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Apple’s TV App Seeks to Unify the Apple TV Experience

With the debut of the fourth-generation Apple TV, Apple declared that apps are the future of TV. But the trouble with iOS-style apps on your TV is that you have to dig through them to find the content you want, unless Siri can find it for you. Apple is introducing a new app, simply called TV, that the company hopes will solve this problem.

TV on the Apple TV -- The new TV app is due in December 2016 and will bring together content from all the apps you have installed that opt in to Apple’s aggregation plan. About 1600 apps could currently provide content to the TV app, but Netflix has reportedly opted out, and Amazon Prime Video is still nowhere to be seen on the tvOS platform. We expect that Netflix will come around eventually, but it’s hard to imagine Amazon changing its tune at this point.

The hub of the TV app is the Watch Now screen, which presents your favorite shows in an Up Next list. The top of that screen lets you pick up shows where you left off and shows new episodes as they become available.

Don’t know what to watch? The Watch Now screen offers TV and movie suggestions, based on your preferences and Apple’s curation.

The Watch Now screen also lets you browse for TV shows and movies by category. The demo showed some unusual categories like Political Animals — presumably shows and movies with a political focus.

The TV app may suggest content provided by an app you haven’t yet installed. In such cases, you can install the app from inside the TV app, after which its content is integrated into the TV app. Apple Design Lead Jen Folse demonstrated this capability by installing the Starz app from inside the TV app and showing how the Starz show “Power” and the Starz exclusive “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” appeared under What to Watch.

As is often the case with apps available for both tvOS and iOS, apps installed from the TV app on the Apple TV also appear on iOS devices that use the same Apple ID (if, of course, you have enabled this in your devices’ settings).

The TV app also offers a Library screen that brings together all of your iTunes-purchased TV shows and movies, as well as a Store screen that enables you to rent or buy more content.

Speaking of iOS, the TV app is also coming to iOS 10, where it will replace the Videos app and provide a consistent user experience. Your content preferences will sync between the two operating systems.

The TV app will be a big change for how you use the Apple TV, so much so that the Home button on the Siri Remote will open the TV app instead of going to the Home screen. I presume that you’ll jump to the Home screen the same way you did on the third-generation Apple TV, by pressing and holding the Menu button.

Single Sign-On, Sort Of -- Along with the TV app, Apple will finally introduce the Single Sign-On feature it promised for tvOS 10 (see “tvOS 10 Brings Dark Mode and More,” 13 June 2016). That feature gives you a central place to sign in to your TV provider to authenticate multiple content apps, instead of having to connect to each one individually.

Unfortunately, per Apple’s own press release, the only two major TV providers that will support Single Sign-On at launch are DirecTV and Dish. If you subscribe to Comcast, Cox, or Time Warner Cable, you’ll still have to activate every app individually for now.

Siri to Straddle Operating Systems -- We’ll also see some Siri improvements alongside the TV app. Siri can already show you sports scores and display live content, but Apple is enhancing that capability soon. Folse demonstrated asking Siri about “the Louisville game,” and got back the current score and an option to view the game live.

Additionally, you’ll finally be able to search for TV and movie content on your iPhone and iPad. Right now, if you try to use Siri in iOS to search for James Bond movies, it just displays a generic list of random films. It will be nice to finally see these two Siri implementations work the same way for media content.

Minecraft Arrives on Apple TV -- In other big Apple TV news, Minecraft is coming to tvOS by the end of the year! Minecraft is one of the largest gaming success stories in recent history, making its creator, Notch, an instant billionaire when Microsoft purchased Minecraft for $2.5 billion. The game combines a fantasy role-playing game with a virtual Lego set, and it has become a sensation with kids of all ages. For more on that, see “FunBITS: A Minecraft Crash Course” (19 September 2014).

I’m curious to find out how controllers will work with Minecraft. I don’t see how the game could be playable using the Siri Remote, so it might be one of the first to require a Made for iPhone (MFi) game controller. At first, almost all tvOS game developers had to support the Siri Remote for game control, but that changed with tvOS 10, which lets them instead depend on a custom MFi controller (see “tvOS 10 Brings Dark Mode and More,” 13 June 2016).

Better but Still Not Great -- The TV app is a step in the right direction, making Apple TV content easier to find and improving the content viewing experience in both tvOS and iOS. However, without Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, it lacks two key sources of content that leave it crippled, if not completely dead in the water. It was hard not to snort as Apple talked about how TV would provide access to “all your video,” knowing that for many people, Netflix is all they watch.

The TV app pushes tvOS closer to competitors like Amazon’s Fire TV and Google’s Android TV, both of which implement a more content-focused approach on their home screens. But that approach has a downside: they often show you what they want you to see (and pay for), not what you necessarily want to watch. Will Apple strike pay-to-play deals for content owners to be featured in the TV app? Maybe they have already.

Another annoyance with the Apple TV is its lack of support for 4K resolution content, which Apple touts elsewhere, such as on the iPhone 6s and later and with Final Cut Pro X on the Mac. Right now, if you have a 4K TV, you need to either use its built-in apps or a 4K-capable Blu-ray player, Fire TV, or Roku box to take advantage of 4K content. Even if you don’t have a 4K set, you could still see improvements with 4K streaming. My new Sony TV has made me realize how “noisy” even 1080p streaming content is, resulting in pixelated backgrounds and other ugliness. Even though I don’t always see a huge difference in sharpness with 4K content from Netflix, I do notice its lack of visual artifacts.

One final thing to chew on. As my pal Zac Cichy pointed out, the TV app’s icon is identical to the Home button on the Siri Remote. Did Apple intend to ship the TV app with tvOS, and was it always meant to function as the Home screen? Was it held back due to a lack of content deals? Why is Apple introducing the TV app now, and why isn’t Netflix on board? I would love to learn the answers to these questions, but I’m not sure we’ll ever get them.

And now I need to get started on the third edition of “Take Control of Apple TV.”


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Comments about Apple’s TV App Seeks to Unify the Apple TV Experience
(Comments are closed.)

Michel Hedley  2016-10-27 19:43
Everything about Apple TV smacks on US-centric - even this story is a useful example. There's never any thing from Apple about how Apple TV might work (if it does work) in other countries and how it might work with those countries' television and cable services. Simply nothing.
I have no idea how Apple TV might work in Australia or Europe let alone China. I suspect we would be paying on par with the US price for Apple TV, but with a much reduce service offering.
Given the lack of useful information from Apple, there's no incentive for me to even look at Apple TV particularly as my Samsung TV has a rather satisfactory interface with TV, cable and internet providers.
Josh Centers  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2016-10-28 14:14
Sadly, Apple's prime focus is on the U.S., as is ours. One of my big laments with the Apple TV book is that it's nearly impossible to know what's available outside the U.S. And Apple struggles with content deals in the U.S., much less in the rest of the world. The content rights landscape is just an enormous mess.
Content rights can even be a mess within a single territory such as the States where content can be created by a producer for a network, resold yo another and made into a DVD set by another. Sometimes a series, say Farscape, is produced by someone like The Henson Company in Australia with money from a number of networks that will carry it.
Anonymous  2016-10-28 20:07
Netflix has been doing personalized recommendations based on proprietary user data and reporting since the late 90s. They don't need Apple's help giving recommendations or Up Next functionality to customers.

Also, given that Apple gets valuable user choice data flowing through the TV app it is unlikely that Netflix would want to share it; indeed, they refuse to share user viewership data with any other businesses.

International content deals are far more complex overall. The iTunes Music Store opened in 2003 and it started movie rentals in 2008, yet it wasn't until the end of 2012 that it was able to finally finalize deals so as to launch in Russia, Turkey, India, and South Africa.
With the exception of some sporting events, 90% of my TV is on Amazon Prime. It is paid for and has some of the best content. Period.

I have two Apple TV boxes. I can think of no reason why I'd ever want or need another one. Certainly not for Netflix. It is available many other ways. They collect dust and I periodically update them.

For me, they simply have moved themselves from relevance.
Dennis B. Swaney  2016-10-31 23:36
Can you use your TV to watch Amazon Prime on a large screen TV? I want to watch "Grand Tour" when it debuts in November but don't want to be limited to my iPad or iMac.
Curtis Wilcox  An apple icon for a Friend of TidBITS 2016-11-01 18:20
There is no Amazon Prime app for the Apple TV. To watch Amazon Prime on a TV via the Apple TV, you must use AirPlay from another device.

Since Grant refers to Netflix being available "many other ways," I suspect he uses something other than his Apple TVs to watch Amazon.
xandra  2016-11-02 15:36
No NETFLIX?! I'm hoping I misunderstood, and this only referred to its inclusion is the TV App. (I can live without Amazon since it's already included with my blu-ray player and ROKU.)
I've always felt the main reason to buy an Apple TV was to view/play my iTunes content - but lack of Netflix would still be a deal breaker.
Michael Paine  2016-12-12 16:36
I have been looking/waiting for an Apple TV app that will let me watch live free-to-air TV in Australia. EyeTV for ios works well on an ipad, allowing the Mac to stream content from its USB tuner. Not such thing for ATV and Elgato has sold EyeTV. The new owner indicates that they are considering an ATV app but that is all. I have tried Netstream TV and, despite its claims, it does not work with my set-up (EyeTV running on a Mac).