Here we go...
Reports surfaced this week that Apple's long-awaited television may be drawing closer to becoming a reality. The Cupertino company that conquered music, phones and tablets is said to be working with cable companies for a shot at doing the very same with TV. Working through the knotted mess of content creators, cable operators, and networks has proven difficult and time consuming. The upside? Such a long lead time has created plenty of opportunity for technology pundits and Apple fanboys alike to prognosticate on what an Apple TV might actually look like. Here's our best guess. (What did we miss? Let us know in the comments.)
Apps, apps, apps
A no-brainer. Apple's iPhone helped popularize the notion of apps and, though some TV makers have tried, the concept hasn't entirely made the jump to the tube. The iPhone turned dumb phones into smart ones through processing power and innovative applications that made use of that brawn. And Apple TV will have to do the same thing.
Yes, technically games are apps. But the importance of this specific type of app to the iPhone can hardly be overstated. Time and again, games have proven the most popular apps on phones -- and much the same could be true of an Apple TV. Plus, games offer a way to dazzle consumers and show off how robust underlying hardware really is.
An amazing interface
Anybody who has tried to scroll through 500 channels knows something is very broken about televisions today. Apple's intuitive, simple interface design will be an integral part of making its television product stand out.
The iPhone's personal digital assistant is getting smarter with every new version. Because remotes have been a sticking point as televisions get smarter too, voice-based navigation could be essential. Imagine, for instance, telling your TV you'd like to watch the Mets game and having that channel automatically pulled up, rather than having to search through a clunky guide. A version of Siri that could detect motion, much like Microsoft's Kinect for Xbox, would be even more useful in the living room.
Connections to ... everything
Connecting to fast wireless networks and devices like the iPhone and iPad will be essential. It could also allow an ecosystem of accessories to grow up around the TV much like they have around other Apple gear.
Streaming out of the box
Just because live television would be priority doesn't mean Apple should forget about video streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. Including the popular service, as it has on previous Apple TV devices, would go a long way toward making diverse sources of content available and helping position it as the ultimate digital living room hub.
Kill the cable box
One of the biggest problems that continues to plague the living room set-up are all those connections. Apple has often released products that simplify and streamline. This is an area that could seriously benefit by essentially replacing all the loose cables, cords and boxes.
Digital video recording
According to a report by Global Industry Analysts, nearly 338 million households will have Digital Video Recorders -- a.k.a. DVRs -- by 2018. That's a huge market Apple could tap into if they toss in a hard disc, or even better, a solid state drive to record programming.
With over 400 million active iTunes accounts, music clearly remains a strong business for Apple. And just as it's done with previous devices, the ability to play that music from a living room system would be an added bonus. Even better: add compatibility for popular third-party services like Pandora and Spotify.
Having a globally-compatible device may sound utopian, but why should, say, North America be the only region to benefit from the device? Wrangling contracts with global cable providers would obviously take time.
Killer design (natch)
Given Apple's perfectionist attention to design, the biggest question will likely be what this new brand of Apple TV will look like. As feature-deprived as Google's recent Nexus Q was, the black, metallic orb raised the bar as far as living room industrial design is concerned. Apple can probably do better.