The Apple TV — Apple’s set-box box, not the rumored Apple-branded HDTV (which we’ll call the iTV) — may still be a “hobby,” per Apple’s classification, but it’s doing pretty darn well for a hobby — and looks to do even better.

Apple has emerged as the leading player in the rapidly growing connected TV player market, according to the latest research from the Strategy Analytics Connected Home Devices service ( According to the report, “Connected TV Players: Another Battlefield in the Smart TV War,” global sales of connected TV players — also known as video streaming or Internet TV set-top-boxes — will more than double in 2011, compared to 2010. Strategy Analytics projects that the market will reach almost 12 million units globally this year, with Apple alone predicted to sell nearly four million devices.

While connected TV players haven’t attained mainstream traction, an increasing number of consumers are buying them, as they offer one of the easiest ways to get Internet content onto the big TV screen. The lower price points of the second generation Apple TV and Roku Box have made them more affordable and compelling to consumers.

More than 8% of US households now own a connected TV player, compared to 7 % of European households. The Strategy Analytics report also found that Apple TV users are spending more money on movies and TV shows: 30% of Apple TV owners rented movies or TV shows, compared to 20% of users of other devices.

“Apple is leading this nascent market, which it still considers a ‘hobby’,” says Jia Wu, senior analyst at the Connected Home Devices (CHD) service. “As Apple prepares for its expected launch of smart TVs in 2012, rival platforms must accelerate their development plans to keep Apple from running away with the connected TV business, as it has done in smartphones and digital music.”

This begs the question: if Apple is indeed going to roll out an iTV (and I think it is), what’s the future of the Apple TV? My prognosis: the set-box box will be updated to 1080p quality and continue to be sold for those who can’t afford the iTV, which will doubtless carry a considerable price tag.

— Dennis Sellers