updated 02:53 am EDT, Thu July 10, 2014
Field expected to diversify with more entrants coming to market
Ahead of what is expected to be a significant revamp or re-invention of the Apple TV, rivals such as Roku and Google's Chromecast dongle are allegedly outselling Apple's entry in the streaming-settop-box wars, claims a new study. Though still more popular worldwide, the report from Parks Associates believes that Apple sold just over two million Apple TV units in the US last year, which if true would place it third behind Roku and the Chromecast, both of which sold about 3.8 million units in the US in the same period.
According to the latest statistics from both companies, Apple has sold over 20 million Apple TV units, half of them in 2013 alone, since introducing the device in 2007. The Roku, introduced a bit later, has sold a total of around eight million in its available markets (the US, Canada, the UK and Ireland). The Chromecast's total actual sales are unknown, as Google has not released those figures, but the company is thought to have shipped some 3.8 million units since it was introduced a year ago.
The report claims that at least in the US, Roku is beating Apple not just in rate of sales growth, but also in average amounts of usage. The same company also said that Chromecast usage, by contrast, has gone down -- which Google denied and rebutted by producing evidence showing that average usage is in fact going up. Parks Associates claimed that its data isn't contradictory, in that those who still use the Chromecast are using it more, whereas the larger pool of marginal users are using it less.
Earlier this year, Apple's Eddy Cue and Tim Cook both called the Apple TV "a billion dollar business" based on annual revenues. In order to have annual revenues of $1 billion, Apple would have to sell over 10 million units per year at retail pricing (15.4 million units per year at wholesale pricing). While this would represent worldwide sales, Park Associates' estimate of two million units in the US seems dubious, as America has long been known to the largest individual market for Apple TV.
However, buyers -- having been fed rumors of a revamped or reinvented Apple television product for at least the last four years -- could be holding off on expectations that the stories of such a device may finally ring true later this year as part of a number of expected new and revamped Apple products. Both Steve Jobs and Tim Cook have talked about a "grand plan" for "cracking" the unintuitive television interface, with little beyond that point to what might result from Apple's long consideration of how to improve the TV experience.
The rumors of Apple's move into either its own HDTV unit (presumably with Apple TV technology included) or a revamp of its existing set-top box comes even as interest in television generally is falling. While a number of individual programs are continuing to attract large mainstream audiences, Americans in particular are spending less and less time in front of their expensive TV sets -- and least when it comes to traditional consumption of programming.
Big-screen TVs today are as likely to be used for video games, streaming movie rentals and viewing photos or YouTube or web surfing as it is to watch network or cable television programming. Apple's plan -- if it is still pursuing it -- will need to address the changing use of big-screen devices as much as it will have to compete with further entrants in the space such as Google's latest attempt to re-re-launch its own set-top box, this time referred to as Android TV.