room, Apple was watching and waiting for trends, studying consumer reaction and plotting the Apple TV 4 as its next game changing product release.

Apple TV 4: Revolutionary, Step-Forward Product

Apple TV as gameer.jpgThe new 4th generation Apple TV is not designed to be a cheap, HDMI dongle media streamer. Instead Apple is positioning its box as a living room entertainment console. The app-based interface and new tvOS operating system make the device intuitive to use, customizable and virtually endlessly expandable. The ability to play games using a Wii-like motion controller puts the Apple TV in a position to become a force in living room casual gaming—the same way the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch have changed the landscape of mobile gaming. The Siri voice control remote makes using the Apple TV 4 even easier and universal search (where results are returned for competing video services like Netflix and not just Apple’s own iTunes) makes it even more appealing for video watchers. 

The new Apple TV 4 is nowhere near perfect. The touchpad on the Siri Remote can be maddening, especially when trying to enter text in the new virtual keyboard. 4K TV owners are disappointed that the streamer won’t support 4K video. The App Store has limited selection. I could go on …

But Apple also has a history of relentlessly upgrading its products through software updates. Past Apple TVs have received continual updates that completely changed their capabilities over time. The Apple TV 4 has already received a software upgrade and I have no doubt Apple will continue to tweak the device.

The App Store is likely to grow quickly, based on the developer support Apple has received for the iPhone and iPad. The decision to offer Universal apps that are playable on iOS devices as well as Apple TV, strengthens the developer case for supporting the platform.

Apple Tv TV shows.jpg4K video? The new Apple TV doesn’t support it now, but when you check the specs, its video output port is HDMI 1.4 compliant and HDMI 1.4 just happens to be the version that introduced support for 4K video. Developers were already using the iPhone 6—with the same A8 CPU as the Apple TV 4—to drive 4K video. It’s entirely possible that the Apple TV 4 could support 4K video, if Apple chooses to enable the feature in a software update.

And don’t forget the TV subscription service Apple is known to be negotiating with the networks that would let the Apple TV 4 replace your cable box altogether.

It may not immediately seem to be a revolutionary product, but make no mistake —the 4th generation Apple TV is a big step forward for media streamers and will eventually be a game changer.

Check out the rest of my series on the Apple TV 4, including what it is and how it works, differences between the 3rd and 4th generation Apple TV, and how to set it up.

Brad Moon
Editor Computing solutions
I’m a long-time electronics and gadget geek who’s been fortunate enough to enjoy a career that lets me indulge this interest. After 13 years as a product manager with a leading Canadian tech company, I transitioned into a full-time career of writing about technology. I’ve contributed to a range of publications and websites including Forbes, Wired, Gizmodo, Lifehacker, About.com, MSN Money, the Winnipeg Free Press, InvestorPlace Media, Shaw Media and—combining technology and my three kids—I’ve been a Core Contributor to the award winning GeekDad blog since its launch in 2007.