Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) TV may be the most popular set-top box in the world.
Most of its competitors have not released exact sales figures, making the comparison difficult, but as of January, Apple has sold 25 million units, more than double the 10 million announced by Roku last September.
But Apple TV is starting to get long in the tooth. Although it remains perfectly capable of streaming high-definition Internet video, the device is increasingly inferior to options offered by rivals, including Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), NVIDIA(NASDAQ:NVDA), and Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) (NASDAQ:GOOG). This is far from surprising -- Apple has not significantly updated Apple TV since 2012.
An updated model has been rumored at various times in the past, and while Apple may not need to update its set-top box in the near future, the next incarnation will need the following five features to keep pace with its increasingly competent rivals.
1. Support for iOS games
Apple is a major force in gaming -- they generate the majority of its app store revenue. Several multi-billion dollar gaming companies have been spawned from the app store, and mobile gaming revenue is projected to increase further in the years ahead. But when it comes to traditional console gaming, Apple has no presence in the living room. Its entry to the space has been predicted by many industry stalwarts, such as Valve's Gabe Newell, but to date, Apple has yet to take the plunge.
Adding the feature seems like an obvious move, particularly as many of its competitors have already done so. The Amazon Fire TV offers a collection of video games -- even a few exclusives. The Google Nexus Player supports Android games, as does the upcoming NVIDIA Shield.
2. Internal storage
If Apple does bring gaming to the Apple TV, it will need to give the device some storage. The original Apple TV included a hard drive, but the rise of Internet streaming rendered it largely unnecessary, and it was dropped in later models. The FireTV includes 8GB of internal storage, as does the Nexus Player. The Shield will boast 16GB, but it also supports microSD cards and external hard drives.
3. Support for Amazon Prime video
Although Apple TV includes nearly all of the popular streaming apps, there is one notable omission -- and it is becoming more egregious by the day.
Apple TV does not directly support Amazon Prime video. Admittedly, it is possible to play Prime Video on the Apple TV using AirPlay, but that requires a spare iPhone or iPad and is altogether inconvenient. The lack of Amazon Prime video may have been forgivable even a year ago, but the company's push into original programming -- including acclaimed series like Transparent -- have made support for Amazon Prime a must-have feature.
4. Siri voice search
Apple's digital personal assistant, Siri, would be a welcome addition to future Apple TV models. Amazon made voice search on the Fire TV a key selling feature when it unveiled the device last April, and Google and NVIDIA have since followed suit.
Regardless of how intuitive the interface is, voice search is a useful feature -- perhaps useful enough to sway some customers. To keep pace with its rivals, Apple may need to bring Siri to Apple TV.
5. Support for 4K video
For the time being, 4K TVs remain a novelty, reserved only for the most eager of early adopters. But prices are coming down, and Internet video providers -- including Amazon -- are making strides in supplying 4K content. In the interests of future proofing, the next Apple TV would greatly benefit from 4K support.
This is perhaps the least necessary update, as its major competitors have yet to make the leap. The Shield will be the first set-top box with 4K support when it launches in May, but no one else offers or has announced such a product. Still, if Apple waits as long to update its next Apple TV as it did its current model, 4K support will be necessary.