SERIOUS HOBBY

A visual history of Apple’s TV products

Obsession
Glass
Obsession
Glass

On Sept. 9, Apple is expected to unveil a new version of its Apple TV streaming media box. It’s the latest twist in a story that goes back more than 20 years, when Apple started trying to build mainstream television products on top of its capable-but-then-struggling Mac computer platform.

Macintosh TV

Macintosh TV
Macintosh TV (Wikimedia Commons)

In October 1993, Apple introduced an all-in-one computer called the Macintosh TV.

The device was a black version of one of Apple’s consumer-focused “Performa” Macs, which shipped with a 14-inch screen, built-in TV tuner card, and a remote control.

It reportedly cost almost $2,100 at launch, which is almost $3,500 when adjusted for inflation.

The Mac TV was not a hit, and supposedly only 10,000 were made by the time it was discontinued in early 1994.

TV tuners were included in other Mac products around that time, including the 20th Anniversary Macintosh, which was released in 1997.

Apple's Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh
Apple’s Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh (Apple)

Apple Interactive Television Box

In the mid-1990s, through 1995, Apple built prototype television set-top boxes, “designed as an interface between a consumer and an interactive television service,” according to Shrine of Apple.

Apple Interactive Television Box
Apple Interactive Television Box (Shrine of Apple)

A paper from BT (pdf), which was one of Apple’s trial service-provider partners, explained some of what the device was designed to do:

The [interactive multimedia services] market trial will also provide, in addition to video on demand, many other services including home shopping, home banking, community information, education services and video games download.

This sounds like many of the features that, two decades later, might become available with the newest, forthcoming Apple TV box.

Apple still hosts a user manual for the device (pdf), including various illustrations.

Apple Interactive Television Guide

Pippin

Pippin was the last of Apple’s 1990s-era attempts to take on television, before Steve Jobs returned as CEO and focused the company on fewer products. It was essentially a Mac-based gaming console that could also run other consumer software.

The Pippin Atmark console
The Pippin Atmark console ((cc) Evan Amos via Wikimedia Commons)

The Pippin platform was designed to “provide developers with an easy way to take their investment in personal computer CD-ROM content and make it available to a wider audience in a more natural environment associated with entertainment and fun,” according to The Mac Geek.

Bandai, the Japanese toy and gaming firm, was the only company to launch Pippin-based devices, the Atmark and @World. They flopped. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons, uploaded by Evan-Amos under a Creative Commons license.)

Front Row

In the early 2000s, consumer digital video began to proliferate. Apple was selling more Macs, broadband internet access was becoming ubiquitous, and the iTunes store was selling music videos, short Pixar films, and Disney TV shows. The computer was becoming a place to watch “lean-back” video.

Apple Front Row
Apple promotes the “Front Row” experience on its homepage in 2005 (Screenshot/Internet Archive)

So in 2005, Apple launched a new feature for OS X called Front Row—calling it a “breakthrough” media experience—and started bundling a tiny, simple remote control with its new Macs. The idea: Watch home movies, iTunes videos, photo slideshows, and DVDs from “up to 30 feet away” using the new remote. The Mac could now more easily double as a bedroom—or dorm room—TV.

Front Row was a clever widget, but its promise would be much more obvious on an actual widescreen television.

Apple TV and ‘iTV’

In late 2006, Steve Jobs made a rare move: He pre-announced an Apple product that wouldn’t become available for several months.

At an iPod product event in September, Jobs introduced Hollywood movie purchases for the iTunes store, and then offered a sneak peek at a device—code-named “iTV”—that resembled a flattened Mac mini.

Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs gestures as he unveils iTV during announcement at an Apple event in San Francisco, Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2006. Apple Computer launched its long-awaited online movie service Tuesday with minimal participation from Hollywood and showed off a device that will make it easier for consumers to watch the videos on television. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
Steve Jobs teases the iTV in 2006. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

iTV—re-revealed as Apple TV in January 2007—used the same little remote that Apple had been shipping with Macs, and was designed to feed a big-screen TV with the movies, TV shows, music, podcasts, and photos that were on your Mac or PC.

Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs gives a sneak preview of a new device, codenamed iTV, to the crowd at an Apple media event at the Yerba Buena Center of the Arts theater in San Francisco, California, September 12, 2006. The device will allow consumers to stream movies, music, photos, podcasts and television shows to their home entertainment systems. REUTERS/Dino Vournas (UNITED STATES)
Steve Jobs explains how the “iTV” completes the Apple ecosystem. (Reuters/Dino Vournas)

It eventually shipped in March 2007 for $299. In June, Apple added support for YouTube streaming.

This first device was an interesting concept, but its limitations and price kept it niche. In late 2009, even after a price cut and a few software updates, Apple TV was ranked no. 297 on Amazon’s list of its best-selling electronics. In public, Apple referred to this product as a “hobby.”

A year later, though, Apple made a big step forward.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs announces the price for the new Apple TV at a news conference in San Francisco, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2010. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
Steve Jobs unveils the second-generation Apple TV in 2010. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

In September 2010, Jobs announced the second-generation Apple TV, which was smaller, only $99, and supported a wider range of hi-def content, including Netflix streaming. It was a hit.

Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs speaks on stage showing the size difference of the redesigned Apple TV box at Apple's music-themed September media event in San Francisco, California September 1, 2010. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith (UNITED STATES - Tags: SCI TECH BUSINESS)
Apple TVs, old and new. (Reuters/Robert Galbraith)

Since 2010, Apple has gradually tweaked the device, its interface, and its content library, which now includes streams from most major sports leagues and TV networks, and most recently, its price.

But it has not made any major changes—until now.

Read this next: The new Apple TV sounds like a much bigger deal than the Apple Watch

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