The most interesting part of this is to speculate on why Apple might soon release an update to a low-profile product that was last updated only 10 months ago and doesn’t usually receive frequent updates.
It looks like a minor update: all we know is that it has a new model identifier (“AppleTV3,2”) very close to the current one and is slightly smaller. I bet it’ll be a bit cheaper, but that’s not reason enough for a new model already.
But remember, this runs low-end iOS hardware. The second-gen ran an A4 SOC and the third-gen runs a single-core-binned A5. My guess: the new model will be a low-volume prototype for a new, cheaper SOC (or cheaper manufacturing process on an existing one) to be used later in iOS devices, much like the iPad2,4 was a prototype for 32nm HKMG manufacturing later used in much higher volume with the A6 and A6X.
If this new Apple TV is released with a CPU and manufacturing technology we’ve seen before, my theory is wrong and it’s more minor than I expected. Or maybe it’ll be the first Apple SOC to be manufactured by TSMC instead of Samsung, which is still interesting but less so.
But if it has a CPU or SOC we haven’t seen before, I bet it’s going into something more important soon, and it will be worth considering what that might be.
Update: Brian Klug at AnandTech believes it’s an A5X, the big, hot, inelegant SOC from the iPad 3. That would certainly be an odd fit for my theories — the A5X is pretty terrible at everything except being the only option that could drive a Retina iPad screen with reasonable GPU performance in early 2012. That’s the last design I’d expect to be used in any new products, especially something as small, cheap, and low-powered as an Apple TV.
If anyone else had deduced that it would be an A5X, I’d assume they were nuts. AnandTech’s great at this sort of sleuthing, though. But since the A5X would be such an awful fit for the Apple TV, my money’s still against it.