Jason Snell has been talking about wanting an Apple TV soundbar for a few years now, and I want to join in on this chorus.

I’ve had several Apple TV boxes over the years. Even in the face of rising opposition from the likes of Roku, Amazon, and Google, not to mention nearly every smart television sold in the last few years, I’ve held firm on sticking with Apple’s overpriced offering. I appreciate the interface, the strong integration with Apple’s services, and I’m even okay with the much-derided remote.

These days, there are some massive blind spots that Apple has with this device. It’s lagging hard behind the rest of the competition, and that’s becoming a problem. It’s got me considering if a Roku would make my tv life easier, but I don’t really want to toss my hat into that ring.

I do love the Apple TV, but it’s good to be critical of the things you love.

The current Apple TV is way too expensive

Even for Apple, a base price of $179 for a device that hasn’t seen an appreciable update in years is verging on the unconscionable. I’m reminded of the trash can Mac Pro from 2013, which never lost its $3,000 starting price tag, even after several years and the definite news that a newer, better Mac Pro was on the horizon. The thing got older and it stayed the same price. It became an issue for Apple.

The Apple TV is powerful, though, even by today’s standards. Not only can it display 4K content in glorious Dolby Vision high dynamic range, it can also play some fairly demanding Apple Arcade games.

The thing is, most other streaming device or tv manufacturers provide a 4K Dolby Vision capable box. They’re also able to do it for, generally, at least half the price of the Apple TV. An equivalent product from Roku is only $99. From Amazon, it’s $119 for their cube or $49.99 for their stick. Heck, you can even get something with a suspiciously Apple TV-like interface from Google for $49.99.

Apple isn’t providing a novel product anymore. At this point, what it has to offer is a nice integration with its other services, and that’s not worth a premium.

Half of the Apple TV is pointless if you don’t game on it

Arcade feels half-baked on the TV. By trying to appeal to the broadest set of customers on the widest range of devices, they’re hindering their ability to make the Apple TV a seductive gaming device. When your competition is Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo, coming in with a service that distinguishes itself from the rest of its games by, mostly, having no ads1 means that you’re falling short of the competition.

Apple may never pull serious gamers away from their PlayStations, Xboxes, or Switches if they refuse to go all in on their gaming efforts. This means creating blockbuster games that people feel a need to play and including a real controller in the box. Sure, you can connect one from a PlayStation or Xbox if you want to a better experience. However, the Venn diagram of people who own both a dedicated gaming controller and an Apple TV probably isn’t as close to a circle as Apple might hope. Instead, by including just an Apple TV remote in the box, their suggestion is to use that as a controller. That’s not a terrible experience.

I’ve got a PlayStation, so I do all of my gaming on that device. It’s more enjoyable. I use my Apple TV exclusively for streaming. I don’t want to game on it; I’ll hop onto my iPad if I want to play something from Arcade.

As it stands, I paid for potential that’s not being delivered. $179 was spent on this thing, and I’m using maybe only $79 worth of this device. I’d put the remaining hundred on the bet that I’m not the only one who doesn’t care about gaming on Apple TV.

Give us options

What I want is a different Apple TV, or rather, a few different Apple TVs. Not just storage options. Two, maybe three, different devices:

  1. A small stick that can be plugged directly into an HDMI port.
  2. An Apple TV soundbar, which would combine the best of the Apple TV and the HomePod into a single product.
  3. A box similar to what’s offered now. This could be for those who want to game on their television, but don’t need or already have a sound system.

The stick would be a wonderful option for people who don’t want the sort of audio quality a soundbar can provide. Maybe they’re living in a smaller apartment or dorm room. They want to watch their content, but space is at a premium. A stick that can plug directly into the back of the tv, provide 4K video, and come in under, say, $60 would be an amazing product.

I currently have an Apple TV outputting its audio to a paired set of HomePods. It’s a wonderful setup, with remarkably few issues. I happily enjoy my movies and tv shows on this every day.

However, it’s clear that Apple’s intention wasn’t to have people pair their Apple TV with a HomePod. It was introduced as a phenomenal (and very pricey) speaker with which to play your music. Audio can also be streamed from the Apple TV and played on the HomePod. Heck, even Dolby Atmos audio can be played through them. It’s a feature that seems hacked together when Apple finally realized that people were using them as television speakers.

I would love to see what Apple can produce when they create an Apple TV+HomePod experience with greater intention. A soundbar offering could be that device. This could become an essential piece of living room equipment, as necessary as the television itself. When smart TVs are becoming more capable of playing high-quality content by the day, you need that sort of selling point to stay ahead of the competition.

I’d also like to see it stay under $400. Not a bad price when companies like Sonos sell a basic soundbar for $399. That one doesn’t even have Apple TV or Siri integration.

The Apple TV has never really taken off because it’s an expensive product aimed at the wrong people. When there are Roku devices that start at $30, pricing it at $179 is a nonstarter for most. They don’t particularly care what the Apple TV offers. They just want to watch The Office and save a few bucks. They’re already paying a bundle each month on streaming services. This is where the stick would shine.

On the other hand, many people would love to have a home theater experience that can come close to replicating a theater. An Apple TV soundbar would get us closer to that dream, and we’d be willing to pay for it. I would love a single device that can act as an Apple TV, HomePod quality surround sound speaker, HomeKit hub, and maybe even another Siri communicator.

A better lineup would go a long way toward making Apple a contender in the streaming device game again. As it stands now, they’re letting competitors lap them by seemingly ignoring their device, and I don’t know what the intention is there. Do they actually think it’s good enough or are they letting it die a slow death? If they’re looking at phasing out the Apple TV because it’s not selling as well as other players in this market, maybe not selling well isn’t the problem. Maybe it’s because the Apple TV isn’t good enough anymore.

UPDATE: Another idea just came to me: I would heartily approve of functionality that made the HomePod minis able to act as surround sound speakers. Beaing able to create a truly immersive setup with the HomePod products would be amazing.

  1. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a huge plus. ↩︎