The white whale of the current technological market is one we always hear in relation to any set-top box: the persistently rumored “iTV,” the evolved form of the Apple TV that Steve Jobs apparently cracked the code of how to make before his untimely death. Despite the pressure and wide range of rumors, with some suggesting that it’s an actual 4K-resolution television and others saying it’d be a replacement for the cable DVR, Apple has been steady with its current Apple TV.
This bears mentioning because as Apple remains idle, other companies are starting to not only boost up their own streaming devices, but in some cases, also expand into avenues that the tech-giant has yet to explore. Just last week, Amazon officially entered into the foray with the Amazon Fire TV, priced at $99, which would sync up nicely with people already in Amazon’s ecosystem and also stations itself as a gaming device, with an additional controller accessory that can be purchased for $39.
The recently released Roku 3, which costs less and boasts more channels, can play certain titles but nothing to the level of commitment that Amazon is demonstrating with the Fire TV. The device will actually feature titles created in-house and with more to come, as Amazon has been gathering game developers and purchased Double Helix, who recently created the Killer Instinct reboot for the Xbox One.
In addition, Google is considering venturing into the set-top arena with some form of an Android TV in the near future. What’s interesting is that Google had tried to enter the television market with the ill-fated Google TV, which petered out around 2012. Where that one failed, however, beyond a cumbersome interface, was in its attempt to treat the television as a computer, which made developers hesitant to create applications for it.
A theoretical Android TV would likely be an expansion off of the Chromecast, the plug-in Google Play device that’s been able to sell like hot cakes (a $35 price tag doesn’t hurt), and with them opening up the SDK for developers, a swarm of apps have come out for the device, expanding it beyond its capabilities.
And yet, all of this seems to go back to Apple, as everyone seems to be waiting with bated breath for what, exactly, is the revolutionary approach they’ll take to the set-top box and the television market as a whole. The more the company lingers, the more people seem to worry about just how expansive the device will be.
The last round of rumors implied that the reason Apple seems to be taking longer than expected on the next “true” Apple TV is that the company is trying to negotiate with content providers and cable companies so that the device can act as a DVR, syncing your iTunes library with your video content.
Instead of the à la carte method that consumers have been asking for from cable companies, however, it looks like you would still need to purchase a cable bundle to make the most of the device. Apple has already taken the first step forward with a preliminary agreement with Comcast and is also negotiating with Time Warner Cable. Even if this is what Steve Jobs meant when he said he “finally figured it out” regarding television content, it could be the case many were hoping, and it could very well turn out to be true, that the new set-top box is what will allow people to finally cut the cable and have the device be their primary vessel for content.
With the television market and the way we consume content rapidly evolving (people might not be watching “TV” as much but people are consuming media at an expedited rate), these set-top devices are an efficient and quick way to access the shows and movies we want to watch. Amazon’s foray into these departments will compel Google and other companies to call Apple’s bluff.
The revolution will be televised; by whom is now up to the companies in question.
Robert Calcagno is a graduate student studying animation. His column, “Tech Talk,” runs Mondays.