Roku Beats Up on Apple TV 4K and Loves it. Here’s How

Apple TV 4K.

Roku is consciously working to remain one step ahead of the Apple TV 4K. On October 2nd, Roku unveiled five new streaming boxes, with the lowest cost one at US$29.99. They’re available at Walmart starting October 8th. You can read about them here: “Roku Bows New Devices, Upgraded Operating System.

That’s the news that got me thinking about how Roku competes in this market.

The Roku Ultra. Image credit: Roku.
The Roku Ultra. Image credit: Roku.

First of all, Roku keeps its prices down. The Roku Ultra with 4K/UHD at 60 fps and HDR10 sells for US$99.99. Reviews of the new Apple TV 4K consistently point out how expensive Apple’s product is in comparison ($179-$199). Of course, the Apple TV 4K includes a scaler and support for Dolby Vision, but all modern TVs have their own scaler. For some reason, Apple declines to tell the consumer, in this market, why they ought to pay more. That leads to the next item.

Roku has six products to chose from (seven if you include the Roku TV) and presents a very useful product comparison chart on its website. Customers can match their needs to their budget. Apple has one choice.

Roku sells its products online and at Amazon, Best Buy, Target and Walmart. Apple has a lot of retail stores, but not that many.

Roku has a keen sense of timing. The company comes out with its latest and greatest products about the time Apple does, both leveraging from customer awareness of Apple’s new products yet always one-upping Apple.

Roku devices are fine looking devices and have extraordinarily well designed remotes. When customers find that two competing products have almost the same features, the one that costs less and looks and feels better is going to win.

The car makers figured this out years ago. All cars operate the same, are subject to the same federal regulations, and typically have similar features. The cars that win on the low end win on price. On the higher end, they win, at equal performance, on the design language. Yet Apple charges more for a plain black brick and a problematic remote without a convincing rationale.

Apple TV 4K
Not a winning product born of a winning strategy. Image credit: Apple.

Apple’s strategy doesn’t seem designed to compete and win. Instead, Apple seems happy to go its own way and remain comfortable with its declining market share of Apple TV brand loyalists. That’s an odd stance to take in the home entertainment market where the company has always shown a strong interest.

Next Page: The News Debris For The Week Of October 2nd. The automotive pros assess the future of autonomous cars.

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I’ll always be a Roku fan because they lack the politics the other TV boxes/sticks fall prey to. Amazon doesn’t sell Apple TVs on it site and Apple TV doesn’t allow an Amazon app? Maybe its Amazons fault, maybe its Apple’s, I don’t really care but it would be foolish to think this isn’t going to happen again. i.e. What if Netflix comes out with its own box and you can’t use it on the Firestick? Google just ganked YouTube from Alexa and on it goes… However, its going to depend on how well integrated to the Homepod the Apple… Read more »


Unfortunately, Roku’s neutrality doesn’t help when it comes to interacting with iTunes. I completely agree with the preset button criticism. I almost never think to use those shortcuts anyway; at least it no longer immediately takes you out of whatever you’re watching when you accidentally press one of them.

John Kheit


Ok, for one, you have to get your tv to correctly deal with the soap opera effect etc on Roku and manually adjust that like some kind of animal on Roku. Apple automatically deals with that while up,ping out at maximum fidelity output to your tv. One of the nicest features ever and Apple is too brain dead to figure out how to market it.


“Not to say Apple TV is all that great, but on a relative scale, yea, it’s a zillion times better. ” Care to back up that preposterous statement in any way? I can’t imagine what kind of extra “time and energy” is needed for a Roku versus Apple TV. There sure are a lot of “I’ve never used a Roku, but I know Apple TV is better” comments here. I’ve been using Roku since before Apple was even in the TV market. Overall it’s been a pleasure, with a well-designed, responsive interface and remote, plus regular software updates. My current… Read more »


Yea Roku is not getting my business no matter how cheap it is. Apple TV integrates with everything I use and I know I am getting the latest software to use it with. Android devices are unstable, operating systems are out of date and malware is present in 99% of them. No thanks!


Years ago I installed an Apple TV on my (now) 77-year-old father’s TV. It is still working flawlessly. It does a better job of streaming Netflix than the other devices on his TV, and…I just showed him how easy it was to stream photos from his phone to the big screen, so that my mother with severe glaucoma can see them without squinting at a tiny phone screen. That alone is worth every penny. Mis-steps not withstanding, sometimes there is a greater, undefined element to technology beyond what its price is or whether it checks all of the popular technologist’s… Read more »

W. Abdullah Brooks, MD

John: Interesting analysis about Roku’s marketing strategy in the face of the hobby of AppleTV. I like John Kheit’s description of Roku being the Android of tv boxes, although never having owned a Roku, I’m in no position to provide an independent opinion. I do disagree with one opinion in your piece, namely the photo in which you seem to suggest, I presume as part of Apple’s overall TV strategy, that the ‘plain black brick’ is less aesthetically compelling than the multi-coloured handset and rounded rectangle offered by Roku. Frankly, I prefer the clean lines and simplicity of the ATV;… Read more »

Bartholomew J. Woodcocke

As others have noted, the real selling point for the Apple products is the Apple ecosystem. I agree the competing boxes are cheaper and “better” in many ways and I always keep a keen eye on them – but for now I can’t replace my ATV 1 for 1 so I stick with Apple. For me the deal-breaker is Airplay – streaming music, video or pics from any iDevice, embedded at the OS level. Yes, I’m aware there’s ways to use apps to simulate the experience with Android boxes but I’m not interested in that amount of fiddling to save… Read more »


Having been an owner of every Apple TV (no ATV 4K yet, but soon) and never having used a Roku, all I can say in Apple’s defense is that I love the fact that I can instantly access my huge iTunes music and video libraries through my computer or my i Phone and iPad. Yes, the cost is a bit more, but it is so worth it for me. Apple created a very sticky eco system that is hard to resist.

Lee Dronick

Can Roku devices access my iTunes and Photos?


Roku is not profitable, with a net loss of $15.5 million in Q2 2017. Their business plan isn’t sustainable. $30 products don’t create customer loyalty. The ecosystem is not sticky. Apple does not sell products at a loss just to gain marketshare; they are in it for the long haul.

John Kheit

Roku is the android of tv boxes. The $50 delta is meaningless to most consumers. If you hate your own time and energy enough to skimp $50, then, you’ve self selected appropriately.

Not to say Apple TV is all that great, but on a relative scale, yea, it’s a zillion times better. As always, YMMV