We’re just a few days away from Apple’s mostly software-focused Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), which means there’s no shortage of predictions about what the company could discuss. Aside from expected updates to key operating systems like macOS, iOS, and more, the rumor mill includes potential new hardware, like revamped MacBook Pros sporting Apple’s own chips inside. But the annual conference could — emphasis on could — also bring some significant changes to the company’s streaming entertainment platform, tvOS. With a brand-new flagship streaming device on the market and rumors of more smart home integrations coming, here’s what could be in store for Apple’s tvOS this year.
Apple TV, and the tvOS that powers it, have always been sort of outliers among Apple’s product portfolio. The company prides itself on leveraging the latest and greatest chip designs to enable new levels of performance, but that pure need for speed just isn’t as urgent when it comes to the relatively humble streaming device landscape. Case in point: the company’s newest streamer, the second-gen Apple TV 4K uses a processor we first saw back in 2018. And despite that, it still managed to tear through our performance benchmarks with an overall time more than twice as fast as our previous record-holder.
Incredible performance just isn’t as paramount for streaming hardware, but there’s still plenty Apple could do to shake up its presence in the category.
What’s In A Name?
Perhaps the most intriguing possibility for tvOS as we near WWDC21, is a potential name change. Several Apple-focused sites reported on a recent job listing that briefly mentioned something called “homeOS,” which is not an operating system Apple currently offers. The listing was later changed to “HomePod and tvOS,” but that was enough to set off speculation that the company’s streaming device software could be getting a rebrand soon.
On a certain level, such a move makes sense. Apple’s often touted how its streaming hardware is capable of more than just serving up Netflix or HBO Max. And in addition to loading up Apple TV with other services like Apple Fitness+, the company’s also been keen on emphasizing its smart home chops.
More integration with the company’s smart home initiatives, including HomeKit, could pave the way for a renamed software platform that encompasses both streaming entertainment as well as overall home automation.
On the other hand, however, that job listing could’ve just featured a typo that’s since been corrected. Regardless of whether or not homeOS ends up being real, Apple TV’s further integration as a central part of an Apple-focused smart home seems inevitable. And it’s likely we’ll see some tvOS updates at WWDC that center on home automation, especially with the latest Apple TV including support for the new Thread protocol.
More tvOS Devices On the Way?
Aside from potential name changes, tvOS could be powering more types of devices in the future. Recent reports have suggested Apple’s working on some combo devices that blend its HomePod speaker tech with Apple TV to create a 2-in-1 device similar to Roku’s Streambar line.
If those rumors are to be believed, a few new pieces of hardware could be on the way, though not necessarily in time to be announced at this year’s WWDC. One device could feature a FaceTime camera for TV-based video calls. And a larger rumored option could include a built-in touchscreen — sort of like the Amazon Echo Show line.
Again, those rumored devices might be saved for a future release, or they might be prototypes that never see the light of day. Either way, it could signal that Apple’s looking to expand tvOS’ reach to more than just dedicated streaming hardware.
Unlocking New Features?
One of the more interesting additions in the new Apple TV 4K is the presence of an HDMI 2.1 port on the back. This newest version of the HDMI standard allows for much more bandwidth (48Gbps vs. 18Gbps), which opens the door to features like 120Hz refresh rates at 4K. However, the device itself currently tops out at 60Hz at 4K.
As Screentimes recently detailed, the new Apple TV 4K apparently uses the older TMDS (Transition-Minimized Differential Signaling) method to send audio and video data to your TV, which prevents it from outputting higher frame rates like 120Hz at 4K. Assuming there isn’t a hardware limitation blocking them from doing so, it’s possible Apple could switch to what’s known as FRL (Fixed Rate Link) to unlock the bandwidth needed for higher frame rates.
Such a move seems feasible given the Apple TV’s potential shelf life (the 2015-era Apple TV HD is still being sold, after all). It’s unclear at the moment whether Apple will discuss such features next week, but the presence of forward-looking interfaces like HDMI 2.1 suggests more new features could be in store for Apple’s latest high-end streamer.
We Shall See
In any case, Apple’s sure to announce a slew of new features and capabilities throughout its software lineup at next week’s WWDC. Exactly how much update love tvOS receives remains to be seen, of course. But with a brand-new, high-end streaming device on the market, the timing seems right for Apple to showcase its vision for the future of streaming entertainment. Stay tuned!
Featured Image: Apple