The Apple event on Monday is expected to focus on the Mac. And while I am very excited for the MacBook Pro 2021, I’m also a greedy person. Which is why I want more than just a new MacBook with all the ports we and it deserve.
I want Apple to shake up its streaming device business with the one thing it really needs. Yes, even after we got new Siri remote, Apple’s work on the Apple TV isn’t truly over. No, I’m not asking for a real Apple TV television set. I’m asking for an Apple TV 4K Stick.
Why Apple needs an Apple TV Stick
As much as I love the Apple TV 4K, its price doesn’t make sense in this market. Right now, the cost of entry to the excellent world of tvOS is a whopping $179. And that’s only for the 32GB model, as the price bumps up to $199 for the 64GB Apple TV 4K. And that’s way too much money when compared to the rest of the market.
Just look at our rankings for the best streaming devices. At the top, you have the brand new Roku Streaming Stick 4K. Right beneath that? The Chromecast with Google TV, just released in 2020. Both are just $50, and they stream 4K HDR content just like the Apple TV 4K does.
And even Amazon has a streaming stick on our best list, the $55 Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max (where the ‘Max’ stands for ‘slightly speedier’). Look at those prices, and then look back at the Apple TV 4K. Now try and tell me it makes any sense for Apple to sell a 4K streaming device when the market has three ultra HD streaming devices that are all less than a third of the price of the Apple TV 4K.
With those prices as they are, Apple has a very tough time getting the excellent tvOS in people’s hands. And while I could care less about Apple’s marketshare, I like the Apple TV experience so much that I think it deserves a wider audience. Because it won’t get one at this price, where you could buy three of its competitors and still have change left over for at least month of Hulu.
This is why I’m thinking Apple should reveal the Apple TV SE.
How the Apple TV 4K SE would work
The Apple TV 4K SE would be just like one of those aforementioned streaming sticks, but its HDMI dongle that plugs into your TV would have an Apple logo instead. It would offer 4K HDR streaming, and it would expand the reach of tvOS.
Why the Apple TV 4K SE? Well, I’m guessing Apple might think that the phrase ‘streaming stick’ has a low-budget connotation, since Amazon has dropped its price on the Fire TV Stick 4K to as low as $33.99 over its lifetime, and Prime members can get the 1080p Fire TV Stick Lite as low as $17.99.
The Apple TV 4K SE would likely be more affordable because of its lower speeds. I don’t know if a streaming stick could be a suitable chassis for the A10X Fusion chip seen in the original Apple TV 4K, but cutting down the speed of a device, and its size, makes sense given Apple’s history.
Just look at the $399 iPhone SE (2020). In the same year Apple launched the $799 iPhone 12, it released that smaller and more affordable iPhone. It was still fast, did all the basic things you expect from an iPhone, but it was half the price and more accessible to those unwilling to throw down the normal iPhone price.
And if Apple could cut that price in half, why not do the same for the Apple TV 4K SE? If Apple dropped a streaming stick at $89.50 or so (lower would be better, but I don’t expect them to match the $50 price of their competitors), I think it would fare much better with the public.
Why the Apple TV Stick (probably) isn’t happening
With Apple’s cash on hand and engineering team, it could probably make anything it put its minds to. But I don’t think my dream will come true.
First of all, Apple hasn’t done much hardware in the stick-of-gum dongle format, nothing since the first iPod Shuffle. The new Siri remote is close, but it’s still larger than a Fire TV Stick. So we can’t say for sure that it would be as easy as jamming some Apple Silicon in a rectangular shell.
Next up, and this is the biggest reason they won’t: they probably would have done it by now if they wanted to. Apple’s always hitched its wagon to the ‘premium’ experience, and tried to reduce the corner-cutting at all costs. The company has probably considered a ‘stick’ format, and possibly didn’t like the performance dip that comes with the smaller design that you can’t fit a heatsink into.
And then there’s the whole world of advertisements. When you consider the cheap price of the Roku and Fire TV sticks, you need to always realize that the companies likely make money off of the sales of ads on their device home screens and screen savers, as well as those third-party app buttons on the remotes. But the tvOS experience is so great, in part, because it is practically ad-free (Apple has splashy images at the top of its home screen, but those are app specific when you toggle over an app). And I doubt Apple wants to change its experience. Apple loves to say that its ad-driven competitors turn the customer into a product sold to advertisers. And without that extra ad revenue, maybe Apple can’t hit that lower price or the margins it needs.
Lastly, as my colleague Kelly Woo pointed out: Apple doesn’t make products that are hidden, the way that a streaming stick hides in the back of your TV. It makes tech with bold looks that are always visible in the home. Maybe the lower-cost Apple TV could be more like the $39 Roku Express 4K Plus, a wedge that sits on a surface.
So while I don’t think an Apple TV stick is in the cards, I’d love for Apple to prove me wrong. Tim Cook could even pull a Steve Jobs and pull it out of his own pocket, like his predecessor did with the iPod Nano.