Apple TV complete guide

Steve Jobs admitted that Apple was building a real TV with the simplest interface imaginable. So what will it do, and when can we buy it?

Whispers of a real Apple TV have been slowly climbing the rumour chart for years. It began when Steve Jobs first announced a small set-top box to stream your iTunes library to the living room, which grew into a solution for streaming movies online .

Jobs said the pocket-sized TV box was merely a hobby for Apple, and it was easy to dismiss early rumours of a proper Apple flat-panel. Then the Steve Jobs biography was released.

In it, Jobs told his biographer Walter Isaacson that Apple really had been working on a proper Apple TV with "the simplest user interface you could imagine". Isaacson later said that Jobs always planned to revolutionise TV in the same way he did with computers and phones, proving that his hobby claims were just smoke and mirrors after all.

Since then, there has rarely been such loose speculation around a rumoured Apple product -- and that's really saying something after the hype surrounding the iPhone 4S.

Let CNET UK be your guide through the pundit minefield and help explore what a real Apple TV could be like.

What will the Apple TV do?

For now, the Apple TV allows HD video rentals, iTunes streaming and AirPlay, which draws a feed straight from your iPhone or iPad. So what could a proper TV set bring besides a classic design and FaceTime camera ?

The most exciting prospect is if it delivers a dedicated TV app store. Living room apps aren't a new concept, but Apple's grip on the leading developers gives it the best shot of bringing TV apps to the mainstream. An obvious example would be apps for channels, but we like the idea of TV widgets too, like a news ticker to glance at while you eat breakfast.

Could the Apple TV become a contender to the Xbox and PlayStation? The iPhone accidentally became the most popular handheld gaming device in the world, and Apple will presumably update its TV set more often than Sony or Microsoft would with their consoles. The next decade will certainly be an interesting chapter in the history of gaming.

Ultimately, most people still want their TVs to play traditional programmes. One analyst thinks the TV will include a cable input since so many families are tied into contracts with existing suppliers like Sky or Virgin, but Apple might rather these companies simply bring out an app just as they might on the iPad.

Siri

The most popular prediction so far is that the Apple TV will ditch remotes for voice control with Siri .

It seems inevitable, but any claim that the TV will be exclusively controlled by Siri is unfounded so far. The only clue is that Steve Jobs said it would have "the simplest user interface imaginable". That quote was released in the same week as Siri's premiere on the iPhone 4S , and bloggers were overly keen to join the dots.

The theory is that you would ask to load a specific program or app. This would save a good deal of time browsing lists, but sometimes you really do want to browse your library for inspiration. Are you really supposed to remember every item you own? What if you have a sore throat? Will we browse a menu and forever ask 'down a bit… up a bit...'?

This is why a Siri-only TV seems rather silly. It's very likely that our robot friend will be a big part of the Apple TV, but not the only means to navigate it from your sofa.

Apple TV

The chance of the Apple TV being operated only by using voice-activated Siri are, well, remote.

Gestures

Eagle-eyed patent fans might have seen this quiet invention by Apple, which allows for air gestures from varying distances -- or indeed, from across living rooms of different sizes.

Flicking through a large menu with the wave of an arm could be the solution that makes up for Siri's only weakness, though we're already cringing at the number of Minority Report comparisons this is bound to induce.

As lovely as these remote-replacing interfaces might be, they don't offer much more of a selling point than the current Apple TV. This is why we think Apple still has something mega hiding up its sleeve. If it can't bring a significant innovation, the decision to buy an Apple TV is going to rely on the price.

Price

Early predictions say the Apple TV will cost twice as much as a normal TV. This is hardly insightful, because there's no standard price for a 'normal' TV. However, there's also a fair case to say Apple might shock the world with a reasonable price tag.

Think back to the iPad 1 launch -- the entire Internet whispered that Apple might pull its new tablet down to the "magic" $999 price. Steve Jobs pulled a blinder when he proclaimed a tag of half that, and now we perceive its current price to be expensive for a tablet.

Many homes already have an HDTV and owners might only be tempted if Apple sets an acceptable starting price, which competitors can't match. It ultimately comes down to what it packs inside. That won't become clear until Apple staff get drunk and leave it in a bar . Yes, an entire telly. We wouldn't be surprised.

Apple TV or iTV?

Most websites are branding the new TV as an iTV, following Apple's traditional naming convention. But hang on -- what about that channel on the telly with the same name?

ITV is one of the best established brands in British history, and in 2010 it told Pocket-lint in no uncertain terms that it won't share the name. In fact, an early legal threat from the channel behind X Factor seems to be the very reason that the current Apple TV is named as such. Steve Jobs originally announced it to be an iTV but was forced to change it quietly before its launch.

Size

Japanese sources apparently told Smarthouse that the Apple TV is being built in three sizes between 32 and 55 inches. Make what you will of that, because Smarthouse doesn't have a track record for breaking new Apple stories.

For now, presume that Apple will keep the range of sizes as simple as possible.

Release date

The latest rumours are that telly maker Sharp is already preparing to start production in February for a 2012 release.

Does it really have to be so soon? Apple fans are frantically saving for the iPad 3 and iPhone 5, and now we hear a full-blown TV might drop in 2012 too.

Don't take this rumour too seriously, because the evidence is still too sparse to say a proper Apple TV will next year. For now, it's a very big maybe.

Some publications, including Forbes, think it might hold off producing a TV and instead release a bigger iMac as a stepping stone. We like to think the stepping stone will be the Apple TV software launching on OS X Lion to replace iTunes, but this is pure wishful thinking.

There will at least be some form of new Apple TV in 2012 though. Some clever hackers found a hidden iOS reference to a new Apple TV model with the codename J33, but this could simply be an update to the current set-top box.

Apple TV set-top box

While many will be hoping for the Apple TV to drop in 2012, we might have to be content with an update to the set-top box first.

We'll just be happy if it allows for 1080p-resolution streaming, unlike the current model. It might pack a new processor and allow for fancy HD gaming, but without storage to download and save onto the device, you might have to push your games from a mobile to the big screen using AirPlay.

Let's be honest, AirPlay is a smarter solution anyway. Mix that with iCloud and digital rentals, and you might wonder why we need a fully-integrated Apple TV after all.

Summary

It finally looks like Apple is working on a proper TV. Remote controls could be ditched for some kind of Siri and gesture combo, and living room apps could become a reality with either a built-in app store or a focus on using AirPlay to pull a stream from your iPhone or iPad.

While the blogosphere works itself into a fluster over the prospect of a 2012 release, we think Apple will test the waters with an update to the current Apple TV box or the release of TV software through your Mac.

A positive side-effect of this speculation is how they have sent other TV makers scrambling to build their own visions of the future. Apple's entry to other industries left many companies spinning, but the new level of competition has changed mobile and tablet tech for the better. As a result, the TV experience will soon be richer than ever, no matter who you buy from.

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TVs
About the author

    Tom Davenport spent several years flirting with music production before admitting he preferred writing about technology online. He once performed in a Superbowl commercial, but you'll never find it online. Tom is a freelance writer and is not an employee of CNET.

     

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