For years, Apple called its streaming-television product a hobby. Now, with the Oct. 26 launch of its fourth-generation Apple TV, the company is promising customers the future of TV.
What changed? Competition, for one, as companies from Google to Microsoft look to dominate TV. Now Apple is taking a page from the iPhone’s success by offering its first streaming box to come with an app store and Siri, its digital personal assistant that responds to voice commands like “Show me movies with Kevin Bacon.” Alongside streaming apps for services like Netflix and Hulu, users can download games, cookbooks, workout apps and more. Apple has sold more than 25 million Apple TVs over the past eight years; it sold some 700 million iPhones in the same time frame.
Rivals–Amazon and Roku among them–have app stores too. Sony and Microsoft’s gaming consoles do much the same. How far software over programming goes toward winning buyers remains to be seen. “The future of TV is TV first,” says James McQuivey, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, “and then anything else you want to add, well, that only becomes interesting after that point.” Here’s a closer look at the competitors:
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
|APPLE TV||AMAZON FIRE TV||GOOGLE CHROMECAST||ROKU 4|
|THE GOOD||Attractive interface; great voice controls that make it easy to find and play content; robust app store||Useful voice search; supports 4K; large variety of games to choose from; expandable storage||Inexpensive; compatible with most streaming apps; easy to use||Doesn’t favor one service over another in search results; supports 4K; giant library of streaming content; can send an alert to the remote when it’s lost|
|THE BAD||Doesn’t support 4K ultra-high-definition; no apps for viewing Amazon Instant Video content; expensive||Heavily weights Amazon’s own services in search results||Requires a laptop, phone or tablet to stream to a TV; no native support for Amazon Instant Video||Voice controls are lacking compared with Apple’s and Amazon’s|
This appears in the November 16, 2015 issue of TIME.