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New Apple TV 2021: what we want to see

apple tv 2021
(Image credit: Apple)

Nearly four years after the launch of the Apple TV 4K and a year after the launch of Apple TV+, we're champing at the bit to find out what Apple might have planned for a possible hardware refresh of the 4K HDR streamer – and a 2020 leak may have the answer.

According to tech analyst Jon Prosser, the model is ready to ship, and could "drop at any time". Of course, this was back in 2020, and he's since said we won't get one until at least 2021, so those claims have turned out to be rather optimistic. 

Our best bet right now is it'll launch in Spring 2021, which just so happens to coincide with a rumored Apple event.

Let's also not forget, it's not certain we even will get a new Apple TV 4K. It's been a tough road for the Apple TV from its inception: Labeled a “hobby” project by Steve Jobs, the idea of a set-top box was very much on the back burner at Apple for many years and still isn't on the same annual release cycle that the company's phones and tablets are on.

All that said, the 4K-enabled Apple TV that arrived in 2017 finally saw the streamer meet the promise it’s always held, boasting super-high-resolution playback, some fun gaming options and voice control that actually worked.

So what will a possible follow-up look like? Here's what we might see from the Apple TV in 2021, which would be the 6th generation of the box.

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Cut to the chase

  • What is it? A new version of Apple’s set-top box
  • When is it out? Apparently, it was ready to go over a year ago
  • What will it cost? Likely around $159 / £150 / AU$250

Apple TV 6 (2021): release date

As ever with unannounced Apple products, outside the annual iPhone release, it’s hard to know when, if ever, a new product will hit stores. But we can make educated guesses based on previous models’ release dates.

The fifth-generation, 4K-capable Apple TV model was revealed on September 12, 2017, almost two years to the day that the 4th generation Apple TV was announced.

Given that timeline, we thought we might hear more in September 2019, but Apple tends to save hardware announcements – like its latest iPhones – for that time of the year. That date came and went, and we're now waiting to see what 2021 might now bring.

As we detailed above, the latest rumors from Jon Prosser, a knowledgeable, sometimes-right Apple leaker, hint at a release date in the first half of 2021. There's also a rumored Apple event taking place in March 2021, which would make sense for a new Apple TV launch, but given nothing has been made official yet we wouldn't bet on it.

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Apple TV 6 (2021): price

Of course, without a confirmed spec sheet, it’s difficult to speculate on cost. Apple knows that messing with the formula too much might hurt sales, though.

It's worth bearing in mind that as far as set-top boxes have gone in the past, Apple’s has always commanded a premium price. 

For the sake of context, the current-gen Apple TV costs £179 / $179 / AU$249 for the 32GB version, while the 64GB option costs £199 / $199 / AU$279.

Analyst Jon Prosser has speculated around a $149 RRP, though we wouldn't be surprised to see the cost go higher, especially with a more advanced A12X processor inside the hardware.

Apple TV 6 (2021): what we want to see

The Apple TV line has made some solid steps forward over the last two generation revisions, but there’s still room for improvement should a 6th-generation Apple TV ever hit stores. 

Apple’s approach to content and voice control still frustrates at times, and it’s in these areas we’re mostly looking for some progress with a new Apple TV, what with the underlying hardware being reasonably solid at this period in time.

A serious performance upgrade

Whenever we get a new Apple TV model, it might come packing a substantial performance upgrade.

Apple tipster @choco_bit has revealed on Twitter that new Apple TV models will come featuring the Apple A12Z Bionic chip (currently powering the 2020 iPad Pros) and an enhanced version of the Apple A14 Bionic chip (currently powering the 2020 iPad Air 4).

An open approach to apps and third-party video

The walls of Apple’s closed garden have been slowly eroding over the years, but it’s still quite picky about what makes it to its TV-based app store. That’s particularly clear when you’re comparing the Apple TV with something like Android TV-based set-top boxes, where a wide range of applications (including some more controversial options like Kodi) are available.

It’d be great to see Apple take a similarly open approach to its TV viewing options in the future. Tastes across the globe vary, and a wider variety of programming and streaming options (as well as ways to play back your own media) would go down a treat if they were included in the Apple TV 2020

Apple TV

More gaming options

The last two generations of Apple TV have seen the company dip its toes deeper into the world of gaming – something that, outside of the iOS app store, it’s been reticent to do in a home space in the past. 

But with the 5th-gen release and the partnership with Thatgamecompany for its game Sky, it started to seem like it was finally taking home gaming seriously – not least with the arrival of Apple Arcade, a game subscription service that allows players to access quality titles across their iOS devices.

An improved processor would do much to sell the Apple TV 4K to iOS-minded gamers, given the 5th-gen model wasn't really designed with that capability in mind.

Deeper voice control with Siri

Controlling your TV with voice commands is still a thrill, but Apple’s Siri lags behind the capabilities of Google’s Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa. 

The TV space would be a great area for it to invest in, given the relatively narrow contextual window it has to work within. 

We’d love to see Siri integration really dive deep with the 6th-gen Apple TV 2020 – perhaps scheduling a calendar notification for your favorite show release date, for instance.

(Image credit: Apple)

Better HomePod syncing

Apple’s smart speaker can frustrate thanks to Siri’s sometimes weak recognition capabilities, but one thing that is undeniable about the hardware is its sound quality. 

It’s easily the best-sounding smart speaker on the market – if among the most expensive of them, too.

Now that HomePod speakers support stereo pairing and multi-room, would it be possible to get the HomePod to automatically set up in a surround sound configuration if multiple speakers and the TV box are present? 

It’d be great to be enveloped by an epic Hollywood soundtrack through those speakers.

A beefed-up Apple TV Plus content library

While Apple finally released its TV streaming service, Apple TV Plus, in 2019, it still offers a pretty paltry offering of shows. A bigger catalogue of programming, and more exclusives to draw viewers to the service, would do much to make an Apple TV 4K device look more tempting – especially given how Apple services tend to run best on Apple products.