Apple iTV: how Apple's television will really work
27th Jul 2013 | 09:00
Our vision of the Apple TV that's more than just a box
We all have our own idea about what an Apple-branded television would, or perhaps should, look like. And those of us who have spent more time thinking about it than is strictly necessary, given that it's still a rumour, also have an idea of the features it will have and what we'll be able to do with it besides watch TV.
We put our heads together in the office, and after a long, and only occasionally rancorous, discussion came up with our idea of what the Apple iTV will be like. We threw out some lovely ideas because, while they'd be fun, they're either not practical or the technology isn't quite right yet.
We included others which may be unlikely but are technically possible. (What's the purpose of an exercise like this if not to have some fun and dream a little?) We've even worked out how the remote control could work and how the successor to the existing Apple TV could solve that perennial flat-screen TV problem: poor audio quality.
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It goes without saying that an Apple television would look stunning, but there's a great deal more to it than that. We think the TV we've come up with knocks the socks off anything else on the market and if Apple were to launch one today, we'd be first in the queue, credit cards at the ready.
Introducing Apple iTV
At least in terms of interaction, the remote control is perhaps the most important part of the TV, and we think there are a couple of possible options for it. One is a slim aluminium remote similar to the one Apple uses for Apple TV. If it went down this route, we think the remote would have a mic for Siri and connect with Bluetooth low energy.
The other option would be a new iPod touch. It would have a touchscreen interface, allowing you to swipe, tap, and type to control the Apple TV. It too would have a microphone for Siri. Putting the Siri mic in the remote rather than the TV would mean that only one person could control the television at a time, which is essential in our view.
Finally, in keeping with Apple's focus on simplicity, the remote would also have an infra-red transmitter so that it could also be used as a universal remote for other devices you may own.
In our view, Apple's television won't have channels in the traditional sense. Apple's purpose in producing a TV is selling content and services, so it will want to ensure you use it to watch and listen to content it provides.
For that reason, we envisage channels as apps. In the same way that Apple TV currently has apps for Major League Baseball, The Wall Street Journal, and Netflix, so the Apple television will have apps for BBC, ITV, and so on. Those apps will either be made by Apple in partnership with content providers, or by the providers themselves, in the same way as they develop apps for iOS.
We think the former is more likely; consistency is even more important on a television than it is on a tablet. Expect to see apps for major channels and for catch-up and on-demand services. You will also, of course, be able to buy and rent movies and TV programmes from the iTunes Store.
As with the second- and third-generation Apple TV, you won't be able to download those movies and programmes to the television, you'll have to stream them from Apple. You'll also be able to connect a Sky+, Virgin Media, Freeview, or YouView set-top box to the television, allowing you to watch those channels to which you subscribe or which are free-to-air.
Of course, Apple will want you to stay within its universe, but preventing you from accessing your Sky or Virgin Media content would be sheer madness. Finally, the television will have AirPlay support, so you'll be able to mirror iOS apps from your device.
If recent tweaks to Apple's Mac line-up are anything to go by, audio quality is increasingly important to Apple. And we think it will be a key feature in an Apple television.
One possibility is that it could incorporate the downward firing speakers in the current iMac line-uip - check out our iMac review. These are really rather good, and loud enough to fill a decent-sized living room. They rely on the screen being only a few inches above a flat surface, however, in order to reflect the sound.
Given the number of people who wall-mount televisions, that would be a problem. We pondered the idea of a wireless sound bar with a separate sub-woofer and it's an attractive proposition. In the end, however, we decided Apple was more likely to go for an all-singing, alldancing, cinematic surround-sound setup.
Being Apple, of course, it would have to be wireless. That would mean a new version of AirPlay with support for a wireless 5.1 channel audio codec, something which may prove too much of a challenge initially. But even if wireless surround-sound speakers aren't available at launch, we think they'll arrive in a future version.
Our proposed line-up
Apple Home TV 42-inch: £999
The 'budget' end of the range will have the smallest (though still huge) screen and no separate speakers.
Apple Home TV 55-inch: £1599
If 42-inches isn't enough for you, check out this baby. A full 55-inches of 1080p TV, but without separate speakers.
Apple Cinema TV 42-inch: £1299
This will have the same-sized screen as the 'budget' model but include 5.1 channel AirPlay speakers in the package.
Apple Cinema TV 55-inch: £1899
The daddy of the range, this packages has the monster 55-inches screen and those lovely 5.1 channel AirPlay speakers.