The Apple TV, Long a Vanity Buy, Needs to Justify Its Existence This Week

It has yet to separate itself from the competition. Will Wednesday's announcement change that?

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Can anybody tell me why I should buy an Apple TV? No, seriously, why should I plunk down my hard earned cash for a plastic slab that hugs my TV? What does it do better than cheaper devices? Unfortunately for the dreamers out there, the announcements at Wednesday’s big Apple event won’t include a magical standalone television, but instead will reportedly feature upgrades to the fledgling Apple TV. But are they significant enough to reach the casual Apple customer?

In short: no. But we’ll get to that a bit later.

Since Steve Jobs unveiled it in 2007, the Apple TV has stubbornly languished as a niche Apple device; it seems to be the only major Apple product without a splashy marketing campaign. CEO Tim Cook even called it nothing more than “just a hobby,” but that was before it posted $1 billion in revenue in 2013.

How did Apple’s black sheep get to that exorbitant number? It lacks the omnipotence of the iPhone, the glamor of the Apple Watch, or the convenient functionality of the iPad. And that billion seems paltry compared to the $88.4 billion the iPhone tallied the same year.

Steve Jobs announcing a next generation Apple TV in 2010.

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Aside from it facilitating iTunes, I can’t figure out what the benefits are to the Apple TV. The product page on Apple’s website touts its ability to “enjoy blockbuster movies, TV shows, live sports and news, your music, photos, and more — right on your high-definition TV,” and “choose from thousands of blockbuster movies and the latest TV shows in addition to classic films and shows from iTunes.”

That’s redundant against a web-enabled Blu-ray player or other set-top streaming tech like the Roku or the Amazon Fire TV Stick that costs a fraction of the price. The Apple TV offers no real advantages. It is and has always remained Apple’s version of other more functional products. Who, aside from Apple junkies, feels the need to pay more for the same experience?

A nearly useless piece of very expensive plastic.

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So what is Apple announcing Wednesday that would advance its incursion into the most popular screen in my house? A faster processor, streamlined Siri and App Store capabilities, a redesigned motion control remote, and the higher $149 price tag certainly don’t do much to persuade me.

If Apple does confirm the rumored move into original content unique to the Apple TV, it might have a chance to separate itself. Apple’s troubles wrangling together TV providers rules out exclusive mainstream programming of worth. The best-case scenario would mirror the Beats 1 rollout with Apple Music featuring specific DJs and curated shows by artists like Drake and St. Vincent.

The other big draw would be to mold itself into a gaming console extension of the App Store by bringing your mobile games to your TV screen. Its content would probably be geared towards the Candy Crush crowd instead of the hardcore Xbox and PS4 gamers, and though that is an interesting addition it still doesn’t really set the type of game-changing standard that would push more units.

If that’s the case, then Apple needs a strong argument. Until it gives buyers the effortless experience of the iPhone, the practical use of the iPad, and the fashion statement of the Apple Watch, the Apple TV will remain a vanity item reserved for the most ardent Apple loyalists.

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