Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) surprised a lot of people when it did not announce a new version of its Apple TV hardware at its Spring Forward media event earlier this month. Instead, the company slashed the price of its current streaming box, which was introduced in 2012, from $99 to $69.
That move made the aging technology look more attractive next to Amazon's (NASDAQ:AMZN) Fire TV device, which costs $99, and Roku's top-of-the-line Roku 3, which sells for $89.99 after a recent price cut. Apple's reducing the price on its device at Spring Forward felt like a placeholder -- a move made to cause media and fans alike to ignore the fact that the company had not introduced a new version of its set-top box.
It now seems very likely that this was in fact the case. Numerous news outlets, including Buzzfeed, are reporting that Apple plans to launch a new version of the device at its June Worldwide Developers Conference. This won't be a simple software update or improved technology specs. If the leaks and rumors are true, this will be a whole new Apple TV, which will deliver new experiences.
Apple wants to change the TV viewing experience
The goal of Apple's new streaming box will be to change how people consume television, a process which CEO Tim Cook once described as "stuck in the seventies," according to Buzzfeed.
That sentiment was backed up by Apple SVP of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue, who said at a ReCode conference last year that "the TV experience sucks."
That comment, while harsh, was just the tip of the iceberg for the executive's feelings on the current viewing experience.
"All we have today is glorified VCRs," Cue said, saying the only big improvement is that now you don't have to reset the clock when the power goes out.
Though details are scarce about how Apple intends to change our current channel-flipping ways, the new Apple TV is likely to offer a curated experience, something very different from the channel grids offered by cable television.
Siri will be part of it
The new Apple TV will, according to multiple reports, be more than just another streaming box. It will likely integrate the Siri voice assistant, which could make it a hub for home automation through the company's HomeKit framework.
Adding Siri could be part of Apple's plan to transform how people navigate television, though it's worth noting that Amazon's Fire TV already has voice-activated search. The Amazon offering is not as robust as Siri, but it works well for surfacing content on the streaming device. Essentially, the Amazon voice assistant allows a user to speak a name or title. You can say "George Clooney" or "The Flintstones" and Fire TV will show you all paid and free content related to those keywords.
Apple TV with Siri has the potential for deeper usability and perhaps even integration with other Apple products such as iPads, iPhones, Macs, and even Apple Watch.
Live TV is coming
One not-quite-secret plan for the new Apple TV is that it will offer a live TV service similar to what DISH Network (NASDAQ:DISH) has with its $20 Sling TV and Sony (NYSE:SNE) has with its $49.99 (and up) PlayStation Vue service. Apple is going to offer a service with around 25 channels and a $30-$40 per month price tag, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The service would be "anchored by broadcasters such as ABC, CBS and FOX," the paper reported. Comcast's cable channels and its NBC network would not be part of the deal, according to The Journal, because the cable company and Apple had a falling out over an earlier plan to work on a similar streaming service.
The Apple live TV streaming service would not necessarily be exclusive to Apple TV. It is expected to also be available on the company's other devices.
Apple's service would be a slimmed-down version of the 85 channels Sony offers in its basic PS Vue service. It would offer a few more channels than Sling, which has a basic package of 20 cable networks, but would have a different focus, since the DISH product does not offer any broadcast networks.
It's a whole new Apple TV
All of the innovations and surprises above speak to Apple wanting to change how people view and consume TV. It's possible the new Apple TV will be the first device to make it easy to travel between live TV, apps, and streaming content seamlessly.
Of all the existing players (and I've tested both Amazon devices, Google's Chromecast, multiple Roku boxes, the current Apple TV, and Microsoft's Xbox 360 and One), this new Apple TV sounds the most capable of delivering on that promise. Simply having live television and streaming content coming through the same box is an important start, and Siri could bring it all together.