Apple takes aim at the living room: What to expect Wednesday

The new Apple TV holds out the promise of cable-free TV.
The new Apple TV holds out the promise of cable-free TV.

For Tim Cook and Apple, TV is an area of “great interest.” That is, when it’s not an area of “intense interest.” It’s clearly no longer a hobby, with more than $1 billion in sales of the Apple TV set-top box. But four years after the late Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs, famously told biographer Walter Isaacson that he’d “cracked it,” referring to TV, Apple’s living-room ambitions have evolved glacially. It has dropped the price of its existing Apple TV to $69, and added channels here and there, as the pace of change in the television world has exploded. HBO, CBS, Verizon, and even Comcast are rolling out products to let cord-cutters get around 500-channel cable subscriptions and choose programming lineups, at lower costs. Apple for years has been mired in rights negotiations made harder by the thicket of interested parties — networks, studios, affiliates, and others — involved in television and movies.

Wednesday, Apple is expected to reveal its plans for the Apple TV, at one of its annual fall product rollout events in San Francisco. Cook has chosen an unusually large venue for the event: the 7,000-seat Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, where Jobs and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak introduced the Apple II computer in 1977. Cook likes to make these nods to Apple’s past; remember, he chose to unveil the Apple Watch at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts in Cupertino, the place Jobs first showed off the Macintosh personal computer in 1984.

Apple TV

So what will it be? Bloomberg News reported last week, citing Variety, that Apple was in talks to commission original shows and series, as Netflix has done with “House of Cards,” “Grace and Frankie,” and scores of other shows. But that hasn’t been Apple’s MO in other creative endeavors, such as music. Apple has distributed other people’s content.

Apple’s $69, relatively closed, 40-channel set-top box will likely morph into a $150 box that, like the iPhone, will allow developers to create apps. That could allow the Apple TV to become a gaming device to rival Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation. Last week, Apple created a Twitter feed devoted exclusively to gaming, lending credence to the rumor.

The invitations to Apple’s event feature Siri, so it’s likely the new Apple TV features integration with Apple’s voice-activated search engine. The current Apple TV requires a channel-by-channel, type-driven search for shows; as content expands, searching would get even more unwieldy.

iPhone

Wired has called Apple’s iPhone release schedule a “tick-tock” cycle — ticks get a new number, a different form factor, and a major upgrade; tocks are incremental improvements and upgraded components on the existing device. We’re in the tock part of the cycle, which probably means a faster processor, better camera, and the introduction of Apple’s “Force Touch” (first debuted on the Mac earlier this year) that allows the device to take different actions depending on how hard the user presses down on the screen.

iPad

Is this the day Apple finally reveals the long-rumored super-sized iPad? It resisted the call to increase the size of the iPhone for a long time, but last year’s acknowledgement that customers wanted bigger phones with bigger screens drove Apple’s most successful iPhone sales year ever. Consumers aren’t aching for a bigger iPad, but some professionals are, and the next release of the operating system (see below) allows the iPad to display multiple screens — a feature that’s not really necessary unless you have more screen real estate.

iOS

Apple previewed the changes coming in iOS 9 this summer, and though it tried to generate excitement, most of the innovations will be under the hood — the iOS itself will take up less disk space when upgrading, better searching with Siri, improvements to the way the phone handles battery life. Good, necessary stuff, but not on a par with self-driving cars.