This year’s World Wide Developers Conference was the most anticipated in quite some time. With the majority of excitement leading up to this week focusing on iOS on the iPad, Marzipan (now Project Catalyst) and the debut of a new modular Mac Pro, understandably tvOS became a side note for many.
The first half of the year saw many wrongfully predict the death-knell for the Apple TV. In January CES saw the shock announcement of iTunes content along with HomeKit and AirPlay compatibility coming to a handful of smart TV’s, running everything from webOS to Android and Tizen. Then in March, during Apple’s unveiling of their Apple TV+ service, Apple announced that their TV app would be coming to Roku and Amazons’ fire tv – mitigating Apple TVs’ usefulness.
Just a few minutes into Monday’s keynote, Apple CEO Tim Cook alleviated any lingering doubt about the company’s commitment to it’s Apple TV hardware, with the announcement of tvOS 13. The new update – expected this Autumn – is a significantly substantial one compared to previous years. Combined with last months TV app refresh and the launch of Apple TV+ month’s away, tvOS 13 is the clearest indication yet of Apples’ continued commitment, ambition and renewed vision for it’s streaming hardware.
The newest update to tvOS includes a refined focus on content discovery along with some notable additions, including; a updated Home screen, a familiar looking control centre, multi-user support, expanded audio features, better game controller compatibility and much more.
Updated Home Screen
At first glance, the new Home screen isn’t a radical departure from whats come before but there are a few meaningful changes. While the rows of 16:9 app icon’s continue to make up the bulk of the Home screen, the top-row of app’s now rest on a floating panel referred to by Apple as a dock. Apps placed in the dock can continue to utilise top shelf privileges, which have been enhanced by the arrival of content previews. Content previews work much like the movie browsing experience within the TV app. After 5 seconds an app’s static poster image will transition to a video preview. Via the top of the Home screen, users are then prompted to swipe upwards for full screen. Thankfully, where the top-shelf and the TV app differ is in the playback of audio, with audio starting only once users have initiated full screen. Within full screen users can swipe left or right between video previews with one tap bringing up content meta-data and viewing options – all still within the Home screen. Removing barriers to entry and adding some joy to content discovery.
Joining the new dock and top-shelf features is a system wide Control Centre which is accessed by holding down the Home button on your Apple TV remote. Sliding in from the right, Control Centre offers familiarity to iOS users – serving as a home to many common user functions including; date and time, Sleep, Now Playing, AirPlay, Search and the inclusion of multi-user support.
Side Note: Following the announcement of HomeKit Secure Video for connected cameras the bare bottom third of Control Center would be the perfect place for quick access to your live camera streams.
Top of many wish-list’s – including my own – has been the addition of multi-user support. Finally, tvOS 13 enables Apple TV users a personalised experience, including access to their own Up Next queue within the TV app as well as access to their personal music collection via Apple Music. Now, Peppa Pig need never appear in your recommendations again!
Additionally, the TV apps’ channels have a distinct benefit when paired with family-sharing, allowing family members to access their favourite channels through one subscription. Lastly, developers will soon be able to take advantage of tvOS user profiles within their own apps, thanks to the system wide Control Centre in tvOS 13.
I’m a huge music lover. So it seems strange that I’ve rarely used the Music app on Apple TV. As a previous collector of physical media – before my collection got to big to reasonably house in London – my connection with music has changed. Once upon a time I’d put on a CD, take out the linear notes and read along to the lyrics. After using tvOS 13 for 3 days now, I’ve spent more time in the Music app then ever before, thanks to two standout features.
Real time lyric displays (also coming to iOS 13), are as magical as their demo promised them to be. Simply play a compatible track and the album artwork and meta data will shift to the left of the screen with real time lyrics displaying on the right. You can also scroll through the lyrics to select a specific point of playback. Fantastic for those amongst you that are into death metal and karaoke – but maybe not for your neighbours.
The other stand-out feature of the Music app on Apple TV is another perfect example of Apple’s love of musicians and artists. The music video used to be an event in itself. A chance for visionaries from competing art-forms to collaborate, adding a further dimension to their artistic expression. Apple Musics’ curated video playlists have a new prominent home via the Music app’s top shelf – with previews from a wide range of genres and artists. Whilst music videos started surfacing on Apples’ music service a while back, it’s nice to see Apple acknowledge the medium by giving it prominence on their platform.
Apple Arcade & Game Controllers
For a host of different reasons, gaming on Apple TV never really took off. Four years in and Apple have an opportunity to turn a corner with the launch of it’s upcoming subscription service – Apple Arcade – offering 100 exclusive hand-picked games to subscribers through it’s Arcade app on; tvOS 13, iOS 13 and OSX Catalina. Where the company have long supported external Bluetooth controllers across its platforms, the inclusion of PlayStation DualShock 4 and Xbox Wireless Controller compatibility within tvOS 13 is very much welcome. Currently in beta, a handful of games support both popular controllers with the assumption that most, if not all Apple Arcade games will too.
Audio Sharing coming to Apple TV?
Whilst only officially announced for iOS and no mention of the feature in official support documentation, a number of outlets have reported that audio sharing is coming to tvOS. If this does become a reality it will allow two people using either AirPods (1st or 2nd generation) or PowerBeats Pro to listen to Apple TV in a private listening environment.
*Further compatibility with other W1 and H1 headphones is yet to be confirmed.
New Screen Savers
Screen saver’s have long been a signature of Apple TV’s charm. While last year Apple partnered with the International Space Station for some jaw dropping views of our planet from space, this year Apple have partnered with the BBC’s Natural History Unit for an incredible look at life deep within the underwater world – shot in 4K HDR.
Users have previously been able to AirPlay video and audio content to Apple TV, via Siri commands on iPhone’s and iPad’s. With the combination of CEC, tvOS 13 and iOS 13, users will be able to turn on or off any Apple TV in the home.
Further automation will be available via Apple TV Remote actions, within ShortCuts. These actions include; Show Remote Control, Open App on Apple TV, Sleep Apple TV, Play/Pause Apple TV and Wake Apple TV.
There’s still a way to go when it comes to true HomeKit integration but, if things change between now and the public release, rest assured I will update if and when the time comes.
Apple’s tvOS team delivered some of the most unexpected surprises during WWDC. Multi-user support and expanded game controller support are obvious highlights of tvOS 13. However it’s Apple’s purposeful decision to migrate it’s designs to a content first experience which will have the most profound long term impact. Not just on Apple TV users but on the future of the platform itself.
Sigmund is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of ScreenTimes where he began his Apple TV coverage in 2016. With an unwavering passion for Apple, storytelling and storytellers alike, he writes about Apple TV with a focus on the arts, development, tvOS, home theatre and accessibility. Sigmund also co-host’s Magic Rays of Light, a weekly podcast exploring the world of Apple TV and the many talents bringing our screens to life.