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Apple TV Hasn't Changed in Years, but Has Sold 25 Million Units Anyway

Apple TV used have the streaming market to itself. Now it's got plenty of competition, but it's still moving units.

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.

For the record: Tim Cook told Wall Street that Apple has sold 25 million Apple TVs over the product’s lifetime. That’s up from 20 million in April of last year, the last time Cook provided an update.

But this is an Apple stat whose importance decreases even as the number goes up. Because it’s increasingly clear that Apple doesn’t see its existing box as much more than a placeholder.

Cook periodically says that the company is broadly interested in doing more with TV — and last year, Cook made a point of describing Apple TV plus video sales as a $1 billion business — but the Apple TV that it’s selling today is more or less the same box it has been selling for years.

The only difference is that over the last year or so Apple has onboarded several new TV app providers; today it brought on 120 Sports, the video venture backed by Time Inc. and several sports leagues.

One thing that has changed in the last couple years is that Apple no longer has the TV streaming gadget market to itself. Roku, which is preparing for an IPO, says it has sold 10 million of its boxes and sticks in the U.S., and now Google and Amazon have their own hardware, too. All of them do essentially the same thing.

If Apple wants to do something significantly different, it will either need to make headway in its talks with the TV Industrial Complex, or decide that it’s going to go to market with something amazing and hope the TV distributors and programmers come aboard later.

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