The next-generation miniature set-top-box, which could be unveiled as early as this June, looks set to feature Siri-like voice commands and games console features and is set to become a serious Apple product in its own right.
The hockey-puck-sized device that plugs into the back of a television set and connects to the internet, launches dedicated apps and enables the streaming of content from other Apple products, be they Macs, iPhones or iPads, has until now been described as just an interesting hobby by the company. But all of that is set to change.
In its latest earnings call on Wednesday, Apple's CEO, Tim Cook, revealed that to date, 20 million Apple TVs have been sold and that it is becoming a key source of revenue, so much so that the company is no longer calling it a hobby.
"The reason that I stripped off the 'hobby label' is that when you look at the sales of the Apple TV box itself and you look at content that was bought directly off the Apple TV, for 2013 that number was over a billion dollars," Cook said. "So it didn't feel right to me to call something that's over a billion a 'hobby.'"
Cook's comments, on Wednesday, come in the same week that 9to5Mac uncovered new code in Apple's iOS7.1 operating system that indicates Siri, the company's voice-operated virtual assistant is coming to the Apple TV to improve search and other operational features.
The new discovery follows a report in January claiming that the device was also set to get a dedicated games store -- enabling owners to use it as a games console and their iPhone or iPad as a wireless controller -- and motion sensing technology that would enable the box to respond to movement and gestures (think Xbox Kinect).
Just like music streaming, taking control of the living room via the television looks like it could be one of the defining consumer tech trends of 2014. The Xbox One and the Sony PS4 are both as focused on being digital entertainment hubs as they are on offering next-generation gaming, and on April 2, Amazon finally unveiled its long-rumored set-top box.
Called the Fire TV, the $100 box has its sights firmly set on Roku and Apple TV and combines easy access to a massive video and music library as well as specially developed and adapted computer games. And it features voice search.
At the same time, reports are surfacing that Google is prepping an Android TV set-top-box too. Focused on simplifying search and discovery, it is seen as an entertainment platform rather than an attempt to bring Android to the television screen. However, there is no word on when the product will be launching.