This summer, Apple added eight content providers to their Apple TV set-top box, including Disney, ESPN, HBO Go, and Smithsonian, indicating that this product is getting increased attention. Not only that, but some evidence suggests that Apple may be working on a software developer's kit that will let content providers create their own apps for the device. That would hugely increase its appeal.
Now it's been discovered that Apple has received three shipments from China labeled "set-top boxes." Those three shipments total 40 metric tons. That's a lot of product. You can read more details on AppleInsider. Clearly something is going on, and the speculation is that Apple may announce a new set-top box at their event on September 10.
Should they release an enhanced version of their Apple TV set-top box, and should they announce a developer's kit, this will be unexpected—and big news.
Apple had sold 13 million Apple TVs as of last May—many more than any other similar device, such as Roku. And it's long been rumored that Apple wants to get more deeply into the TV market. Steve Jobs is quoted in the Isaacson biography as saying, "I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use. It would be seamlessly synched with all of your devices and with iCloud. It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it."
Jobs hated the current interface common on TVs and the lack of integration of broadcast TV with Internet content. And apparently he felt he'd figured out a better way. Perhaps we'll finally learn on September 10 what Apple has going.
Over the past year Apple has worked hard to make deals with content providers, and clearly wants to provide a cable-like TV service that differs from current cable TV in one big way: you only pay for the channels that you want to watch, rather than paying for a large bundle of channels that includes many that don't interest you. This is more than rumor: The companies themselves have leaked to the media that they were in discussions with Apple. But in every case they shot down Apple's proposal, not wanting to change their current model—and not wanting Apple to disrupt yet another industry.
It was also reported that Apple was working on partnerships with cable companies to provide them with a better set-top box. In this case, Apple themselves wouldn't be providing cable channels; rather, they'd simply be making available an Apple-branded device that would give a better interface for the TV service that the cable companies are currently offering. So another option, I suppose, is that Apple could announce a new version of Apple TV that people would buy and use with their current cable provider and that would also integrate with Apple's library of online content.
The possibilities are exciting to think of. But at this point, it's all speculation. Still, Apple received 40 metric tons of something they're intending to sell, and the shipment was marked set-top boxes.
I'm a fan of the Apple TV, and I've got my fingers crossed that Apple will be announcing a new version of the device.