Apple has released tvOS 10, which you can install by choosing to Settings > System > Software Updates > Update Software on your fourth-generation Apple TV.
The tvOS 10 update isn’t earth-shattering, but it does offer a few niceties:
- Automatic App Downloads: When you first install iOS 10, you’ll be asked if you want to automatically install apps. What this does is automatically install any tvOS in which you already own the corresponding iOS app, either free or paid. You can turn this on or off later in Settings > Apps.
- Dark Mode: Those of us blinded by the bright-white look of tvOS 9 will appreciate the new Dark mode, which can be enabled in Settings > General > Appearance. Dark mode not only turns the Home screen dark, but also darkens the user interface elements of many apps.
Siri: tvOS 10 offers some new Siri tricks. You can now search for movies by topic, and you can combine those criteria, so you can tell Siri “Show me movies about time travel” or “Show me boxing movies from the ’80s.”
Siri can now search YouTube. Say “Search YouTube” and then your query, like so: “Search YouTube for iPhone 7 videos.” After processing your request, Siri will take you to the YouTube app’s search screen with your query.
HomeKit support has arrived on the Apple TV, but so far, only in the form of Siri commands. As long as your Apple TV is signed into the same iCloud account linked to your HomeKit devices, the same Siri commands you use on iOS and watchOS should work on your Apple TV, like “Dim my Living Room Lights” and “Set scene Movie Mode.” It may take a little time after installing the update for everything to sync.
HomeKit on tvOS is a bit disappointing so far (Why wouldn’t I just use my iPhone, which now features a Home app and a Control Center panel?), but there’s a lot of potential there. For instance, there are apps that can change the color of Hue bulbs based on the dominant color on the TV, but they require your iPhone’s camera to be pointed at your TV. In theory, the Apple TV could have this functionality built in. It’d also be great to see a feature that would flash my lights and change their colors along with music. Add that to my Apple wish list…
- Photos: The Photos app is largely unchanged, but it gains the Memories feature from iOS 10. Memories are automated collections of photos based on date and location. There are new ones added regularly, so be sure to check back often.
On the developer end, a new API is available for the editing of Live Photos (not sure if that will get used), and the Apple TV can now support wide color gamuts, though there probably aren’t many TVs that can take advantage of that.
- Music: The Music app in tvOS 10 has been redesigned to look like the refreshed app in iOS 10. It looks good, and is a big improvement over the old design.
The new Music app also offers two new rotating playlists for Apple Music members: My New Music Mix and My Favorites Mix. My New Music Mix is updated every Friday and features new songs that Apple thinks you’ll enjoy. My Favorites Mix is a mix of older songs that Apple knows you like, and it’s updated every Wednesday. I’ve been enjoying both playlists, though My Favorites Mix is a bit on the nose, since I’ve heard those songs thousands of times. But, I sort of think of it like the new Memories feature in Photos, in that it helps me revisit content I may have forgotten about.
- Gaming: Developers can now make it so that their games can require a dedicated game controller. That may lead to more complex games in the App Store, at the cost of alienating users who don’t have such a game controller.
On the back end, there are improvements to game frameworks like the Metal graphics engine, and tvOS 10 supports ReplayKit, which allows easy sharing of game videos and broadcasts.
- Single Sign-On: Many tvOS apps require authentication with a TV provider, and you have to activate each app individually. The good news is that Apple has introduced Single Sign-On for those authentications.
But here’s the bad news: based on my reading of Apple’s developer documentation, this capability is technically called the Video Subscriber Account framework, and it must be implemented by the app developer. That this likely means in the real world is that if you activate an app from A&E Networks, like the History Channel app, then the Lifetime app will also be activated, assuming you subscribe to both. However, you would still have to authenticate an app developed by Viacom, like Comedy Central.
Still, that makes things a bit better, but the question is how quickly developers will jump on the bandwagon. Given that the nearly year-old Netflix app still hasn’t been updated to support category browsing — which is available on almost every other platform — I wouldn’t suggest holding your breath.
To be honest, the tvOS 10 update is a bit on the lame side, even if it offer some nice additions. I’m hoping that Apple will give the Apple TV a lot more love at some point in the future.