New Tweaks Could Turn Apple TV Into A Game-Playing, Video-Chatting, Multimedia Superstar

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Code snippets found in iOS 5Apple's upcoming refresh of the operating system used in its iPhones and iPads, suggest that Apple TV may be getting Bluetooth capabilities. The chip's already built in, but current software hasn't activated it. The change would allow it to pair with Bluetooth keyboards--but also could mean a bigger makeover for the small set-top device, including the introduction of apps. 

Apple TV has always been a sideline for the company, and its limited usage of iOS has rendered it squarely as a simple media-relay device that links your music and video in iTunes to your TV (on the understanding that most people keep their computer and TV/audio gear separate, even though your stereo system is likely far from your MP3 source--iTunes). But now, newly released developer code for iOS 5 contains text strings like "Your Apple TV is paired with..." and "Make sure your device is in range of your Apple TV, turned on and 'discoverable,'" reports 9to5Mac. This language more or less confirms that Apple is letting the device's refreshed OS access the Bluetooth stack already contained in the Broadcom chip it uses for Wi-Fi connectivity.

This could make the device into a more powerful set-top box by simplifying text entry (which is painfully slowly on the current system, handled letter-by-letter). If Apple adds a mobile Safari browser to its capabilities, this could also bring Net browsing powers to your TV--pure speculation, of course, but we know Apple has the code and the expertise to do this.

But if the next iOS for Apple TV is more like its mobile device companions, that could change everything. Sure, TVs lack touchscreens. But by pairing a Bluetooth keyboard and Apple's Magic Pad, it could gain both text-entry and multi-touch. And if you can pair it with Bluetooth devices, why not a microphone or some wireless gaming controls? After all, the PS3 uses Bluetooth tech to do this very pairing. And what about webcams? We already know AirPlay (Apple's wireless proprietary video streaming tech that brings imagery from your iDevice to your TV screen) will work with FaceTime in iOS 5, Apple's own video conferencing app. Apple could challenge Microsoft-Facebook-Skype with video calling from your home's TV--or even simplify it with an app.

It's really apps we're talking about here. By enabling a new class of iOS app, destined for your TV, Apple could add even more energy to the already-sizzling App Store. By adding a more sophisticated OS, and possibly faster chips, Apple could enable a whole new gaming market, too, one to rival big players like Sony and Nintendo with much cheaper hardware.

Much of this is speculation, of course, but for the first time we've got real code evidence it may happen...and it wouldn't actually take much developer effort from Apple's R&D team. If the timing is right, coming in step with Apple's cloud-based tweaks to iTunes, Apple TV could become the company's next billion-dollar gambit.

[Image: Flickr user robboudon]

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

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4 Comments

  • John Ellis

    What about the obvious pairing to the iPhone? Huge market penetration and an easy extension into a TV remote and text entry. (I use the FiOS app for iPhone and it's better than their provided remote.) It seems this is the logical next step.

  • s2eves

    Remote 2.0 is a free app from Apple which supports text entry —paired via Wi-Fi. The next step is to add voice search similar to the Google TV implementation.

    Kinect for Xbox 360 is developing a compelling voice search and discovery system powered by Bing —you are the TV remote.

  • Wize Adz

    The problem with the AppleTV is that it is, first and foremost, a device to access content purchased through the iTunes Music Store.  It's a big iPod.

    Sounds good so far, right?  The iPod and iPad (another big iPod) are both items that people LOVE, and have been wildly successful.

    Here's the rub: Apple's video content is extraordinarily expensive the last time I looked.  Netflix and Hulu dominate the streaming market.  When a season of a *single* show can cost $20, Apple/ITMS doesn't stand a chance against the sub-$15/mo all-you-care-to-eat services that have replaced cable in my house.

    In order for our AppleTV to be recovered from the attic and to have a chance at having my buy something from ITMS for the device, they must embrace having Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and other streaming content providers.  Until then, we have worn out old laptop plugged in to our flat screen TV, so that my wife and I can just stream what *we* want from the services *we* choose.