This. This is what Apple needs to beat everyone: A $99 Apple TV with the graphic oomph of an iPhone 5S, plus a new larger remote that doubles as a full gamepad and a motion joystick—like the Nintendo Wiimote. If this concept becomes a reality, Cupertino really can win the living room.
Images by Martin Hajek for Sploid.
Wait. Stop whining for a second and let's look at what's happening in the living room right now—these are the guys battling for your TV:
The stupid cable boxes
These are the equivalent of the dumbphones of yore—controlled by massive evil companies who employ blind orcs and goblins as their product designers, marketers, and tech people. Their interface and hardware design have the appeal of a two girls one cup party inside a goatse. We all wish they die soon–but realistically they are going to stick around for a longer time. Despite the options listed below, full a la carte TV will take a while to come (in part thanks to the sabotage work by cable companies.)
The pseudo-smart TVs
Not much smarter than the stupid cable boxes, this is the proprietary "smart TV" crap that Samsung, LG, and the rest of the TV manufacturing clowns eat and regurgitate every single year. These guys should just give up because they don't have a clue and nobody cares.
The big consoles
Sony and Microsoft are pushing their big game consoles out of the realm of dedicated game enthusiasts and into the mainstream, adding content delivery deals and using (gimmicks) like voice control. Xbox, pause this, PS4 play that. Wii U, do whatever the hell is what you do—oh wait, you can't hear crap. Nevermind.
The fact is that both Microsoft and Sony have great living room solutions, deep, rich experiences that normal humans can comprehend and enjoy. Ish. But they're way too expensive. $400 for the Playstation 4 and $500 for the Xbox One. They are now trying to cater to everyone but, at those prices, these consoles are hard to justify for anyone who doesn't want to play expensive games. Games that require way too much time to master and enjoy for regular Janes and Joes. They sell tons of these but they are not true mass market products because their price is a big barrier.
The smart TV boxes
Apple TV, Chromecast, and Roku. These are the guys who are taking over from the bottom. The guys that everyone fears. Easy to set up, easy to use, easy to enjoy, and so inexpensive.
Of those three, the Apple TV and the Chromecast are better positioned to become the winners. Roku is a great little device. It's agnostic, so you aren't tied to the Apple or Google ecosystems, but 1) they don't have the pockets to win this long-term war and 2) it's not as flexible as the other two. Roku may have 5000 channels now, but nobody is going to develop for them and they can't leverage an existing mobile platform like Apple and Google. To win this war, you need apps.
With multiple iterations behind it, the Apple TV is way more mature than Chromecast. It runs iOS on an Apple's A5 chip, like the iPhone and iPad. Even while it's less powerful than these two, the current version can offer a rich graphic experience, even while Apple isn't taking advantage of it at this time. The Chromecast runs a very stripped-down version of Android on a cheap Marvell chip that is basically made to push video and audio. Not flexible at all—hence its cheap price. Google just wanted an inexpensive and cheerful way into the TV. Good for them, but it doesn't have what it needs to win the living room.
That leaves Apple TV. It's elegant, extremely simple to use, true plug and play, with access to more channels than Chromecast and a huge library of video and music content, plus a free music radio service that works great. It has the software and hardware architecture to expand in a big way. That's its main advantage: If Apple were to give it iOS powers, its next iteration can easily be as powerful as the latest iPad and iPhone. It just needs one more piece, which finally brings me to my point.
The new Apple TV's "Wiimote"
One of the core strengths of the current Apple TV is its physical, easy to use remote. Combined with the simple on-screen navigation, it's almost perfect.
So I told Martin: What the Apple TV needs is to fine tune its current remote and turn it into a Wiimote.
Make it larger.
Four action buttons.
"Can you model and render something like this?" I told him, sending him this drawing:
So, being the charming 3D wizard he is, he did. They look gorgeous.
So yes, this is what Apple needs. The final piece that will turn the Apple TV into the biggest living room thingamajig in the planet. One that covers film, video, home pictures, music, radio and, finally, apps and video games.
A Wiimotish remote will easily open the TV to apps—thanks to the easy motion control—and video games—gamepad and motion control!—in a big way. The video games will come first, with the world's largest game library that not only has Angry Birds, Candy Crush, and thousands of games that regular mortals like to play, but also complex, deep games in every single genre. No Titanfall, obviously, but you don't need to look much further than the quality of games on the iPad today to see what it would be capable of.
Apple's ready for it too. A system like this can directly plug into Apple's latest physical gamepad programming interfaces for iOS. Remember: Apple never makes an API just for the developers. They always have made APIs to use them in-house—and share them with the developers.
And I hear you: "But the next Apple TV will NOT have super powerful graphics like the Xbox One or the PS4!" You're right. But does it need that? Do people need that? Remember, we are talking about taking over everyone's living rooms. Regular mortals don't care for mind-blowing graphics. Only hardcore gamers care, which is fine—they have their expensive boxes.
The rest of us are just happy to have inexpensive games with good graphics that we can easily play in our TVs using a gamepad that doubles as a motion control device plus—more importantly—an infinite amount of movies, music, and whathaveyou coming from a tiny inexpensive box hooked to our TVs.
The end of the war
The end of this war is still far away, though. Things are changing fast but it's obvious that the cable companies still have a tight grip on the market and they will do anything in their power to avoid the fate of the phone carriers, reduced to mere support cast roles when the iPhone destroyed their world forever.
During the next year or two, Google can also make a box like this dream game- and app-enabled Apple TV—and most probably they will. They know you need all the pieces to win. But right now, Apple's in a much better position to get there faster, better. And as we've seen time and time again, that's what it takes to win.
Martin Hajek is a former industrial designer from the Netherlands who is now spending most of his spare time envisioning, modelling and rendering (mostly) Apple concepts. You can hire him and buy his 3D models online.