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tvOS 9.1 Supports Apple’s Remote App, Adds Siri Music Search

Apple has updated tvOS in the fourth-generation Apple TV to 9.1. If the update isn’t automatically pushed to you, you can update manually in Settings > System > Software Updates > Update Software. Other than a list of 27 security updates, Apple has offered no release notes. However, after some testing, I know a few things for sure:

  • The Remote apps for iOS and watchOS now work
  • Siri search now works with Apple Music
  • Bluetooth keyboards still do not pair

The Remote Apps — The addition of Remote app support is exciting, since text entry on the Apple TV is dreadful. Apple doesn’t have much of an excuse for making us wait over a month for this functionality, since it adds nothing that wasn’t available on the third-generation Apple TV. Rumors and hopes of the Remote app as an app manager, game controller, or Siri input device for the new Apple TV have yet to be realized.

To get the iOS Remote app working with the Apple TV, first download it from the App Store if you haven’t already. The Remote app for watchOS is built in. The easiest way to connect the Remote apps to the Apple TV is to enable Home Sharing, first in iOS under Settings > Music (or Settings > Video), and then on the Apple TV under Settings > Accounts > Home Sharing, making sure to log into the same iTunes account on both devices. Signing into Home Sharing on your iPhone should also connect your paired Apple Watch.

If for some reason you don’t want to use Home Sharing, open the Remote app on your device, tap Add Device, and note the pairing code that is displayed. Then on the Apple TV, go to Settings > Remotes and Devices > Remote App, choose the iOS device or watch, and enter the code.

The Remote app works virtually the same as it did with the third-generation Apple TV, however, I have found the touch controls less slippery and easier to control with the fourth-generation Apple TV.

If it’s been a while since you’ve used it, the Remote app turns your iOS device’s screen into a touchpad to control the Apple TV. Tap the screen to make selections on the Apple TV, and tap Done, followed by Now Playing in the upper right to get direct control over media playback.

If you’re disappointed with the functionality of the current Remote app, we have good news: Apple’s Eddy Cue, Senior Vice President of Internet Software and Services, told BuzzFeed that Apple is working on a new Remote app that will emulate all of the functionality of the Siri Remote. That update is expected in the first half of 2016.

Siri and Apple Music — Siri search now works with Apple Music on the Apple TV. Note that other than radio stations, the Apple TV Music apps requires a subscription to either iTunes Match or, preferably, Apple Music, to function.

Here are some examples of commands Siri understands:

  • “Play music by The Beatles”
  • “Play my backwoods playlist”
  • “Turn shuffle on” or “turn shuffle off”
  • “Play Beats 1”

You have to be specific when asking Siri to play music on the Apple TV, as it easily confuses music with TV and movies. For instance, if I just say “Play The Beatles,” it shows me a list of Beatles-related movies. Jason Snell noted similar issues at Six Colors.

If you’re not already a fan of Apple Music, I can’t recommend signing up just for the Apple TV support (unless, like me, you happen to be the author of an Apple TV book who happens to be working on an eagerly awaited update). There are still too many bugs in both Apple Music and the Apple TV.

Spotting Universal Purchases — As I mentioned in “The New Apple TV: TidBITS Answers Your Questions” (30 October 2015), many iOS apps offer universal purchase, so that if you buy the app in iOS, you get the equivalent app on the Apple TV. Apple has now tweaked the iOS App Store to show which apps offer this.

While viewing an App Store listing, look under the information header, and see if it has an entry that says “Apple TV: Yes.” If so, once you get that app in iOS, you can later download it on the Apple TV by going to App Store > Purchased.

Bugs and Oddities — I noticed a huge bug right away: while music is playing, if I go into the Now Playing section of the Music app, the music stops. Not everyone seems to be experiencing this, so let me know if you see similar behavior.

I’ve also noticed that Apple has added more support for Bluetooth audio devices, but it’s half-baked. For instance, the Play/Pause button on my Motorola Roadster now controls music playback, but when I activate Siri on the Siri Remote, it tries to read my voice from the Roadster’s microphone. However, I can’t activate Siri on the Roadster itself. My Oontz Bluetooth speaker, which also features a built-in microphone, doesn’t hijack Siri’s input. Very odd.

Since Apple didn’t bother providing release notes to let us know what the changes are, I’ll be spending a significant amount of time digging through tvOS 9.1 to figure out what else is new. If you notice anything that I haven’t covered here, please let me know in the comments!

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