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tvOS 10 Adds Dark Mode and More

Apple has released tvOS 10, which you can install on your fourth-generation Apple TV by navigating to Settings > System > Software Updates > Update Software.

tvOS 10 doesn’t offer any earth-shattering changes, but it does include a few niceties.

Automatic App Downloads — When you first install tvOS 10, it asks if you want to install apps automatically. When you enable this option, tvOS automatically installs any tvOS app for which you already own the corresponding iOS app. This also works in reverse, so if you have automatic app downloads enabled on your iOS devices, iOS apps whose TV versions you have installed in tvOS will appear there. You can turn this feature on or off later in Settings > Apps.

Dark Mode — Those of us blinded by the bright-white look of tvOS 9 will appreciate tvOS 10’s new Dark mode, which you can enable 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 includes some new Siri tricks. You can now search for movies by topic, and you can combine search criteria, so you can tell Siri to “Show me movies about time travel” or “Show me boxing movies from the ’80s.”

Siri can also now search YouTube. Say “Search YouTube” and then your query, like so: “Search YouTube for iPhone 7 videos.” After processing your request, Siri takes you to the YouTube app’s search screen with your query. Given the difficulty of entering text into tvOS search fields and the importance of search with YouTube, this Siri improvement should be particularly welcome.

HomeKit — tvOS 10 brings some support for HomeKit to the Apple TV, but only in the form of Siri commands so far. As long as your Apple TV is signed into the same iCloud account that you 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 you install the tvOS update for everything to sync. (If you’re interested in HomeKit, I recommend the Philips Hue system — see “Getting Started with the Philips Hue Smart Light Bulbs,” 1 August 2016)

Even though the tvOS-HomeKit combination has a lot of potential, HomeKit on tvOS is currently disappointing. It’s faster and easier to use it in iOS 10 on an iPhone, which now features a Home app and a Control Center panel. But there may be more interesting integrations in the future: for instance, there are iOS apps that can change the color of Hue bulbs based on the dominant color on your TV, but these apps require your device’s camera to be pointed at your TV. In theory, the Apple TV could have this functionality built in.

Photos — tvOS’s 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. Photos adds new Memories regularly, so be sure to check back often. (Unfortunately, you can’t set them as screensavers.)

Music — Apple redesigned the Music app in tvOS 10 to look like the refreshed version in iOS 10. It looks good and is a notable improvement.

The new Music app also offers two new rotating playlists for Apple Music members: My New Music Mix and My Favorites Mix. Apple updates My New Music Mix every Friday with new songs that Apple Music’s algorithms think you’ll enjoy. My Favorites Mix is a mix of older songs that Apple knows you like, and it updates every Wednesday. I’ve enjoyed both playlists, although I’ve heard all the songs in My Favorites Mix thousands of times. I think of it more like the new Memories feature in Photos, in that it helps me revisit content I may have
forgotten about.

Gaming — Developers can now create apps that require a dedicated game controller. That change may lead to more complex Apple TV games, at the cost of alienating users who don’t have the requisite controller.

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 is introducing Single Sign-On for those authentications.

The bad news is that it appears that Single Sign-On didn’t ship with tvOS 10. Apple still lists the feature as “coming soon,” and developers have reported to me that the API hasn’t shipped yet.

Here’s the worse 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. What this likely means in the real world is that if you activate an app from A&E Networks, like the History Channel app, then A&E’s Lifetime app will also be activated, assuming you subscribe to both. However, an app developed by Viacom, such as Comedy Central, would still need separate activation. (These examples assume that these companies will update their apps to use the Video Subscriber Account framework; I have no inside knowledge that they plan to do so.)

So Single Sign-On has the potential to improve things a bit, but I wonder when it will ship and how quickly developers will take advantage of it. Perhaps it was delayed because Apple is working with app developers and TV providers to ensure a smooth rollout.

To be honest, the tvOS 10 update is relatively unimpressive, even if it does include a few welcome additions. We can hope that Apple gives the Apple TV more attention in future releases.

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