Every fall it arrives, as predictable as the foliage changes: a whole host of Apple products get brand new updates. Some, like the iPhone or the Apple Watch, have become annual affairs that hardly require forecasting. Others, like the iPad or the Mac, are revised more infrequently depending on the lifespan of existing products.
But there is a third category: the products that often work for years without any significant change; the Apple products that just keep going and being upgraded when the company feels damn good about it.
While this year’s list of Apple releases is likely not complete, some of these perennial “also-rans” already don’t seem to be drawing attention, especially when we consider how the wind seemed to be blowing when the company talked about its platform updates at its Worldwide Developers Conference in June. So is it just about not playing around with success? Or is there something else these products are waiting for?
TV or not TV?
The last time Apple overhauled its Apple TV set-top box was in May 2021, when it received an internal processor upgrade and support for some of the latest standards – HDMI 2.1, Wi-Fi 6, High Frame Rate HDR, etc. But this release was itself the second generation of the Apple TV 4K and was otherwise not much different from its predecessor, which dates back to 2017.
At first glance, there seems to be no reason to update the Apple TV hardware: it’s among the most capable set-top boxes out there, and if a real change is needed, many would point to a price tag that is far higher than its competitors.
But even more important is the tvOS platform hasn’t seen a major update either, and is getting virtually no time in any Apple presentations this year. Ultimately, this fall, tvOS 16 only added a few minor features, like support for game controllers and HDR10+ in the Apple TV app. Many users probably didn’t even notice the update.
Granted, the state of the art in television doesn’t change quickly and Apple’s focus in this area seems to be more on content than technology, but that doesn’t mean tvOS couldn’t bear attention to be wasted on it. For one, the iOS-inspired home screen is getting harder and harder to manage as we all have zillions more streaming apps, and Apple’s TV app — while perhaps well-intentioned — hasn’t done much to simplify this at all. My colleague Joe Rosensteel has deftly chronicled the Apple TV’s shortcomings over the past few years, in case you’re wondering if there are actually still things to fix.
Doesn’t Apple care about TV? The existence of Apple TV+ seems to belie that, but perhaps the focus on distributing content across many different platforms has meant that the company is reluctant to devote as much attention to itself.
home and away
Elsewhere in the house, Apple’s interests also appear to have waned somewhat. The HomePod was of course superseded by the HomePod mini, which proved more popular, in no small part because it was more affordable (are you listening, Apple TV?). But it too has stagnated; This year’s key features of HomePod are a more robust underlying framework and support for Matter’s newly launched smart home standard. Both are welcome improvements, but they’re not being realized as Apple waits to time the updates with its other major platform update releases.
There’s been a lot of talk in rumor circles about updated smart home speaker offerings, possibly including a model with a screen or one that works as a FaceTime device. The existence of such diverse use cases suggests that Apple might not even be sure which direction to go.
In the meantime, however, Apple’s mainstay in the living room remains unsatisfactory: plagued by unreliability and not really driving the market. Basically, the company’s home strategy seems directionless.
Meanwhile, the biggest competitors in the market, Amazon and Google, have both invested more time and money here building their home ecosystems and developing a variety of devices. This is not to suggest that this is the case To the right Approaches – and both companies certainly have challenges to overcome, not least in the area of privacy – but only to demonstrate that the lone HomePod mini feels like a weak assertion planted on desirable ground.
Expand the future
But there could be something else behind the slower update pace of these two products — particularly a major Apple project believed to be on the way next year: the company’s foray into augmented reality.
There are a few reasons why such a new product category could impact these platforms. For one, it can simply be a matter of priorities, with more resources being put into what’s seen as a big new market rather than other areas that remain stable and may not have as much opportunity for growth.
But Apple is also a company that relies heavily on the interaction of all its platforms, and a supposed augmented reality device certainly seems like something that could impact both the living room and home markets; A virtual tvOS-like experience could well be an important part of the story Apple wants to tell about the device – watch your content on an immersive screen that doesn’t have to be limited by the size of your TV.
Likewise, the home seems to be another place where an AR headset could offer a whole new way of interacting. Imagine turning on a lamp by looking at it, or seeing a room’s temperature at a glance, instead of having to get the information you need on your phone or ask Siri.
If Apple is indeed committed to making augmented reality its next big thing, it will come as no surprise that it wants to leverage connectivity across all of its platforms, and perhaps wants to see what that future holds before it gets too excited about it admits platforms of the past.
Apple HomePod Mini