What Are Apple's Real Plans for the Apple TV?

Earlier this week, Apple made the surprising decision to allow users to buy television shows from the Apple TV. Upon doing so, users can have on-demand access to the shows by streaming them over the Web to their set-top box. In addition, Apple added Vimeo support to the device.

It's an interesting choice for Apple. When the Apple TV first launched in September, Apple tried to make the case that renting content and streaming it over the Web to the Apple TV was the best option, which is why purchasing was no longer supported. But Apple has apparently had a change of heart, and for television buffs, the company is delivering a far more appealing option.

But the changes have caused me to start thinking: if Apple is willing to change course on that key feature, what else might the iPhone maker do with its set-top box? And perhaps most importantly, what are Apple's true plans for the device?

At this point, your guess is as good as mine. For months, the Apple TV was left alone by Apple, and then all of a sudden, the company proved that it cared again by offering the latest update. It would seem that the Apple TV really isn't the ignored product many of us thought it was, and Apple is thinking seriously about what it can do to deliver a better experience to users.

That said, the company has a long way to go.

Perhaps I'm alone in this thought, but I think Apple realizes that. And I actually believe that the latest update is a sign of good things to come for the Apple TV. If you ask me, the small, black box sitting in my living room is poised for some major improvements in the coming months.

So, why do I think that? One word: iCloud.

As far as I'm concerned, iCloud is central to Apple's future. The online service, which allows users to sync content among iOS-based devices and computers, will also work with the Apple TV. In its initial stages, iCloud will let Apple TV owners view Photo Stream albums. But in the coming months, I think Apple will expand its offering to deliver far more features.

The way I see it, Apple has made the Apple TV to be a perfect iCloud companion. The "hobby" relies upon the Web for everything it offers. And it just so happens that iCloud, which lets users sync apps, e-mails, music purchases, and just about everything else in the Apple ecosystem, does too.

Of course, a major update to the Apple TV's functionality means the device would need improved software, but if Apple really has been thinking about its set-top box, as this latest update seems to suggest, how long will it take before that update is made available?

Believe it or not, I see a bright future for the Apple TV. Slowly but surely, Apple is showing that it doesn't just view the set-top box as a hobby. And those of us who own the device should be quite happy to see that.

But that's just my take. What do you think Apple has planned for the Apple TV?

Let us know in the comments below.