Apple's new set-top box is finally on sale, and it's a potentially huge salvo in the television wars.
It has been years since Apple has updated its set-top box. Now, the new Apple TV is available for pre-order, and it will begin shipping late this week. The 32 GB version is $149, and a 64 GB version will cost $199.
The biggest changes? Improved hardware, including the A8 chip from last year's iPhone 6, 2 GB of RAM, and a nifty new remote with glass touchpad, accelerometer, and gyroscope. All that means the box does much more than just play videos -- it's a full-fledged computer, running an iOS spinoff called tvOS that can support advanced apps including games. And that trick controller? It's all you need to play every game on the new Apple TV App Store.
Bluetooth game controllers will be available too, from third-parties, but every game on the device is required to support the stock remote that comes with the box.
There's also clever software that Apple previewed in September at the iPhone 6s launch. A new app-thinning technology restricts apps to just 200 MB, but allows them to download 2 GB of data immediately, as well as up to 20 GB of data in pre-sliced pieces that are downloaded as needed. The idea is to make apps smaller so Apple TV owners can fit more apps on their devices.
For example, a game might only download the first 20 levels upon purchase and would only begin downloading the next 20 when the player reached level 15. Think of it as an on-demand model. Clearly, the new Apple TV is meant to always be connected to the internet.
In fact, in the developer documentation Apple states that "every app developed for the new Apple TV must be able to store data in iCloud and retrieve it in a way that provides a great customer experience."
The app thinning tech exists on iOS already, but now it's mandatory for the developer. Apple appears ready to take control of your set-top box entirely. You won't need to delete infrequently used apps to free up space -- tvOS will do that for you. Polygon has a much deeper look at how it all works for developers, but all the average user needs to know is this: Apple is trying to keep things at a Nintendo-level of simple.
It's probably a good indication of where the company plans to go with the iPhone and maybe someday the Mac. Apps will download only what they need, with more being pulled as-needed and then discarded when no longer needed.
All this requires that iCloud actually work, which hasn't always something Apple's customers could count on. Things have been better recently, especially when it comes to the App Store.
The new Apple TV will compete with the Roku and Amazon Fire TV boxes, as well as higher-end video game platforms like the Nintendo Wii U, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. It appears to straddle those low- and high-end platforms, trying to be useful to a cross-section of TV owners, cord-cutters, and gamers.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has said repeatedly over the past few years that the company is still "pulling the string" on television to see where it leads. The Apple TV appears to have given that string a good yank. We'll have to wait and see if it leads Apple where they think it will.
Are you planning to buy a new Apple TV? Let us know in the comments.
- New Apple TV ships this week: What we know so far about Apple's latest streaming box (CNET)
- Photos: Apple uncovers new Apple TV 2015 (CNET)
- Yes, Apple TV will be a HomeKit hub (ZDNet)
- How to give a presentation with an iPad and Apple TV
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