At its annual iPhone event, Apple unveiled its latest update to its Apple TV product line, the Apple TV 4K.
According to IHS Markit (Nasdaq: INFO), a world leader in critical information, analytics and solutions, the new model incorporates 3GB of RAM and the iPad Pro’s A10X processor and is capable of streaming video playback of up to 4K resolution at 60 frames per second (fps). The new device doubles the CPU and quadruples the graphics performance of the previous model. Along with an update in resolution and power, the new fifth-generation Apple TV supports high dynamic range content via HDR10 and Dolby Vision support. Furthermore, 4K and HDR content will be available via iTunes, with 4K support for Netflix and Amazon planned for a later date. The device’s interface, menu and screensavers all are upgraded to native 4K resolution.
The product will be priced at $179 and $199 for 32GB and 64GB versions, respectively, and available at retail on September 22, 2017. The prior fourth-generation Apple TV will remain for sale at the existing price of $149 for the 32GB version.
Apple has delivered a 4K-capable Apple TV on a timely basis, as the 4K ecosystem begins to accelerate thanks to limited-but-improving 4K content availability and rising 4K TV adoption. Additionally, the competition (namely Roku, Google, and Amazon) have launched a variety of 4K-capable products, with Roku already supporting 4K at 60fps with HDR support. This move brings Apple to competitive parity in hardware, coordinated with 4K and HDR content availability from the iTunes store.
In value-added features, the new Apple TV’s gaming capabilities are considerably improved. Also, the ability to view and control HomeKit devices also was demonstrated, which may prove a differentiator over time if the HomeKit ecosystem’s adoption proves substantial.
The launch of the prior fourth-generation Apple TV did not generate the positive momentum needed to overtake the competition, with Apple’s current price positioning a competitive liability. Globally, Apple TV remains behind in shipments, facing steep competitive pressure in North America from Roku, Google, and Amazon, and globally from Google (with Roku and Amazon in select markets).
Today’s competitive landscape for Apple TV spans from $25 to $100 for basic streaming video enablement to 4K HDR 60fps support. Though some of Apple TV’s must-have unique appeals for iOS device owners previously were the integrated ability to view content stored on iPhones and perform screen mirroring via AirPlay, competitors all have some capability to provide similar functionality via additional apps either iOS-device-side or receiving-device-side. With iOS mirroring and media playback less of an exclusive hook for iOS device owners, the new Apple TV faces an uphill battle to regain lost ground against the competition due to a price/capability ratio that offers mostly feature parity at an 80 to 100 percent premium.
The caveat is the fourth/fifth generation Apple TVs’ collective differentiator -- gaming. However, gaming as an added-value proposition with the prior model has not generated sufficient consumer response at the $149-199 price tiers to substantially advance the brand’s competitive position in the streaming video device market. Therefore, it is unlikely, with a new three-product lineup continuing to span $149-199, that the addition of 4K and HDR will motivate enough consumers to change Apple’s competitive standing.
This pricing-induced status quo is expected to be reinforced by competitors’ further drops in 4K streaming device pricing and new product introductions over the next several quarters. As a bellwether, gray-market generic Android set-top boxes capable of 4K at 60fps are already less than $40 in China. 4K resolution rapidly has become table stakes, even for low-cost manufacturers and SoC providers. Competition and falling costs are expected to steadily whittle down the price premium able to be charged for 4K over the next year.
Apple TV 4K’s continued 80 to 100 percent premium over increasingly aggressive competition is expected to limit the new model’s available market to primarily aggressive adopters and the Apple product-faithful with higher amounts of disposable income. Without competitive price revisions over the next year, it is not expected to expand its appeal substantially beyond that base outside of sales generated from older-model Apple TV users’ replacement cycle over time.
The new Apple TV 4K will still be financially successful within these confines, and will provide Apple ecosystem users with a well-integrated way to purchase and stream 4K and HDR content to their TV. However, it is not expected to be a game-changer in terms of Apple’s competitive fortunes against Roku, Google, and Amazon globally in annual shipments. The Apple TV 4K’s biggest impact will be due to the high profile of Apple itself ? its launch is Apple’s formal endorsement of the 4K ecosystem, further speeding up the collective consumer and industry transition to 4K.
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