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We already know that Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) is on the verge of announcing the iPad 3, which is now confirmed for March 7. Obviously, the tablet will be the feature presentation, but a less followed storyline is that the Mac maker will probably also update the small black puck that is currently the Apple TV.
That's right: I hate to burst your bubble, but I'm not referring to the real Apple TV full-size set that everyone is awaiting with bated breath. Hopefully, a minor refresh of the current Apple TV set-top box will hold eager buyers over until the real deal emerges.
One of the telltale signs that Apple is about to update any of its product lines is that its distribution channels to third-party retailers and distributors starts to dry up ahead of time as supply becomes constrained. Apple obviously doesn't explicitly tell its partners to expect an update, but the same story reliably plays out every time. This is exactly what's happening with the current box, including through retailers such as Best Buy, Target, and Amazon.com, among others.
Let's consider what to expect from an updated Apple TV set-top box. The current version uses Apple's custom ARM Holdings (Nasdaq: ARMH ) -based A4 processor, which is now starting to age. The A4 was originally released in the first iPad in 2010 and subsequently made its way into the iPhone 4 and current Apple TV. Its successor was the A5, which similarly followed suit starting in the iPad 2 and then the iPhone 4S.
I'd expect the new Apple TV to carry an updated A- processor, either a rumored improved A5X or entirely new-generation A6. It may also incorporate Siri, as I expect Siri to find its way into every Apple mobile device released from here on out, and eventually into Macs.
I'm also betting that the expanded presence will benefit backend voice-recognition provider Nuance Communications (Nasdaq: NUAN ) eventually, although Apple and Nuance's relationship status on Facebook would be "It's complicated."
The iPad 3 is practically guaranteed to carry a high-resolution Retina Display, which could easily handle 1080p HD content. As of right now, all HD content in iTunes maxes out at 720p, which is also the highest resolution the current Apple TV supports. Chances are that these two devices will launch simultaneously and set the stage for a broader migration within iTunes for 1080p HD content.
It might not be the full-size game-changing Apple TV, but it'll do for now.
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