04 Sep Apple TV: What Features Should It Have?

Over the past 25 years, I have personally used no less than 25 DMAs (digital media adapters) or some sort of digital electronics connected to or inside my TVs. I have used 10 of the 25 in the last five years as the experience, content and technology is slowly but surely improving. The first 15 years were a painful journey, to say the least. The recent ones I’ve used in my home were the Apple TV (all gens), Microsoft Xbox One, NVIDIA Shield, AMD or Intel -based HTPCs (home theater PC), Roku, Boxee, Western Digital TV, Google TV, the Google TV-based Logitech Revue and Google Chromecast to name just a few. Therefore, in addition to being professionally inquisitive on what the next Apple TV could or should look like, but personally, as well.

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

First off, I believe the latest and greatest streamer to beat is the NVIDIA Shield console. Its supports 4K Ultra HD content, can play nearly every major provider’s content, plays games well, has a fast and fluid UI, offers upgradable storage, and has a killer voice search-enabled game controller with private listening capability. I wrote about the NVIDIA Shield here and here.

With 25 years of DMA, now called “streamer”, expectations, here is what I would like to see from Apple.

4K capable

This one is simple. The future of all things video is 4K. The entire industry is moving to 4K TVs, 4K phone video capture, and 4K video services like Netflix, YouTube, Amazon.com and VEVO. No, all their content isn’t 4K, but rather 1080P, but each new movie and series will have it. Based on how often Apple refreshes the Apple TV, it needs 4K.

The best experience would be a broad catalog of 4K content which no one has yet produced, so this would be one reason why Apple may launch as “4K capable” without turning the feature on. Finally, I’d like to see Apple also talk about work they have done to upscale the 1080P video to 4K and how they have meticulously worked to make it look great. They make their own SoCs, so they could get creative here.

AirPlay upgrade with game streaming

AirPlay, plain and simple, is the most reliable wireless method I have used to stream audio and video from one device to another. I’ve used it all and have been perpetually disappointed. The next trick I would like to see Apple AirPlay do is to enable game streaming off a Mac or PC. This would require WiFi Direct and potentially WiFi 802.11 AD. I get that the current Macs don’t support AD, but I am hopeful they will soon. While we’re on the subject of WiFi, I’d also like to see support for MU-MIMO (multi-user MIMO) as Apple likes to ride their Apple TVs for years…. and years. MU-MIMO maximizes overall home WiFi bandwidth and is supported by more and more devices every day.

Cloud game streaming of AAA titles

First off, I do expect that consumers will be able to play games on an Apple TV and I’m assuming that there won’t be any external storage upgrades available like on the NVIDIA Shield with a MicroSD card slot. Apple just doesn’t do external storage on iOS devices. Assuming there won’t be external storage supported and heavier duty games require masses of storage, I would like to see cloud game streaming.

Apple is really good at removing latency from experiences and this is what is required to do this. While Apple’s cloud initiatives are suspect at times, with their level of capital and edge streaming capabilities they already have in place for iTunes and App Store, this isn’t inconceivable. Yes, they would need some serious horsepower on the cloud side, but nothing NVIDIA Grid or something in the future from Advanced Micro Devices couldn’t handle.

Why AAA titles? No one has cracked this yet and Apple has a knack for solving what is considered unsolvable.

HomeKit gateway

Home automation needs a radical simplification before it goes mainstream and Apple is a good company to do this, albeit in their own sandbox. We have all heard of Apple HomeKit and HomeKit compliance, but why haven’t we heard of a hub, a hub that adds mesh networking required for broader range and on-board memory so that your home can work even when it’s not connected to the cloud?

I get that the iPad and iPhone could do this but the big problem there is that iPhones or iPads leave the house, aren’t always “on”, and they aren’t plugged in 24×7.

True cross catalog Siri natural language search

I just cannot imagine Apple launching a product without this. Time and time again this has been an issue, even on the current Apple TV. When users do a search, they want to find where the content is available regardless from where it’s from: Apple iTunes, Netflix, Google YouTube, VEVO, etc. There just cannot be a lot of junk in the search results, which sometimes comes from YouTube. Google’s Android  TV has made this optional, which I think is a mistake from a user point of view and I’d like to see Apple make this mandatory but do cleanup up for YouTube.

Controllers: Simple, Apple Watch, iPhone, iPod, iPad as controllers

The NVIDIA Shield controller is the controller to beat for features and responsiveness. I’d like to see the same NVIDIA controller features, but I’d like to see an accelerometer inside so it could be used as a game controller. Think Nintendo Wii, but think a lot harder.

SHIELD, Controller & Stand (Credit: NVIDIA)

SHIELD, Controller & Stand (Credit: NVIDIA)

As for harder core gaming, I’d like to see Apple make the Microsoft  XBox One and PS4 controllers work with their new Apple TV for obvious reasons. I’d be surprised if Apple goes after their own multi-function and button controller or if they do one you could place your iPhone or iPod within. Apple is about style and there’s nothing stylish about game controllers.

Finally, I’d like to see the Apple Watch, iPhone, iPod and iPad be used as a game controller, too. This is where it gets really interesting…. first, consider that Watch, iPhone and iPad all have gyroscopes and accelerometers, so they can track any movement. And, of course, every iPhone and iPad have displays. So, anything you could do with a Wii or Wii U, you should be able to do with this new system. Imagine driving games with 5 friends over. One could be using the simple remote, one an iPhone, the other an iPad and maybe the others an iPod or Watch. Maybe I’m just dreaming hear or I’ve nailed it.

So there we have it. This is what I would like to see optimally in the new Apple TV. I’ll be at the Apple event on Wednesday to see if I get it.