Apple has come out with version 3.0 of its Apple TV product, and it appears to be little more than a visual refresh with a couple of nice bits of iTunes integration. It still doesn’t do what we expect of a “set-top box” or “media center”: things like recording live TV.

The Apple TV is proving that it does not belong in those categories of hardware above. It’s more correct to think of it as an iTunes extender — an elegant way to get your movies and music onto the TV, assuming that iTunes is your starting point.

Jason Snell wonders what I wonder: where are we going with this? Apple is certainly capable of making a Tivo-killer. Why haven’t they?

I see internal politics at Apple, but perhaps not for the worse. The Apple TV is being held back in terms of features because its big brother — Apple’s real TV play — will be released sometime in the future.

The real play? A set-top box in partnership with one of the major cable companies. I admit, I am rehashing my previous speculation.

But the precedent is there: Apple partnered with a major carrier (AT&T) bring out the iPhone. They’ll do it again, this time by fixing the often appalling (Tivo excepted) DVR experience.

Who will the carrier be? I have no idea — but AT&T U-verse service runs on Microsoft IPTV software, so short of a coup we’d have to rule them out. Verizon is a possibility — its FIOS set-top box is functional but not great. Ditto Comcast.

Or perhaps Apple will start with a smaller regional carrier like Cox or Cablevision. Let’s see.