A new Apple TV that would double as a FaceTime video calling camera and a smart speaker is reportedly in the works, potentially giving the company’s home entertainment and smart home offering a significant boost. The current Apple TV 4K is generally considered to be long-overdue a replacement, having been initially released all the way back in 2017.
Since then we’ve seen updates to tvOS, the software that Apple TV runs, but no hardware improvements. Elsewhere in the home, meanwhile, Apple’s ambitions have met with mixed results. Its HomePod smart speaker was recently discontinued – Apple has never confirmed exact sales figures, but the not-inexpensive speaker was believed to have struggled in the face of far cheaper Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant-powered rivals – though its smaller, more affordable HomePod mini met with a warmer response.
A new Apple TV has long been rumored, but according to a new report there could be more to the Cupertino firm’s plans than simply a more powerful set-top box. A new product being developed is a combination of an Apple TV streaming device with a HomePod speaker, throwing in a camera too for FaceTime video calls, Bloomberg reports. Another work-in-progress is a high-end speaker with a touchscreen and camera, it’s suggested.
Full details on the products aren’t known, and it’s entirely possible that Apple could opt not to launch them at all. However, there’s a solid argument for an Apple TV that also doubles as a smart speaker. It’s something we’ve seen Amazon experiment with, with its Fire TV Cube powered by Alexa, while Android TV-based soundbars that use the Google Assistant for voice control are already available, too.
In contrast, while the current Apple TV can be controlled via Siri, that’s done through the microphone on the little-loved Siri Remote control. Users have to hold down a button and then speak into the remote in order to interact with Siri, or to use voice input for third-party apps like Netflix and YouTube that support it for text-entry rather than an onscreen keyboard.
A Siri-powered smart speaker integrated into a new Apple TV, in contrast, could allow for hands-free operation. It might also promise a boost in audio performance for TV shows and movies: Apple’s HomePod could be wirelessly paired with an Apple TV for a bump in audio quality via AirPlay, though it’s unclear how many owners actually did that. The soundbar space, in contrast, is one that home entertainment shoppers are far more familiar with, where the convenience of a single HDMI eARC cable linking speaker to TV can deliver both surround sound and streaming features.
As for the camera, that might allow Apple to tap into another of its ubiquitous services, FaceTime. Currently supported on iPhone, iPad, and Mac, the video calling service is arguably a natural fit for larger displays. Facebook has a model in its Portal range, the Portal TV, which is designed to install on or underneath a TV and show video calling services like Facebook Messenger and Zoom on the big screen.
Earlier leaks have suggested that Apple is also considering a new HomePod speaker with a built-in display, that would be mounted on a robotic arm of some sort. Like Amazon’s Echo Show 10, that would be able to track users’ position in the room and move the display around to keep them framed during video calls. The Fire TV Cube, meanwhile, was updated to support a USB webcam.