New Apple TV release date rumours | images and features of the new Apple TV

In this article we have been rounding-up all of the speculation surrounding Apple’s fourth-generation Apple TV, which it is expected will be updated this year, perhaps as soon as April. Updated 27 March with news that talks with Comcast are taking place in the US – but what about Europe, we ask. We also have more concept images, this time a Apple TV streaming stick – inspired by our suggestions below perhaps?

Could Apple be looking to sign a deal with Liberty Global? Owners of Virgin Media in the UK, and a dozen cable companies around Europe. Read on to find out… 

Here, we’ll bring you all of the latest rumours about the new Apple TV release date as well as potential new features. We’ll update this story as more Apple TV information becomes available, so be sure to check back from time to time.

This article focuses on the Apple TV – the set-top box that Apple has always described as a hobby – rather than the Apple television that is rumoured to be in the works. If you want to find out about more about the TV set, you can read all the rumours about the iTV Apple Television here.

The new Apple TV as a cable substitute: Apple TV Comcast rumours

Apple is rumoured to be in negotiations with Comcast, the largest television cable company and internet service provider in the US with a view to working with the company to bring the next version of the Apple TV to market.

Comcast, which has owned NBCUniversal since 2011, produces film and television content, operates cable channels and film studio Universal Pictures. Back in February 2014 Comcast agreed to merge with Time Warner Cable in an equity swap deal worth $45.2 billion. Apple is said to have been working on a deal with Time Warner Cable for some time, but the negotiations were thought to have been scuppered by the Comcast buyout.

The latest report, which appeared in the Wall Street Journal in March, suggest that the negotiations have continued, with Apple and Comcast attempting to reach agreement.

It is thought that Comcast could benefit from a deal with Apple in a number of ways, especially at a time when more and more cable customers are cutting the cord in favour of on demand services.

It is thought that the deal with Apple and Comcast could see Comcast replace the customer’s cable box with an Apple TV. It is suggested that customers will be happier with a user interface and hardware provided by Apple, and this will lower the cost of leasing the box.

Comcast will benefit from leaving Apple to secure content rights – as long as Apple doesn’t price the service higher than traditional pay-TV services.

One area of contention is likely to be Apple’s desire that users subscribe to Comcast services on the device itself, using their Apple ID credentials, and therefore Comcast will not have access to this customer data.

Apple will benefit because it will get priority treatment on Comcast’s network. By partnering with a cable company, Apple could get “managed service” status, which addresses the problems of net neutrality. If this system was implemented its Apple TV traffic would be separated from public traffic in the final mile, so users would get better bandwidth. This last mile is usually reserved by the cable company for its own services. Net neutrality rulings suggest that this practice shouldn’t be allowed, but in January an appeals court ruled that ISPs like Comcast are legally able to prioritize some content over others.

Comcast has been the subject of criticism for its stance on net neutrality. Net neutrality rules are intended to stop ISPs charging companies like Netflix extra fees to ensure their customers receive high-quality service. Netflix and Comcast recently came to an agreement that ensures that Comcast’s Netflix users have a good experience.

Apple will benefit if the Apple TV is able to bypass congestion on the web. However, according to the WSJ, Apple isn’t asking for its traffic to be prioritized by Comcast, just for its traffic to be part of Comcast’s managed services, in order to abide with the net neutrality rules that prevent Comcast from discriminating against some network traffic.

Comcast for the US, what about Europe and UK? Apple and Virgin Media? 

That’s all very well, but what does this news mean to UK and European Apple TV owners. Not a lot. Comcast hasn’t had a foot on UK soil since it sold its UK division to NTL in February 1998.

NTL went on to become Virgin Media, which is probably the UK’s closest equivalent to Comcast. This is where it gets interesting: in 2013 Virgin Media was taken over by Liberty Global.

Liberty Global is the owner of 11 cable companies in Europe making it the largest cable operator in Europe with 18.4 million subscribers. It has a foothold in the UK, Poland, Switzerland, Belgium, Ireland, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic. It recently announced that it would acquire Dutch cable company Ziggo.

If Apple is looking for the European equivalent of Comcast to do business with in Europe, Liberty Global would be the obvious choice.

Incidentally, Liberty Global has a stake in Charter Communications, which was also pursuing Time Warner Cable, although unsuccessfully, given the news that Comcast will be merging with Time Warner.  

Liberty Global’s chairman John Malone is also chairman of television giant Discovery Communications, who make programming for The Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and other channels.

In his heyday, Malone controlled TCI (Tele-Communications Inc), which was the biggest cable operator in the United States for many years until he sold the systems. It was eventually purchased by ATT, whose cable TV assets were later acquired by Charter Communications and Comcast.

Incidentally, Malone also owns a controlling stake in Sirius XM Radio, to which iTunes Radio could be considered a competitor. 

Should Apple be negotiating a deal with Liberty Global in Europe the company may be in luck: Malone is a self-confessed Apple fan. In an interview with the Denver Post last year he revealed that he is “addicted to the iPad”. He also owns an Apple desktop, a MacBook Air and an iPhone. However, he isn’t a fan of the iPhone because the battery dies to fast: “I like the Apple ecosystem, I’m comfortable with it. But the iPhone battery life is probably the thing that keeps me from being 100 percent Apple,” he said.

In the same interview, Malone shared his thoughts that the major cable operators need to consolidate in order to drive down programming costs and to achieve the scale needed to compete with internet giants such as Apple and Google. He said: “The industry, without that cooperation, doesn’t have enough scale to be a serious player in a global world,” adding that Google and Apple “are basically thinking in terms of billions of customers rather than tens of millions.”

Liberty Global’s CEO Mike Fries doesn’t expect Apple to sell a television though. He told Bloomberg last September: “I don’t think Apple is going to build a TV.” He revealed that Apple’s strategy is talking to cable providers about revamping the interface for pay-TV services, one might conclude that Apple had been talking to him.

New Apple TV rumours: new design

We don’t expect that the design of the Apple TV will change from the current model. However, there are a number of theories that could see the design change significantly.

Following in the footsteps of the Roku Streaming Stick and Google ChromeCast, it’s possible that Apple’s next Apple TV could take a completely different form factor. Those devices take on the styling of a USB memory stick, except they plug into an HDMI port. They include no storage, and offer access to various web based TV channels and On Demand and subscription content. It seems reasonable to suppose that Apple might take on this design cue for the new Apple TV.

What an Apple TV streaming stick could look like
Our (very rough) mock up of an Apple TV streaming stick from 17 March…

Luckily, Martin Hajek, famous for creating concept images of the iPhone 6, has now teamed up with German site, Curved.de to create some images of what they refer to as the AppleTV Air. Curved.de estimates the price at €49, which translates to around £40 or $67. 

Alternatively, it is possible that the Apple TV could be bigger than it is currently if Apple was to include an Airport Express and a TV tuner inside the device, as discussed below.

We do expect that the ports on the back of the Apple TV will change .For example, Thunderbolt seems likely to be introduced in the next version of the Apple TV, then users could connect their Apple TV to an Apple Thunderbolt Display and pretend that they own the mythical Apple Television. Currently the Apple TV can only connect to a HDTV with an HDMI cable.

A smaller design wouldn’t allow for all the ports currently found on the back of the Apple TV. The device currently features the following ports: HDMI2, Optical audio, 10/100BASE-T Ethernet, Built-in IR receiver and Micro-USB (for service and support). Perhaps the new Apple TV Streaming Stick could by pass these additional ports.

Many who have decried the Apple TV’s lack of a hard drive would be pleased if the company made the USB service port accessible for plugging in a hard drive.

New Apple TV rumours: concept images

Martin Hajek, famous for creating concept images of the iPhone 6, has now come up with a number of concept images for the Apple TV including a new look remote control that take inspiration from the iPod touch (it reminds us of the iPod nano from a few generations ago). His Apple TV measures 9.8 x 9.8 cm (similar to the current Apple TV) but is thinner at 1.67 cm. He has also suggested that models could come in grey, gold and silver.

Hajek worked with German website CURVED to come up with the images, which include one that shows the remote using inductive charging having been laid on top of the Apple TV.

The following images were produced by Hajek.

Apple TV plugged into back of TV
How Curved.de and Martin Hajek believe an Apple TV streaming stick could be plugged into a television
Apple TV concept by Hajek
The Apple TV streaming stick
Apple TV concept by Hajek
According to Martin Hajek’s design, the new Apple TV may be available in Gold, Space Grey and Silver
Apple TV concept by Hajek
The new Apple TV could be narrower than the old Apple TV, according to Hajek’s designs.
Apple TV concept by Hajek
The new Apple TV remote may look like the old iPod touch, according to Hajek’s designs.

Hajek’s idea for the new Apple TV remote.

When will Apple launch the new Apple TV?

We’ve been expecting a new Apple TV for a while now. The most recent version of the Apple TV hardware is a year old, although the most recent significant hardware update came almost two years ago on 16 March 2012 when Apple added 1080p video support. The slight revision in January 2013 was more about making it cheaper for Apple to build than adding new functionality for users.

Reports at the beginning of February were suggesting that Apple would be launching a new Apple TV set-top box in March 2014. Clearly this hasn’t happened, and reports (back on 13 February) were claiming the update might not come until April, or even as late as Christmas.

The rumours that Apple would update the Apple TV soon gained some gravitas when Apple recently started promoting the Apple TV in its own section of the Apple online store. Previously Apple had put the Apple TV into the same section as the iPod, but, perhaps because the iPod sales are in decline, as demonstrated by the most recent financial results, this product has now been given its own spotlight.

Additionally, in February 2014, references to a fourth-generation Apple TV were spotted within iOS 7 configuration files, adding evidence to the rumours that suggest a new Apple TV is nearly here.

The references were spotted within an Apple TV framework that relates to the AirPlay functionality of the device. The framework mentions an “AppleTV4,1″ which appears to be a next generation device that follows the current Apple TV, called “AppleTV3,2″ within the framework.

However, the rumours of an update aren’t new. Last year there were claims that Apple would launch a new Apple TV in October. According to the source of those rumours, the Apple TV project had “been delayed a bit”. 

In November, KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who has an impressive Apple prediction track record, told investors that he believes Apple will launch a new Apple TV in 2014.

There are other rumours that suggest that Apple may intend to do more than launch a new Apple TV set-top box, the new TV product could be an actual television. If you want to find out more about the rumours that Apple is planning to launch a television set, you can read about the iTV Apple Television here.

Why is the new Apple TV delayed?

The current Apple TV was last updated in January 2013 (a very minor update). It was expected that Apple would update the Apple TV in late 2013, but it failed to do so. Why hasn’t Apple updated the Apple TV for more than a year?

Reports are currently claiming a new Apple TV box could launch in April, but that it might be delayed while Apple is negotiating with content providers to arrive at deals that could see users having access to even more content on Apple’s new set-top box when it launches.

Apple is said to have been negotiating a deal with content providers in the US with a view to adding more content to the Apple TV before the next version of the hardware is launched, according to Bloomberg. Talks with Time Warner have been on-going but were scuppered, as discussed above, when it emerged that Comcast is to buy Time Warner Cable for more than $40 billion. According to Bloomberg sources, Apple has “run into problem” dealing with Comcast in the past.

Apple is also said to be attempting to do a deal with other TV providers that would see Apple TV users having access to the five most recently-aired episodes of shows for three days after they air.

It may take until Christmas for these deals to be signed, however. Bloomberg claims that while Apple is aiming to unveil the device by April, it is aiming to have it available for sale by Christmas.

Read on to find out more about the new Apple TV spec and features including details about new channels and games.

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