Apple March 25 Event: Will Apple's Streaming Launch Include Any Hardware?

The Apple TV could prove too expensive.

It’s showtime, but where? Apple’s not so mysteriously-named event is set for next week, with a growing consensus that the iPhone maker is about to unveil a video streaming subscription service. Talk is now turning to how viewers will expect to tune in, begging the question of whether Apple’s event will also feature new hardware.

The invite, sent to reporters on March 11, indicated that the firm plans to kick off their event at 1 p.m. Eastern time on March 25 at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, California. Details are unclear about Apple’s forthcoming service, including how it will take on the giants like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu. Rumors suggest the firm is aiming to bring in multiple content providers into one service, but Netflix has made it clear that it wants users watching its shows on its own service. A Thursday report claimed Apple plans to offer bundles of pay-TV channels like HBO at a discount.

This is no small plan for Apple. The company is reportedly spending $1 billion on original programming, signing up big names like M. Night Shyamalan and La La Land writer-director Damien Chazelle. Rumors suggest the subscription will cost more than the approximate $8 per month on competing TV services, possibly as much as $15. But for Apple to get where the viewers are, and it may need some hardware to do it.

Apple March 25 Event: A Streaming Stick?

Roku
Roku streaming stick: the answer to Apple's problems?

The question of how Apple plans to maximize the audience for this programming has some people mulling a low-cost streaming stick. A November 2018 report from The Information claimed the company has considered a low-cost streaming “stick” to bring its Apple service to more viewers. It’s unclear how much a stick would cost, but the Amazon Fire TV Stick retails for $39.99, the Google Chromecast for $35, and the 4K-supporting Roku Premiere for $39.99. These three firms command more than 50 percent of the American streaming media player market, with Apple lagging behind in fourth place.

Such a price would would presumably bring an Apple TV stick to a much broader audience. Apple currently sells its TV streaming box starting at $149 for a 32GB model that supports HD content. This cuboid packs an A8 chip, like the one found in the iPhone 6, to power games and apps downloadable via the store. Apple also sells a 4K-enabled stick that costs $179 for 32GB and $199 for 64GB, the latter of which packs the beefier A10X processor found in older models of the iPad Pro. Both models come with a remote that offers Siri voice activation alongside an accelerometer and touchpad.

Apple TV offers a sleek user interface for viewing.
Apple TV offers a sleek user interface for viewing.

Whether the company could release a streaming stick at the event is unclear. Apple has occasionally revealed supplementary products during the main event to weave a narrative about how people will use a product, like in 2008 during the MacBook Air announcement when it unveiled the external SuperDrive to compensate for the lack of a built-in disc drive. The company is famed for its “one more thing” reveals at the end of the show, popularized by former CEO Steve Jobs, where the company announces a surprise product just before closing the show.

The company also seemed to strike a conciliatory tone with rival manufacturers at CES 2019, adding iTunes into LG, Samsung, and Vizio TV screens, but rumors suggest the firm will entice viewers primarily toward its own hardware. Apple is expected to offer discounts or freebies on content for users watching via one of its own devices. A report from CNBC claimed that iPhones, iPads and Apple TVs will all come with pre-loaded content. This wouldn’t be unlike Apple, as although its Apple Music service supports Android, users wishing to play their songs through Google Home are currently out of luck and would need to buy a device like the HomePod.

While a streaming stick could make sense from a market perspective, it may be difficult for Apple to find ways to release one without undercutting the Apple TV or compromising on its broader selling points. Dropping app support could deal a serious blow to tvOS, particularly as CEO Tim Cook introduced the fourth-generation model with the tagline that “the future of TV is apps.” Apple also shows no signs of losing interest in Siri, having recently updated the AirPods with “Hey Siri” support. Although it would offer an easy way to watch the company’s original programming, Apple may lock themselves out of this opportunity due to an unwillingness to sacrifice features.