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Here's What the New Apple TV Could Look Like (Hint: Check Your iPad)

A new Apple TV might look a lot like the iPad app or Roku box you can already use.

Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Apple is reportedly prepping a new version of Apple TV, which would work like a cable set-top box. Apple is working with Time Warner Cable to launch the device this year, Bloomberg says.

That makes sense, because we heard similar reports about an Apple-Time Warner Cable tie-up last year.

It also makes sense because there are very clear models for what an Apple TV/Time Warner Cable tie-up would look like. You can see them right now.

If you are a Time Warner Cable subscriber with an iPad, for instance, you can download the TWC TV app from the iTunes app store and watch TV on your tablet right now. If you’re using the device inside your house, you can watch just about anything that your conventional set-top box would offer — broadcast channels, cable channels, premium channels like HBO, etc. — in real time, and you can also record programs and watch them on demand.

If you want to watch cable TV but you’re in a room that doesn’t have a TV, this is a pretty good solution.

And if you’re a Time Warner Cable subscriber with a Roku box, you can use Roku’s Time Warner Cable app to watch TV that way, too. This app has been out for a bit, and BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield made a demo of a new iteration late last year:

If you want to watch cable TV but you’re in a room with a TV set that doesn’t have a cable TV box, this is a pretty good solution. You might even prefer it to watching TV with a traditional box.

But the main thing to remember about both of these examples is that they require you to pay Time Warner Cable for a video subscription. That is: What Apple and Roku are providing is a new interface on top of the old cable bundle you’re already paying for. And by all accounts that’s what Apple is proposing here, as well.

Will that be enough to excite consumers? In the past, Apple has suggested that simply replicating the old TV model wouldn’t be good enough. That’s why it has proposed ideas like a $30 bundle of “next day” TV, or a service that let TV watchers fast-forward through ads.

But Apple has yet to convince a significant chunk of the TV Industrial Complex to change the way it does business. Which makes sense, because the TV Industrial Complex makes a lot of money, even if its growth is stalling.

The fact that neither the iPad app nor the Roku app seem to have generated much excitement among TV watchers (I don’t know of anyone who uses the iPad app with much frequency) is telling. On the other hand, Apple has been circling TV for a long time without making a real move. Maybe Tim Cook would rather do something than nothing.

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