Apple is upping its game in a bid to annexe the living room into its entertainment empire.
The technology giant has unveiled a smaller, cheaper version of Apple TV, which connects to a high-definition television and can show rented movies and TV shows from Apple’s own service, plus content from Netflix, photos on Flickr, YouTube clips and more.
The new £64 gadget marks a slight improvement over Apple’s first television set-top box, which went on sale in 2007. The original Apple TV had to synchronise with a computer, a concept most consumers were not ready for, Apple chief executive Steve Jobs said yesterday.
It also did not record live television shows the way other digital recorders did, at a time when that was becoming a popular way to watch TV.
“We’ve sold a lot of them, but it’s never been a huge hit,” Mr Jobs said of the existing Apple TV, which sold for €179.
Mr Jobs, who presided over a media event in San Francisco, also unveiled social media features for its iTunes software, a new line-up of iPods including a touch-screen Nano and new software for its iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad devices.
Apple’s new TV box, about four inches square, still does not record television, but it comes at a time when more people have got used to watching shows online.
The device lets people rent, not buy, content. Apple TV owners will pay €3.90 to rent first-run high-definition movies the day they come out on DVD. High-definition TV show rentals will be 77c.
Apple said the same film studios that had allowed iTunes users to rent and buy movies had agreed to include their titles for streaming. Apple did not rent TV shows before, but now episodes will be available from News Corporation’s Fox, Walt Disney’s ABC, ABC Family and Disney Channel and BBC America.
Mr Jobs said he hoped other television companies would join once the service gained popularity.
Apple TV, which will be available within a month, will also display shows, movies, photos and music streamed over Wi-Fi from other devices – computers with iTunes installed, as well as iPhones, iPads and the iPod Touch. For example, an iPad owner could start watching a movie on the tablet, then walk into the living room and, with a few taps, finish watching it on the TV screen.
Consumers may have grown more savvy about watching TV over the internet since Apple’s first attempt, but Apple now faces increased competition for their attention.
Some television companies replay episodes on their own websites, while others allow viewers to tune in on aggregator sites such as Hulu. Netflix has made its streaming library available to its subscribers on many devices, including Microsoft’s Xbox 360 video game system, Apple’s own iPhone and iPod and Roku’s set-top boxes.
Roku, anticipating Apple’s announcement, cut the prices of its devices this week, with the least expensive now costing €46.90. A high-definition version costs €54.70 – less than the new Apple TV.
In a surprise counter-punch, Amazon.com began selling ABC, Fox and BBC TV shows for 77c each to own, not just rent.
The shows, in both standard and high definition, are a mirror image of the content available to rent on Apple TV; people can watch on PCs, using Roku’s set-top box and through other devices that carry Amazon’s Video on Demand service.
In Fox’s case, Amazon did not seek to renegotiate the wholesale price on the shows, according a person familiar with the matter. That means Amazon has probably cut into its own profit margin to stay competitive.