There's been an odd coincidence of events this week, with Bloomberg reporting on Wednesday that Apple was negotiating a partnership with Time Warner and hoped to announce a new Apple TV by April. Then on Thursday news reports said that Comcast had agreed to buy Time Warner, causing observers to wonder what that will mean for Apple's deal with Time Warner. In any case, the Bloomberg report had some interesting details, citing "people with knowledge of the matter." The report said the updated Apple TV would have a faster processor and a new interface. The report also said Apple had also been in talks with Comcast and Direct TV, but they were reluctant to partner with Apple.
Apple has long been trying to make a deal with the content providers, aiming to offer cable TV channels a la carte. Why pay for a bundle of channels that you never watch? You'd just pay for those channels that actually interest you. The cable companies have resisted, since their current model is the most lucrative. Losing control of the bundles could impact them financially. And they seem reluctant to let Apple disrupt another industry.
There have also been rumors that a new Apple TV would be able to serve as a set-top box for one's cable service. Apple would partner with the cable companies such that it would integrate your cable TV channels with streaming online content in a seamless, easy-to-use interface. In this model, you'd still subscribe to your cable TV service, but simply use Apple's device as your set-top box.
The Bloomberg article, however, is vague on which model is in the works: Apple adding cable content to their current offerings, or an Apple TV simply serving as one's cable box, but with the added functionality of an Apple TV. The report seems to imply the former.
It's hard to imagine that the government will allow a merger of the two largest cable companies in the US, given anti-trust law. But if the deal were to go through, The Mac Observer speculates that it will be good for Apple: they'd get a partnership with Comcast via the back door.
Whatever happens, it continues to be clear that Apple is very focused on Apple TV and bringing out something new. That includes a new version of the device, a new interface, possibly games, and also possibly cable channels.