Among the many other announcements Apple recently made at its March 2015 event, was that they were dropping the price of their streaming Apple TV box by $30, from $99 to $69.
UPDATE! Apple Has Released the New Apple TV
As of October 2015, Apple has finally released their completely overhauled Apple TV.
The new unit comes with an App Store, unified search, and a new touchscreen remote with a Siri button so you can search by just talking to it.
We’ll be testing this new unit out and updating all of our articles for the new version.
The Apple TV has been around since 2007, predating even the ever-popular Roku. The current version is Apple TV’s third generation device and is ancient by technology standards, though it did get a minor refresh in 2013.
Apple claims that it has sold over 25 million units over its lifetime though to date, it continues to lag far behind said Roku and How-To Geek’s favorite streaming device, the Google Chromecast. In fact, as of 2013, Roku and Chromecast were reported to be each outselling Apple TV by almost 2-1.
It’s often unusual for an Apple product to be an also-ran for so long, but a $30 price cut and exclusive cable-free access to HBO with the upcoming HBO Now service, could go a long way towards swaying people to give the device another look. That said, is it enough to persuade people to switch?
The Hardware: Apple Quality, Sort of
For $69 you get the Apple TV, a remote, and a slender two-prong power cord (no ugly wall wart, thus no need to make space on your surge protector).
As streaming boxes go, it’s well made, heavy (the power supply is internal, which gives it more heft), and has a nice rubberized bottom. That, combined with its weight, and the Apple TV is unlikely to get pulled or knocked off your entertainment center.
The remote, on the other hand, is terrible. Don’t get us wrong, it’s very well made. How many times do you get a remote sculpted out of a single piece of aluminum? So, it has good material workmanship and it looks nice, but that’s about it. It’s small and uncomfortable to use, which is unfortunate because if you don’t have a Bluetooth keyboard handy (you can pair one (highly recommended) with the Apple TV), you have to type with the remote; and trust us, this is no good, no good at all.
Luckily, if you do want to use a remote, you can pair the Apple TV with other remotes, so it’s not like you’re stuck with the included one.
The Apple TV software is currently sitting at version 7.1 and is based on iOS 8.2. As a streaming interface goes, it’s alright but it just doesn’t feel wholly like an Apple product yet; it just doesn’t shimmer and flow like most Apple OS design.
Navigation is all grid-based and menus don’t allow you to click through from bottom to top and vice-versa. This means that if you scroll to the bottom of a menu, you have to scroll all the way back to the top. This is particularly annoying when using the remote to type.
There’s also the fact that the hardware is so old that using the Apple TV isn’t exactly what we’d call brisk or fluid. It’s just not snappy and instant but rather a bit tedious and laggy. Also, while it’s not wholly accurate to say it’s kludgey, it’s also difficult to not feel like it could come together a bit better.
Maybe, Eventually a Cordcutter’s Dream?
Content offerings are pretty consistent across all streaming devices at this point. All are going to have Netflix and Hulu and MLB.tv, among many many more. If the Apple TV doesn’t have a channel you want, then you’re probably an outlier.
Moreover, Apple TV is going to support HBO NOW, which debuts ahead of season 5 of Game of Thrones. That, in and of itself, may be enough to convince a few people to buy it (though HBO NOW will carry a monthly subscription fee of $14.99).
Beyond that, Apple is reported to be in talks with traditional media outlets to offer live TV in Fall 2015, including CBS, FOX, ESPN, and others. Again, there will be a monthly charge to this as well (estimated to be between $30 and $40).
Nothing is set in stone obviously, and things could change or fall through before then, but it is a tantalizing prospect for the hardcore cordcutter who simply doesn’t want to pay cable or satellite providers for TV channels.
A Better Apple TV is Likely on the Way
Apple TV’s biggest appeal will likely be to people who are already using Apple’s other products – Macs, iPads, and iPhones. Yes, you can use the Apple TV as you might a Roku or Chromecast, but the experience is better suited for Apple products.
That said, a $30 price drop would seem to indicate that Apple is readying a major refresh. Given all the buzz surrounding HBO NOW and a possible (probable) live TV deal, it would seem counterintuitive for Apple to attempt another living room takeover with two-year-old hardware.
Moreover, if you use an iPhone or iPad, you don’t need Apple TV for HBO, you can “subscribe to HBO right from your Apple TV or iOS device.”
If you own an Apple TV, but never really got into it, now might be a good time to revisit. Yes, it doesn’t feel like the platform’s potential is being fully met, but that Apple is pushing forward with plans to add more features and content, is a sure sign that they’re not giving up on it.
The conclusion we’ve come to then is, if you can wait, then wait. Yes, HBO NOW might be a tantalizing prospect for many on the fence, but HBO will be there six months from now, as will likely a new version of Apple TV with hopefully, a better interface, more content, and perhaps even Siri integration and app store access.