Apple TV 4K is missing its potential: 7 upgrades we want to see

Apple TV 4K (2021) on wooden table
(Image credit: TechRadar)

The Apple TV 4K (2021) has long been a notable streamer in the market, and the best pick for those sitting snugly in the Apple ecosystem.

While the 2021 model didn’t offer a huge revision over its 2017 predecessor, the latest iteration still marks the best streaming device for Apple die-hards – with its new Siri remote design, upgraded processor, Dolby Vision and Atmos support, and suite of iPhone-friendly features.

However, its high price point can be hard to justify to anyone who isn’t currently wearing 2-4 Apple devices at any one time – and we’re still waiting to see the tech giant meaningfully update the device from its launch state.

Last year’s tvOS 15 update saw some interesting tweaks, including Spatial Audio support for compatible audio kit – the kind of feature you’d expect from such premium-priced hardware. But Apple is going to need more than the occasional bug fixes to pull ahead of the glut of cheap 4K streamers on the market – Roku, Google, Fire TV, and the like.

While tvOS 16 is kicking off with its beta test, there’s not much to get excited about other than Nintendo Switch Joy-Con compatibility, and some limited HDR10+ support. Here’s everything we’re yet to hear, but would love to come to the Apple TV 4K (2021).

1. Expanded audio sharing

One of the best features of the Apple TV 4K (2021) was the introduction of Audio Sharing for Apple Airpods, meaning that two people could both sync up their headphones to the audio output of the streamer. Silent disco movie night, anyone?

The problem is that this feature only applies to Apple and Beats audio gear. So if you’ve splashed out on some nice Bose headphones, you’re stuck listening solo – or having to ditch the cans altogether to be more sociable.

We’d love to see Apple at the forefront of implementing Auracast – a new Bluetooth capability for broadcasting to multiple audio devices, and which could be coming to consumer gadgets within the next year. However, the Apple TV 4K would need a bit of an update to support the latest Bluetooth standards.

2. Find My Remote

Remotes are infamous for disappearing under sofa cushions and the like, and given the Siri Remote’s compact design, it’s at an even greater risk of being lost amongst the furniture. 

Support for Ultra Wide Band wireless communication would allow you to ping the location of your remote to within a few centimeters, and mean you never lose it again. This is the technology that enables you to find your Apple AirTag by just following arrows on your iPhone's screen – so you'll be able to see exactly which side of the couch the remote has slipped down.

Apple TV 4K (2021) remote on wooden surface

Come on Apple – it's small and easy to lose, and you have exactly the tech to combat that! (Image credit: TechRadar)

4. Streaming gaming support

A big reason for the processor upgrade in the 2021 Apple TV 4K model was to help games run smoother – and create more of an incentive to try out the Apple Arcade subscription service, which packages together a list of curated games for a monthly price.

Apple seems content to stop there, however, despite the rise in streaming gaming options. You still can’t get Xbox Cloud Gaming, which is the most glaring absence, while Google Stadia, Amazon Luna and PS Now are still left out in the cold.

Apple has historically been cold to other game platforms, exerting tighter controls over them on its App Store compared to TV streaming services such as Netflix or Disney Plus – generally seeing the likes of Game Pass as competing marketplaces rather than individual apps.

While opening the Apple gates may feel out of character for the company, it would certainly help position the Apple TV 4K as a more versatile gaming device – and put its support for Xbox and PlayStation controllers to better use.

4. Android support

Android might be a curious request to the decision makers at Apple, but if you’re out of the Apple ecosystem there’s no denying that the company’s streaming device becomes a much harder sell.

The Apple TV 4K pairs best with Apple-made hardware, whether using the iPhone to color-calibrate your TV screen, or breezily sign in with your Apple ID. Having better support for Android smartphones would go a long way towards attracting consumers beyond Apple die-hards. And it would certainly make installing an Apple TV VPN far easier.

5. More color options

With Apple expanding its color palette for both iPhones and Macs, we’d love to see more options for the Apple TV. The Siri Remote, particularly, could use some color options to brighten up the part you see and hold in your hand – and make an even better case for using Apple’s clicker over your usual TV remote. A dashing pastel blue, or metallic bronze, perhaps?

It'd be nice to have the Apple TV box itself in matching colors, though we're always happy with a simple black for under-TV boxes. Though maybe a white option would be nice to sit next to that PS5.

6. An improved onscreen keyboard

Please, we’re begging you. Apple’s aesthetic-first approach to some of the most basic functions of a user interface can make for some infuriating (if easy on the eyes) design choices. And tvOS’s onscreen keyboard is one of the biggest offenders, with the entire alphabet stretched out over a single row – same for any numbers of punctuation you would deign to use. 

Typing into the Search function needn’t be such a chore – especially given that scrolling off one side doesn’t jump you to the other, which feels like a relatively easy pain point to fix.

Amazon X-Ray in use on a screen

What if your Apple TV could recognize actors using the same kind of tech Apple uses in its Photos app? (Image credit: Amazon)

7. Apple X-Ray

Both tvOS and the Apple TV Plus streaming platform currently lack a centralized way to gain real-time information about the show or film being watched – like you’ll find on Amazon Prime with its X-Ray overlay.

X-Ray is a hugely useful feature, allowing curious viewers a way to quickly halt the action and learn which actors are currently onscreen, and find out useful tidbits about the programming.

Apple is already quite thorough when it comes to acknowledging its talent, with a formalized list of cast members and show creators in the larger info pane for each show – and you can even organize content based on who’s starring in it. Want to exclusively watch everything Kathryn Hahn has done on Apple TV Plus? You can do that (and should). But having a way to track actor appearances for each scene in the same way as X-Ray would take this a long way further.

And the brilliant part would be if Apple can use its machine learning and Neural Engine tech so that even if a service doesn't support this normally, Apple could recognize the actors by their faces or based on known information about the film. It'd give the Apple TV an edge that nothing else can match.

Henry St Leger

Henry is a freelance technology journalist, and former News & Features Editor for TechRadar, where he specialized in home entertainment gadgets such as TVs, projectors, soundbars, and smart speakers. Other bylines include Edge, T3, iMore, GamesRadar, NBC News, Healthline, and The Times.