Over the years WWDC has been a very hit and miss affair for tvOS. Once just a mere footnote in a content partnership announcement, this last year for Apple TV has been somewhat of a whirlwind of positivity.
With the spotlight on Apple's original content aspirations - with launches of both Apple TV+ and Apple Arcade - you’d be forgiven for thinking that tvOS 13 would become a bit of an after-thought, given how previous tvOS releases taught us to temper our expectations.
tvOS 13 may not have fundamentally changed the way we interact with the biggest screen in our homes, but it was a win on many fronts. Refining Apple’s initial vision and correcting some minor missteps made along the way.
A new top-shelf, multi-user functionality, Picture in Picture, Shortcut actions and compatibility with popular games controllers were all things I had hoped would come to pass in last years list. I was surprised and very excited - not because any of the listed features felt particularly magical - but because it was clear that Apple had decided to throw substantial development resources into improving the Apple TV experience, at a time when Apple TV hardware began to feel increasingly marginalised and the TV App started to appear on third-party platforms.
As tvOS turns five this September, it still feels the least matured of Apple’s operating systems. The lead pitch for the 4th generation Apple TV was to bring the same connected experience from the iPhone to the big screen. However, over the last few years Apple TV has felt more and more disconnected. Falling behind on interactions and connectivity seen across Apples other devices.
This years “tvOS wishes” focuses on those interactions and connectivities, along with feature parity, customization, performance and fixes, with some ideas I hope to see come to Apple TV in the near future. I’ve tried my best to keep the nitpicking to the minimum, whilst being cautiously optimistic about existing hardware, keeping one eye on the future.
Remember, just like last year - this isn’t a prediction for what Apple may announce at this years online only WWDC, but more my vision for what tvOS 14 could be.
Lets get started.
Home Screen and Top Shelf
tvOS 13 introduced a softer visual feel, adopting rounded corners and a Dock separating the Top Shelf from the rows of 16:9 icons below. With it came a new Top Shelf extension allowing full video previews which - while initially pleasing - introduced a new set of problems.
It wasn’t so much the need to access my Up Next queue from Top Shelf that made me move away from What to Watch in 13.3. Instead it was the disorientating feeling that family members would have when they accidentally flicked upwards on the Siri Remote flinging them with comedic effect into an often noisy preview. The Menu button may be the defacto way to go back to where you once came but in this case, I’d instinctively want to reverse the action that got me there in the first place by flicking downwards.
Video in Top Shelf is visually stimulating but the space caters to studios, networks and labels, but not predominantly the user. If the television is part of a family home, should What to Watch be previewing R rated content? What is the benefit in advertising a Movie or TV Show to the user, if they previously rented or purchased that content? Does the users custom feel appreciated and what effect does that have on them making future purchases?
These issues could all be solved by giving users more control over the content being shown in Top Shelf via settings or within the video preview itself, by telling Apple that the content is either not of interest or unsuitable. That also gives Apples content partners another opportunity at finding something else whilst negating the risk of offense or wasting precious bandwidth.
Improving the TV App
Apple’s TV App has had more than its fair share of criticism and whilst I agree that theres a lot to improve upon, I think its important to note that the Apps distribution to so many different platforms probably hindered its development some-what. As someone that subscribes to a number of Apple TV Channels and takes pride in a sizeable digital collection of over 2000 Movies and TV Shows purchased through Apple, the TV App - the central home for all of my video content - has become somewhat of a disappointment.
• Watch Now
Watch Now should be a dedicated space for the content I’ve already invested in, with ‘Up Next’ up-top, followed by recommendations for content either accessible to me for free, or from services that again - I am already invested in or have access to. Users could have a row for each service (including Apple Music Video) in an order defined by them, where they could hold down on the content card (similar to Up Next) and quickly play a trailer, view details or add to Up Next. Apps installed but not yet linked to the TV App, could also be added through a prompt but it would be up to the user to determine what services got those spots.
• Movies and TV Shows
Both areas serve a purpose, but currently feel way too busy. Instead I’d like to see Apple entice potential viewers in a way that offers value and focus, by bringing high calibre video editorial to the store fronts - similar to the rich articles seen within ‘Today’ on the App Store in iOS.
Sport could instead fit nicely into a new ‘Live’ section, hosting all accessible live broadcasts available to view. Housed within a familiar visual EPG - based on the existing content card system - users would have options including playing the live broadcast, setting a reminder, or queuing content to Up Next preempting for when it becomes available on demand.
Personal libraries seem to populate a lot quicker since tvOS 13.3 for large collections, but my wish is for it to get faster still. A change in the way tvOS caches the library, could be a much welcomed antidote to frustrating waits with grey placeholders.
Something long missing from Library are number counts. I would like to see them reinstated not just for bragging rights, but also for peace of mind. 4K HDR upgrades were probably the culprit for number counts leaving in the early days as customer service calls rose when 4K titles would bump back down to HD. Despite that likely happening again, I hope the little detail returns as an option once more.
• Content Sorting, Boxsets and OCD
Things could be improved in genre and content sorting. There has always been to many genres to group content into. For example if I’m looking for something music based in my Library, it could be in ‘Concert Films’, ‘Documentary’, ‘Music Documentaries’ or ‘Music Feature Films’ and its become a mini game of sorts, one in which I never guess correctly the first time around.
Two of the major reasons I switched to digital purchases, were.
- A lack of space (space is at a premium in London).
- To save my OCD from moments when I’d discover that someone had dumped all the DVDs in a boxset ignoring the dividers...
TV box sets currently have their episodes jammed together in one long list and its enough to trigger anyone with even the slightest OCD. Just look at the one star iTunes reviews for the complete box set of popular show "Big Bang Theory" to understand that its not just me complaining about this.
Another issue with treating boxsets differently to separate seasons is that despite personally owning the Game of Thrones Seasons 1-5 Boxset, when I go to play it through Siri, I’m prompted to subscribe to HBO Now in order to watch. This is because the TV App treats boxsets differently and prioritizes services over content I own, due to the way Apple catalogues boxsets compared to separate seasons. The same thing happened recently to my purchase of ‘Hans Zimmer: Live in Prague’, which is no longer sold through Apple but is available through Prime Video. The only way of adding my purchase to my Up Next queue to playback, is by first initiating playback through Library.
In recent years, my use of Control Centre and the Today View in iOS has grown exponentially, thanks to their customization options and third party widgets. Control Centre in tvOS feels like a mix of the two and I long for the day that I can view my HomeKit cameras via the HomeCam widget in Control Centre on Apple TV, like I do on iOS. Throw in widgets for quick glances of device and accessory battery percentages from around the home and I’d be more than happy. My wish is that Apple eventually make full use of the screens real estate within Control Centre, with a simple swipe to the left, revealing something akin to DayView, developed by now Apple UI Engineer Punya Chatterjee. If this is indeed on the horizon and does happen this year, I so hope that an additional shared family DayView isn’t overlooked in favor of a personalized experience.
A Seamless Multi-User Experience
tvOS 13 introduced multiple user functionality to the TV App’s Up Next queue and App’s that implemented Apples TVUserManager API, but so many user options within tvOS missed out. Starting with the layout of Apps on the Home Screen and going all the way to closed caption font sizes or preferred audio tracks during content playback. In my opinion, if theres an customizable option or feature available on tvOS, it should be available to everyone - and that includes logins to iCloud and Game Centre.
A more seamless multi-user experience could come with improvements to Apple’s voice-based assistant. With the debut of multi-user support through voice recognition on HomePod last October, voice recognition on Apple TV seems technically viable and would be a game changer. Imagine pressing the Siri button on the remote and knowing Apple TV is going to play where you left off on your favorite show, without playing your daughters by accident because you forgot to switch profiles. Of course that means Siri also being contextually aware and thats something that needs improving across the board.
If I search for “Where The Light Is” by John Mayer, Siri will kick me to the live album in Apple Music, completely ignoring my purchase of the video version through the TV App - and thats whether or not its already in my Up Next queue. What’s more Siri Search currently only displays video content within its results. The only way currently to search content across all types is by using Apple TV’s Search App. As a lover of Movies, TV Shows, Music and Podcasts, this is honestly the one big fix I’m desperate for - anything else in this years wish list is a bonus. Additionally Siri should continue to be used as a way to promote inclusiveness within tvOS. Being able to jump to a certain point within an App through Siri could have great long-lasting benefits.
• Hey Siri Support
A strange omission I feel, as I use my AirPods with Apple TV a lot before bed. The perfect way to end a movie would be to activate my “goodnight” automation right before putting my AirPods back in their case and closing my eyes.
• HomePod Theatre Mode and Siri Programmable Remotes
I love my HomePod’s and they sound great when paired with Apple TV, until of course I start doing something else with them, like playing music and then unfortunately its time to pair them up to my Apple TV yet again. It’s a minor inconvenience but one that if solved could lead to the purchase of many more HomePods - even if you’re one of a few like myself that already have a couple. It also opens up the possibility’s of voice first Siri control and optional Siri support to those who really cant get on with the Siri Remote. Users could simply program a button for Siri whilst setting up a third-party remote in Settings > Remotes and Devices that would trigger the HomePod to start listening for a voice command, finally relaying it back to the Apple TV to which its paired.
• Private Listening/Audio-Sharing
A recycled request from last year and something I think may be a technical limitation of current Apple TV hardware. I would love to see audio-sharing for AirPods (and compatible headsets) come to Apple TV for private viewings, without disturbing co-habitants.
• Simultaneous Audio Track Playback
I have always been impressed by Apples dedication to offering a broad range of dialects in its audio tracks and I take pride knowing that if family members from Austria come to stay, they can also be entertained. The idea of having simultaneous playback in two languages - e.g. English on TV and German on AirPods - feels like a typical Apple feature. A way to unite through great content and I hope its an idea Apple at least toy with further.
• Zones for Audio Playback
Occasionally I want to playback audio across multiple AirPlay 2 speakers fast! Selecting a Zone for playback instead of selecting speakers one at a time, would not only be snappier, but could possibly reduce audible delays by initiating the group of speakers simultaneously.
Shortcuts and Automation
Shortcuts have really changed the way I interact with iOS and iPadOS and now I’d like to trigger some of those same Shortcuts via the Siri Remote, like I can on HomePod. Other Shortcut wishes include opening up Shortcut Actions on tvOS to third party developers and using Apple TV as a Shorcut server.
If you’re anything like me you’ve had multiple Shortcut fails - when unbeknown to you, your iPhone device ran out of juice or disconnected from your network. I’d like to see Apple TV used as a Shortcut server so that if either were to happen, Shortcuts could still successfully trigger. Always on your home network, Apple TV could act as a server to Shortcuts like it currenty acts as a hub to Homekit.
Surely this year is the year where Apple TV will become part of a HomeKit Scene in a more meaninful way. Yes, Shortcuts do a lot already but think about your house guests! Surely this year...
• Adaptive Controller Support
Microsoft's move to adaptive controller support always felt like something straight out of the Apple playbook. This year should be the year that gaming on Apple TV becomes more inclusive.
• Apple Arcade
Not strictly a tvOS wish, but more an Apple Arcade wish in general. I wish to see more of a community aspect to Apple Arcade. Friends lists, achievements, challenges, high scores and streams through Replay Kit - go live through Control Centre with new microphone support? Basically re-brand Game Centre as Apple Arcade and crank it to a hundred.
• Apple TV Hand-Off
Much like how you can move your music from your iPhone to HomePod and visa-versa with just a tap, I’d love to see Hand-Off come to Apple TV for video. A feature AirPlay only got half right.
Anyone that has used a Peleton bike will know how successful a tool, video can be when combined with a workout. Apple TV could soon be more than just a device you plonk yourself down on the couch to.
• Offload Unused Apps
Apple's iOS feature would make a lot of sense on Apple TV. Offloading unused apps to make way for new experiences and updates whilst backing up data and settings to iCloud.
• Personalised Screensavers
Now I have nothing against Apples Ariels - which needs a name change btw. Ariels are one of my favourite features of Apple TV, however I've shot some great time-lapses that I’d love to use as Apple TV screensavers. Despite Apple TV’s within Apple Stores being able to set custom video as screensavers for years, this feature has yet to make its way to the general release of tvOS.
• Picture in Picture
Added to tvOS 13, Picture in Picture (PiP) feels like its waiting for something. Video extras like the early days of DVD? Upcoming ASL and BSL support? Or maybe a PiP API so people can stop asking Aaron Pearce why its not included in his App yet?
• Show App Data Usage in Settings
Fortunately I live in a country where the majority of ISP’s don’t impose strict data-caps on home broadband connections. That said I know those in different countries that do. Giving users the ability to see App data usage will prevent dreaded over-charges and keep the Apple TV end-user experience a positive one.
tvOS 13 in many ways felt like the start of something much bigger for Apple TV. Giving us a taste of the future whilst continuing to ignore some of the subtler nuances from across Apple's ecosystem.
Now feels like the right time for Apple TV to mature and fulfill that vision of TV, that got us giddy in the first place. Solving the issues and minor imperfections of our TV usage, that we as viewers didn't know needed solving until after the fact.
Theres so much potential left on the table with tvOS, that why whilst there's a hint of frustration knowing how great Apple TV could be, the overwhelming feeling is one of excitement for what's coming next.
We'll soon know if tvOS 14 is the release to take Apple TV to that next level.