Making sense of the latest Apple TV rumors

The latest Apple TV rumors have suggested everything from gaming capabilities to an integrated AirPort Express. Here's what you should expect from Apple's living room box if the company revamps the hardware.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Apple TV rumor mill is firing up again.

This week, Apple's living room box has been the subject to a host of new rumors (largely from 9to5Mac's Mark Gurman), including updated hardware, gaming, an app store, and even cable box integration. There's even new talk of the mythical Apple Television.

It's not surprising that the Apple TV -- that is to say, the streaming video box you can buy right now for $99 -- may be in for a significant overhaul. By tech standards, it's an aging device, released back in March 2012 -- and even that update was a minor advance over the second-generation box that was announced in 2010. Still, chatter about a revamped Apple TV has come up several times before, so there's no guarantee we'll see a new box anytime soon.

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There's been no indication from Cupertino about any forthcoming Apple TV update yet, but some of these rumors make more sense than others. Here's what I'm expecting if Apple TV overhauls its living room box in 2014.

What makes sense

1. Gaming: It's about all MFi controllers
It may not seem like it, but Apple is already one of the most important gaming companies in the world, with companies like EA receiving more revenue from Apple iOS's platform than anywhere else. That puts the Apple TV in a great position to take the idea of the microconsole mainstream, building on the idea of early entrants such as Ouya and Sony's Vita TV.

SteelSeries Stratus MFi controller Sarah Tew/CNET

While the Apple TV already has some limited gaming capabilities via AirPlay, using iOS devices as controllers, the recent addition of gaming controller support to iOS 7 -- called MFi controllers -- makes it easy to see how the Apple TV can add casual gaming to its list of capabilities. A true gaming controller will also allow the Apple TV to add games beyond the tilt-and-swipe casual games that are so popular on mobile devices, but don't translate as well to the living room.

That leaves plenty of questions. How much would a gaming-capable Apple TV cost? Will it include a controller? Will Apple design its own controller? Still, the rumors of an expanded role for gaming on the Apple TV makes a lot of sense, especially given the success of gaming on other iOS devices.

2. A true app store

If Apple is opening the door for gaming, it would also make sense to add one of the most requested Apple TV features: a full-blown app store.

The Apple TV has more apps now, but is still far behind Roku. Sarah Tew/CNET

The Apple TV has long been criticized for its limited selection of apps, although that's certainly less true today, as the box has plugged many of its content holes with apps such as HBO Go, Hulu Plus, and Watch ESPN. Still, the Apple TV would benefit from a full-blown app store, giving more developers access to the growing living room platform rather than the more conservative approach of the current Apple TV.

3. More built-in storage
If Apple plans to add an app store and gaming, it's almost certain that a new Apple TV will need more than the 8GB of flash memory on the current box. I haven't seen any specific rumors recording storage yet, but it wouldn't be surprising is Apple took a similar approach as it does on its other iOS devices, offering a few different price points depending on how much memory you want.

4. Siri and better search options
Now that the Apple TV has expanded its app selection, finding content between all those services is becoming more difficult. Roku already has an excellent cross-platform search capability, although you still need to enter in text using the onscreen keyboard. Since Apple already has voice search built into its latest iOS devices via Siri, it would make sense to add the ability to search the Apple TV using a connected smartphone or tablet.

5. Built-in router
Of all the latest Apple TV rumors, the rumor that Apple may integrate AirPort Express functionality into the Apple TV is the most unexpected.

Brian Tong/CNET

While it may seem a little out of left field, it makes a lot of sense: the two devices are very similar in size and it could easily eliminate another box under your TV. If Apple is planning to increase the price of the new Apple TV box, adding router capabilities would help justify the cost.

What's a harder sell

1. Cable box control
9to5Mac's sources indicate that Apple has been "testing versions of the Apple TV with a built-in TV tuner component so it has the ability to control your existing cable boxes/TV stations".

The Xbox One's cable box control still feels clunky and limited. Sarah Tew/CNET

While it's not surprising that Apple has been testing that functionality, I'd be surprised if that the direction the Apple TV takes. Google TV and the Xbox One have tried that approach and it always ends up feeling more clunky than you'd like.

2. An actual television
The rumors of Apple releasing an actual television never seem to die. Given how long this rumor has persisted -- and how little evidence there is to support it -- I'd bet against an Apple Television this year.

Poised to become more than a "hobby"

Apple has always referred to the Apple TV as a "hobby," but the scale of the rumors suggest it may become more than that. In fact, the Apple Store Web site recently added a dedicated section for the Apple TV, which suggests the company is elevating its status in the product line.

The Apple TV now has its own dedicated section of the Apple Store Web site. Matthew Moskovciak/CNET

As for now, there's no indication as to when a revamped Apple TV may actually be released, so we'll have to stay tuned to see what Apple has planned for the living room.

 

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