All eyes are on Apple Inc. and a media event set for September 9th. This time, it’s gotten gimmicky, as Apple suggests you ask Siri what’ll happen. There are, I take it, some canned answers that do nothing but draw attention to it, but that’s the purpose, which is to keep you talking.
As we did on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE. But first, we featured Michael Roy, Senior Product Marketing Manager for VMWare Fusion and Fusion Pro. He talked about version 8, just released, which offers a number of new features, including support for Windows 10 and OS X El Capitan, along with an enhanced graphics engine for better game play on a Windows virtual machine.
Now as I’ve explained in previous issues, I have been fairly impressed with Windows 10. It’s fast, stable, and manages to make you forget the stench, the wrongheaded decisions, of Windows 8. It’s more of a throwback to Windows 7, complete with a functioning Start menu, with some modern wrinkles. Having two compelling virtual machine apps, Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion, makes it easy to run Windows 10 on your Mac with pretty good performance. That’s how I do it.
In the next segment, columnist Kirk McElhearn, Macworld’s “iTunes Guy,” talked briefly about the sudden departure of Apple Music director Ian Rogers, and the confusing stats over the number of people still using the service weeks after it was introduced. He also joined Gene in speculating about what might come out of Apple’s September 9 media event, where new iPhones are expected. Will there also be the long-awaited refresh for Apple TV, and what about a recent survey, from IDC, which put Apple Watch in second place behind the Fitbit among wearables?
You also heard from outspoken commentator Peter Cohen, Mac Managing Editor for iMore, who also talked at length about what might be expected at Apple’s media event. What about the fact that Apple will also stream it to Windows users? There will be a brief discussion about the positive reception to Windows 10, the prospects for a new Apple TV, possible improvements to the remote, and whether there’s an iPad Pro in our future.
All in all, it does seem that Apple’s media event will have essentially predictable results, although there are some rumors around the edges of possible surprises. Right now, though, the chatter appears more about a new Apple TV rather than new iPads or other gear. Apple usually avoids cluttering a product rollout of this sort with too many announcements, because it blurs a targeted marketing message.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Author/UFO researcher/science writer Chris Rutkowski returns to The Paracast to present an update on the latest sightings in Canada, classic cases, “M-File” cases from Manitoba, and responsible speculation about UFOs. Chris was also associated with the Roswell Slides Research Group, which quickly and easily demonstrated that the body in the slides was that of a mummified child and not an extraterrestrial. During this segment, Chris will provide an update into the state of UFO research, the possible impact of their presence and how we’re faring towards finding a solution to the mystery.
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The media long ago got over the obsession with the prospects of an Apple TV set. It’s clearly not going to happen any time soon, though I suppose it could arrive eventually if Apple can find a marketing scheme that works in a highly saturated marketplace. With the iPhone and the iPad, Apple entered markets that had not been well served with existing gear. Smartwatches had gone nowhere until Apple Watch arrived and sucked the air out of the room, though it’s ultimate prospects are still uncertain.
Some published reports suggested that the aging Apple TV would be revived for the WWDC last June, in part because Apple was expected to unveil a software development kit to allow third parties to get into the act. As it stands, Apple fully controls what few apps are released and when.
So it didn’t happen, and now there are renewed predictions that it will be the “one more thing” product introduced at the September 9th event, which otherwise will focus on the next iPhone and iOS 9. That seems eminently possible, though other rumors suggest that Apple TV won’t debut until October, perhaps at an event that will also launch the next iPad, including a larger version to be known as the iPad Pro.
So what form will the next Apple TV take? The current model debuted in 2012 with an A5 processor, something decidedly old and slow in today’s iOS universe. It works well enough, but menu and graphic motion is more gradual than snappy. It almost seems dated now.
This past week emerged reports of an all-new interface, and my response would be that it’s about time. As more and more channels are added to Apple TV, the need to engage in multiple steps to get things done is already a drag on efficiency. Add to that doing similar steps with multiple apps to expand your viewing options, and it does seem that a cable/satellite set-top box is more effective. The interface may not be quite as elegant, but it’s serviceable enough since you’re dealing with a single service, and there is still TiVo.
Aside from the spiffy interface, you’ll likely see some very expected hardware improvements, such as a processor that’s at least an A8, more onboard storage, and no doubt support for 4K video. While some have voiced skepticism about 4K, the TV makers are expanding such support to even relatively lower priced sets. Apple is heavily invested in 4K with the latest iMacs, and the Mac Pro and MacBooks support the technology. Amazon Instant Video and Netflix are offering limited 4K fare, so it would hardly make sense for Apple not to include that support.
That it will use a power outlet and not a battery may allow the processor to be run at a higher clock speed, since power efficiency is less critical.
One blogger suggested Apple would roll out 4K later, perhaps as a software update, but the reasons were incoherent, something about marketing, and that makes little sense. So I think 4K is a lock. I might be wrong, but it’s possible even the new iPhones will take 4K videos. And don’t forget all those video editors working on 4K projects with Final Cut Pro X.
Yet another rumor has it that Apple will include Metal graphics support on the Apple TV, something quite reasonable, which opens the possibility for gaming. There is also expected to be a new remote, one not as overly simple as the current one, which requires multiple steps to navigate through menus. Perhaps there will be support for Force Touch, or even a motion control to facilitate gaming and speedy access to other features. You would expect Siri, with a built in mic with which to enter commands.
Maybe universal remote capability? At the very least, I would expect a Wi-Fi sensor in addition to IR. The current remote, which uses IR, has a very narrow range of operation, thus making it difficult to operate from the rear of one’s bed without some irritating gyrations.
Gaming capability is an open question. A developer SDK may invite developers to port some of their best to the new platform, in addition to AirPlay streaming from your iPhone or iPad. But this could be a real game changer, forgetting the obvious pun, and put Apple TV in a position where it would effectively compete with dedicated gaming consoles, assuming some compelling choices of course.
What’s all this joy going to cost?
Today’s Apple TV is $69, and perhaps Apple will leave it in the lineup as a cheap alternative, or do a very minor upgrade without the frills. But what about the high-end model? One report asserts Apple plans to charge between $149 and $199, which is substantially higher than Roku’s best, the Roku 3, which is still $99.99.
But does that even make sense? Yes, packing all that hardware into a $99 gadget may seem a bit much, so perhaps $129 would be a more suitable price point. That depends on whether Apple will indeed make it do as much as the rumors suggest. But it won’t sport an LCD display or the array of sensors you find on an iPhone, so maybe the lower price point will be possible. Still, Apple will have to make a big case for asking more with cheaper streamers around.
Regardless of when the next Apple TV arrives, few expect it to be accompanied by a subscription TV service. Supposedly contracts are still being worked on, and it would seem that the TV networks would be leaking a few basic details if something were about to happen. The other open question is whether Apple’s server farms are up to the task of handling the additional load. One report I read suggested they’d still rely on third-party content providers, such as Akamai, until the internal network structure is up to the task. It wouldn’t look good if the system is clogged as early adopters subscribe.
But if Apple TV’s arrival won’t happen until October or thereabouts, maybe there’s still time to craft a deal. Or perhaps Apple will be close enough to finalizing the arrangement to announce it a couple of months early, to build demand and shore up their network infrastructure.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple offered free trials, 30 days or 90 days, to give you a chance to try it out, shades of Apple Music. Since TV fare around the world is the result of highly complex and specialized network agreements, it may well be it’ll launch first in the U.S. and roll out in other countries over time, as deals and channel lineups are finalized.
But I’ve weighed in on this before. I don’t think Apple can get away with simply mimicking basic cable with a few minor changes. I fail to see compelling reasons for, say, Dish Network’s Sling TV, other than to avoid hooking up a satellite dish. There’s nothing unique in the channel offerings, and you still have to buy higher tiers to flesh out the meager offerings. And what about time-shifting?
You see, Sling TV doesn’t offer DVR capability, and on-demand is said to be limited. Forgetting picture quality not being up to the best streaming services, what is Dish really offering as an advantage here to save a very few dollars per month? It doesn’t seem to be worth it, though I grant the channel lineups and features could be fleshed out over time. DVR is a given, and being able to add your local TV stations is essential for such services to make sense.
When it comes to Apple, the service obviously doesn’t exist, except in the minds of bloggers or in secret negotiations involving Apple and the networks. What form it’ll take is a matter of speculation, but Apple would want to put its own unique slant on such a service. But it would take a really unique package, and a super affordable rate, for me to even sign up for a free trial. I’m still looking forward to the next Apple TV, however.
THE FINAL WORD
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