Almost every recent Apple event has been preceded by rumors of a big Apple TV update and yesterday's WWDC was no different. The rumor mill was expecting a full-blown app store for Apple's set-top box, but instead the Apple TV was mentioned only in passing, primarily to demonstrate AirPlay.
That lack of an update wasn't that surprising to me, but it means my wish list for an overhauled Apple TV from earlier this year is still largely unfulfilled. As good as the current Apple TV is (I like the current model a lot; see my full review), there's plenty of room for improvement, especially with competitors like Roku and Xbox 360 providing compelling alternatives.
Here's what I'm still hoping will eventually make its way to the Apple TV.
1. Siri voice control and search
I haven't found Siri to be that useful on the iPhone 4S, but it would be an excellent addition to the Apple TV. Microsoft's latest Xbox 360 dashboard update added voice control and search, and once you've said "Xbox Bing 'The Daily Show'" instead of tediously typing it out with onscreen keyboard, it's tough to go back. Plus, Apple can easily one-up Microsoft by supporting natural language commands; my major annoyance with the Xbox 360 was having to say stock command like "Xbox Bing 'Parks and Recreation,'" rather than "watch latest episode of 'Parks and Recreation.'"
While microphones built into the Apple TV would be the best-case scenario, it's more likely that voice search capabilities would be offered via other nearby iOS devices, like an iPhone or iPad. That's not necessarily a bad thing since, as David Katzmaier learned in his testing of Samsung's voice control system, speaking directly into a mic can be much more accurate than talking (or yelling) across the room at the TV. And consider any voice capabilities to be an excellent test run for the forever-rumored Apple HDTV.
2. Cross-platform search
Apple's user interface is beautiful if you're looking to buy or rent movies from iTunes, but it's of no help if you're trying manage all the streaming-media services available on the device.
As I mention in my Apple TV review, I was about to purchase "The Trip" from iTunes for $5, until I quickly checked Netflix and realized I can stream it for free. With solid cross-platform search and browsing, you can look for the content you want, regardless of what service it's offered on. The Xbox 360 and Google TV platforms both do a much better job at this, and it will be even more necessary if Apple adds support for a full App Store.
3. True apps
Anytime I write about the Apple TV, I'm quick to bring up that competitors (especially Roku's line of boxes) have more streaming services. That might not matter if you're only planning to stream from Netflix and occasionally rent a movie on iTunes, but digital mediaphiles expect more streaming options -- especially the basics, like Hulu Plus and Pandora.
Apple can put the entire issue to rest by rolling out a full-fledged Apple TV app store. It will be hard to keep the user interface looking quite as minimalist by allowing users to install their own apps, but it would be worth it to get more content. It's true that there are only a handful of streaming services I'd really like to see added to the Apple TV, but an app store would ensure that the next big streaming-video service is on the Apple TV from the beginning.
Unlike some of my colleagues, I'm not a big iOS gamer. I've tried a lot of games on my iPhone 4, but rarely have been sucked into the experience as much as on dedicated portable gaming systems like the Nintendo DS. Similarly, the casual gaming available on the Roku 2 XS isn't compelling yet, either.
But given how much developer support the iOS ecosystem has, gaming on the Apple TV could be big. Add support for a Bluetooth controller and you've got a pretty decent budget gaming console, especially if games have "app-friendly" prices in the $1 to $5 range. Even better, the Apple TV could support a cloud gaming service like OnLive or Gaikai, making it an even more potent $100 media box.
Editors' note: This story was originally published on February 13, 2012, and was updated June 12, 2012, in light of WWDC.