The rumors were true, yesterday Apple unveiled a new Apple TV and it'll be out next month. As expected, it comes with a new remote, an App Store and it has Siri integration.
Let's get the bad news out of the way first: it'll sell for $149 for a 32 GB model and $199 for a 64 GB model. I would've like to see those prices be $99 and $149; I feel like $200 is too much to pay for a streaming box.
In typical fashion Apple unveiled some features as if they've never been seen before in competing products, like the ability to use voice commands to search for content across services. In the case of Apple TV, at launch it'll search iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and Showtime and we're promised support for more services to be added over time.
I wasn't impressed by Siri search (particularly since this kind of feature never works as well at home as it does during a rehearsed demo), but I was impressed by a feature that tells the Apple TV to jump back 15 seconds and turn on closed-captioning temporarily. During the demo this was triggered by a user saying something like "Siri, what did she say?" when a character on-screen mumbled something. To me, this is brilliant because in our house we're constantly backing shows up to try to make out a line neither of us heard clearly. That alone might be worth $149 in our house! Siri can also do things like jump ahead 8 minutes, which could also be a lot handier than scanning through a show.
Siri commands are issued through a microphone on the remote. Personally I'd rather have the Apple TV always be listening. Between our Xbox One and our Amazon Echo I've gotten very used to just 'talking to the room' to get things done, and having to reach for a remote and press a button feels a bit like a step backwards. On the other hand I know a lot of folks freak out over privacy issues when a device is always listening.
The remote itself is bigger than the old remote and has a touch screen that Apple may be leaning a little bit too heavily on. There are no dedicated Fast Forward or Rewind buttons; all that is done on the touch pad (or via Siri). Maybe it'll be fine; we'll have to wait and see. The remote is Bluetooth so at least you don't have to aim it, and it can control other devices via HDMI-CEC. There's an IR blaster for controlling volume on older gear but it's not clear yet what, if any, other features you can control via IR. In other words it doesn't sound like this remote can completely replace your universal remote.
The remote is charged through a lightning port adapter which is a tiny bit disappointing for those of us who don't own a lot of Apple gear. I'd really prefer to charge via a universal USB cable since I have those all over the place. On the plus side the battery is supposed to last 3 months on a charge.
Apple is pushing the fact that the Apple TV can play games using the remote. It has accelerometers so you can use it almost like a Wii remote if you didn't get tired of waggle gameplay 5 years ago. Alternatively you can use the touchpad for mobile-esque controls, which still sounds awful to me. I don't see the remote being a very satisfying controller over the long run. The good news is you can pair a third party MFi-based controller with the system, which I suggest you do if you're going to be at all serious about playing games on the Apple TV.
I've seen too many 'micro-console' gaming schemes fail, so I'm not as confident as some tech bloggers (and Apple fans) that we're going to see huge support and enthusiasm for gaming on the Apple TV, but on the other hand putting out a device like this that didn't have games would've been strange too. Amazon really pushed the Fire TV's gaming aspects and it hasn't seemed to take off. I figure at worst folks will waste a bit of time here and there playing games while waiting for the rest of the family to be ready to watch a movie. And that's totally fine. Or maybe Apple will be the company to finally succeed with casual living room gaming.
Overall, I'm really happy to see Apple finally update the Apple TV. It is long overdue. $149 feels like $50 too much, but I'll still probably break down and replace my old unit. We own just enough content on iTunes to justify keeping some kind of Apple TV device hooked up to the TV. That said, I expect to stick to the Xbox One and Kinect's room-based voice commands for most of my media streaming.