Five Questions Ahead of Apple's September Event

Apple CEO Tim Cook - H 2014
AP Images

Apple CEO Tim Cook - H 2014

The tech giant is expected to unveil an overhauled Apple TV and upgraded iPhone at its annual fall event on Wednesday, Sept. 9.

Apple's fall product event is typically all about iPhones, but this year the tech giant is expected to unveil a range of new gadgets, including a completely revamped Apple TV. 

Industry observers are already calling the Sept. 9 media preview in San Francisco one of Apple's biggest yet because of the length of the list of rumored announcements. Apple has also moved from oft-used Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to the much larger Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, which seats as many as 7,000, sparking speculation as to what the Cupertino, Calif.,-based company will do with the extra space. 

Apple executives are notoriously tight-lipped ahead of each big product event and Wednesday's invitation offers few clues aside from the line: “Hey Siri, give us a hint.” Because Apple likes to play coy, here are the big questions for CEO Tim Cook heading into the event, which kicks off at 10 a.m. PT. 

Will Apple make TV more than a hobby?

The late Steve Jobs referred to the Apple TV as little more than a hobby during an on-stage interview in 2010, noting that he prioritized the iPhone and iPad because cable operators left little room for innovation. Meanwhile, the set-top box has been relegated to a subcategory on the Apple website and hasn’t received a major update since 2010. That could change on Wednesday when Apple is widely expected to announce a completely revamped Apple TV. Apple know-it-all 9to5Mac reports that the new device will have improved video processing capabilities, device-wide search and voice control using Siri — all for $149, a much higher price point than the current $69 model. 

The new device could be the precursor to the long-awaited Apple streaming service, which Bloomberg reports will likely be unveiled early next year. Apple is widely rumored to be seeking licensed programming from the TV networks, though has had a slow start in negotiating those deals. Although Apple is known for its devices, FBR Capital Markets analyst Daniel Ives says content is becoming increasingly important to the company’s business. “I do believe that content and entertainment is something that is pretty central to Cook’s longer-term strategy at Apple,” he adds.

But does Hollywood need another TV distributor?

As Apple readies its streaming TV offering, the company is also exploring buying its own slate of scripted programming. Sources confirm newly minted Apple executive Jimmy Iovine has taken meetings with studio executives, although discussions appear to be in the early stages and Apple has yet to formalize its plans. Variety first reported on Apple's original programming talks. An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.

The move would add Apple to growing list of distributors offering scripted television. More than 400 scripted series will be produced in 2015, a record number buoyed by an influx of digital buyers including Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. In early August, FX Networks CEO John Landgraf stood on stage at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in front of the industry’s top critics and proclaimed: “This is simply too much television.” But when it comes to Apple, observers say there’s room for another player. “The more sources of funding, the greater the chance that something truly original gets produced, so that is good for everyone,” says Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter. Adds MediaLink CEO Michael Kassan: “I don’t think there’s ever been a company that understands more who the consumer is than Apple. When they enter a space, they generally take the world by storm.” 

Will gaming take center stage? 

Apple has been a player in the mobile gaming space thanks to the iPhone and iPad, but could now start to take on gaming players Microsoft and Sony with the overhauled Apple TV. The set-top box update is expected to include support for Bluetooth-enabled gaming controllers, which could become a key selling point of the device.

Amazon similarly placed a premium on gaming when it unveiled the Fire TV in 2014. The set-top box included a mobile app that turned into a game controller or an option controller ad-on. Ives says this is part of Apple’s attempt to dominate the consumer’s living room. “Hardware, even though Apple is the clear leader, is starting to become a more commoditized business,” he says. “Apple needs to focus on where growth is coming from in the next three to five years. Apple can’t be left out of the content party.” 

Will there be an Apple Music update?

Apple’s Spotify competitor, Apple Music, launched at the end of June with a free three-month trial. That trial ends on Sept. 30 and the last time Apple revealed stats about the service was early August when senior vp Eddy Cue announced that it had 11 million trial users so far and 2 million people subscribers to the $14.99 a month family plan. 

But since that bit of good news, Apple has been hit by third-party reports claiming that Apple Music is underperforming. Then in August, Beats Electronics CEO Ian Rogers, who joined Apple when it acquired Beats last year, resigned from his post overseeing the Beats1 radio station. Cook could use the Sept. 9 event as an opportunity to allay worries about the success of the new service. 

Is it time for an iPhone upgrade?

Wait until after Wednesday's event to buy a new phone. Apple’s fall event is typically when the company reveals its latest smart phone model and Wednesday’s presentation should be no exception. This year, Apple is expected to focus on the iPhone camera, announcing a significant upgrade to both the front-facing and rear-facing cameras, including support for selfie panoramas and slow-motion video. The rear camera is also rumored to be receiving a boost to record video in 4K.

And don't forget Siri. Apple's invitation hints that something is coming for the voice-activated personal assistant, even if she won't reveal many details. Ask Siri to give you a hint and she'll respond with a range of quips including: "Don't tell anyone I told you, but I have it on good authority that... oops, Tim just gave me a look."