It’s that time of year where we all get a little giddy with excitement for the future of our favourite Apple platforms. Yet whilst plenty are talking about their excitement for iOS, macOS, watchOS and the next chapter for iPad, there’s been very little written about expectations for tvOS 15.
WWDC20 saw Apple TV solidify its role within the company’s ever-evolving Home strategy with the introduction of HomeKit Scenes and security feeds within Control Centre and later Home Theatre Mode. tvOS 14 was also a perfectly competent update focused on fixes, filling gaps and some feature parity that included the much-requested inclusion of Audio Sharing with W1 and H1 compatible headphones. Whilst these additions were all nice-to-haves, they did very little in the way of furthering Apple’s vision for the future of TV.
That future could consist of a much-needed lick of paint for a concept that has since been mimicked to death and somewhat overtaken by market competitors. It could also be a future in which the Apple TV continues to solidify itself as the centrepiece to Apple’s vision for Home Theatre and Apple’s media division. However, my hope is that the last year has seen the Apple TV engineering team focus not only on how the TV experience could be improved but how it could be redefined.
For the past year, the TV has been our window out into the world, but with the world reopening and our focus shifting to our relationships and experiences beyond our four walls, what place does the traditional TV experience have in a post-pandemic world?
Last year I wrote in-depth about some of the items I wished to be fixed or further expanded upon. Those wishes - which for the most part are still valid - included improvements to the TV app, 3rd party access to Control Centre by way of widgets, multi-user expanded across the whole of tvOS, simultaneous audio-track playback for bilingual families, on-device Shortcut and automation handling and improved Siri commands and HomePod support.
At the risk of needlessly repeating oneself, over-rubbing the lamp and thus setting the genie free, this year, our wishes have been split amongst the team with one wish each. Some are focusing on themes, and others on a particular feature. Here are our tvOS wishes:
My tvOS wish for this year is that Apple TV becomes a more connected and inclusive experience freed of any lingering stigma after a year that has seen many of us in a year-long state of solitude. That stigma could so easily be whaffed away with the inclusion of online social integrations for Game Centre, synced party playback of TV app content and FaceTime by way of a dedicated Picture-in-Picture AirPlay destination.
For when we can assemble around a single screen, I would love to see simultaneous multi-track audio playback on connected headphones for bilingual family’s as-well-as inclusive second-screen experiences for ASL and BSL, which could also have educational benefits.
The Apple TV experience could also be redefined by expanding it to the world outside by having Apple TV distribute AR and Podcast experiences to nearby devices. This would allow us to explore further the stories being told beyond their runtimes whilst allowing for greater understanding and longer-lasting social impact.
We’ve discovered in the last year - if we didn’t already know it - that there is A LOT to watch out there. Something I’d love to see as part of a TV app rejig would be better suggestions of what to watch and some great content curation.
On the Up Next screen, there are lots of suggestions below your queue of things to watch. That’s lists like ‘Trending’, ‘New Releases’ and lists of shows from TV networks in your country. The problem is, trending and shows from the networks almost always show things I would never watch. Most of the time, it’s reality TV, something which I never watch, but occasionally it’s a soap or something similar. This renders these suggestions useless, and I just ignore them. It would be great if the TV app used all that machine learning Apple is so good at to know that I like obscure Adult Swim comedies and don’t like reality shows.
Secondary to this, it would be terrific to have some excellently curated lists of shows and movies from actual people. The TV app often does a great job with this for things like Pride Month and Black History Month. Let’s see some more. This could be from the Apple TV team or even guests like TV+ stars or directors with new films coming out (someone like Edgar Wright loves a good movie list!)
In my opinion, the TV app should be more at the heart of the Apple TV. For me, it’s just for my queue and to play purchases, but it could be so much more. We should be heading to the TV app to discover our next new show or a small indie film based on what we’ve recently watched. The great thing about all this is that I think it would be straightforward to do.
My wish for tvOS 15 is for there to be even more emphasis on user profiles. I appreciate the addition last year of having different game save files for each user, but I want to see that profile support expand even more.
The Apple TV is likely the most shared device in any home, and each person uses it differently. Could we have different home screen arrangements for different profiles? Maybe even add the option of setting a home screen background to give it a little more customization? And I’d love to see the ability to sync each user’s iCloud Photo Library to the Apple TV so everyone can have their photos up on the big screen.
I’d also like to see Apple leverage their influence as the platform creator to convince third-party developers to support user profiles as well. There’s an API for linking Apple TV user profiles to profiles within specific streaming apps, but I’m unaware of any apps that use it. I have to pick my profile every time I go to stream a movie on Disney+ or HBO Max, which is just redundant since I’m already signed in to my profile on the device itself.
Just as Apple negotiates with developers to include TV app integration, I’d like to see them make user profile support a part of being a good platform citizen. It would make for a much smoother user experience on Apple TV.
I touched on this in my recent feature here on Screen Times, but I have my fingers and toes crossed for improvements to the Fitness app on Apple TV. As it stands, the app is pretty good, but I would love to see some bugs ironed out. I’ve had a few Apple Watch disconnects on the Apple TV, which would result in the workout will stopping, leaving me having to go back to the start. A way to restart these would be great. I’m also hopeful that we will finally see the addition of multi-user support, so you can work out with another person and see both of your stats on the TV screen at the same time.
It is still a mystery as to what tvOS 15 will bring to the Apple TV experience and how and if it will best make use of recent hardware upgrades. We’re all incredibly excited for next week and hope you’ll join us for the festivities.