STREAMING SATURDAY: Will Apple ever give us new hardware?

You have to commend the folks at Apple. The company has been left for dead several times over the years. There were those who said it would never survive IBM’s dominance in the PC world. Ironically it was IBM that stopped making personal computers in the 2000s. Folks thought Apple’s move into media players was pure folly, and many thought that its idea of a glass-front phone with no physical buttons would never fly. There were even plenty who said the company’s magic was gone when co-founder Steve Jobs passed away. Each time, Apple has come back stronger. At least, so far.

True to form, the company wasn’t the first to build a streaming box. Their original AppleTV was a player for local media files and couldn’t stream. When they did enter the space, it was with an expensive streamer that couldn’t use third-party apps. They finally built a world-class box with an OS to match, but its price was far above competitors like Roku and Amazon.

Cut to the present…

The AppleTV box has received little love the last several years. The remote has been upgraded a bit, and there’s been a steady stream of small yet important OS updates. But in the meantime the competition hasn’t stood still. More importantly, it’s now possible to get a very decent streaming box for under $40, unless it has that Apple logo on it. Apple hardware routinely sells for five times that.

It makes you wonder what the endgame is here. In the past few years Apple has allowed Samsung and Roku to implement their own versions of the AppleTV+ app, giving those users access to original programming and copies of purchased media. It’s almost enough to make you wonder if Apple just wants out of the streaming box game.

Two predictions

Prediction #1 is the easy one. Apple keeps making the AppleTV 4K in limited quantities. They occasionally run sales that get the street price down to about $100. That’s a pretty digestible figure for most people. The AppleTV box does offer a lot of benefits if you’re already in that ecosystem. AirPlay works flawlessly to share media from your iPhone, and the way that AirPods seamlessly go from device to device is nothing short of magical. That, combined with the comfort of an Apple product, would probably keep people buying for a while.

Prediction #2 is the one that everyone wants, however. It wouldn’t be terribly hard to build an AppleTV box the size of a large pack of gum and sell it for $50-$60. Apple’s attempt to get people into casual gaming really kind of fizzled, so the device could easily get by with an older, cheaper processor. Like Roku’s Streaming Stick, the device could be designed to connect straight to the TV for a clean install.

The real question is…

Why hasn’t Apple ever been serious about their streaming hardware? After years of calling it a “hobby,” they finally gave users a streaming service to go along with their hardware. It took a couple of years for AppleTV+ to actually give us something we wanted to watch, but they eventually did. And then they erased the advantage of having Apple hardware in the first place.

Apple is absurdly rich as a company. They can produce movies, just because. They could afford to make an AppleTV box that was, in the words of its co-founder, “insanely great.” They could even afford to give them away. Yet they won’t. So far, they’ve chosen to cede the streaming industry to their competitors, providing a box that appeals only to the diehards. This really isn’t their style if you think about it. Sure, they are satisfied to be a niche manufacturer for computers, but that hasn’t been their primary focus for years. They took no prisoners with their media players, phones, and tablets. They even stubbornly iterated until their watch was worth buying. Why not do the same with a streaming box?

Bottom line folks, if Apple makes a new streaming box at anything resembling a fair price I’d buy it. A lot of other folks would too. But I’m not about to spend another $250 for something Roku could give me for a tenth of that number. Are you?

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.