Code snippets found in iOS 5, Apple'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]