Apple didn’t say much about tvOS 14 and HomeKit during its 2020 WWDC keynote, but some nice features are arriving for both later this year. We’re covering them together because there is more overlap than ever between Apple TV and Apple’s home automation platform. I’ll have my work cut out for me this year updating Take Control of Apple TV and Take Control of Apple Home Automation. And I’m sure Glenn Fleishman will be busy with updates to Take Control of Home Security Cameras.
What’s Coming in tvOS 14
As has been the case for a few years now, tvOS 14 won’t bring anything revolutionary to the Apple TV. Still, it will add the Home app, better integration with security cameras, a picture in picture feature that isn’t bound by the Apple TV app, more 4K support, audio sharing for AirPods, and broader game controller support.
The real question is if Apple will introduce new Aerial screensaver videos—for many people, they’ve been the most visible improvement in the last few tvOS releases.
The biggest news in tvOS 14 is the addition of the Home app. While you’ve been able to control HomeKit accessories with Siri on the Apple TV for years, there was no first-party graphical interface. That changes in tvOS 14. I’m not sure how useful the Home app will actually be, but it’ll be good to have, especially if you share a house with someone who doesn’t otherwise use Apple products.
What’s interesting about Home on the Apple TV is how it integrates with any HomeKit cameras you may have. Just as in iOS, you’ll be able to access favorites from Control Center, including a view from the cameras you’ve set up. You can select one to see a full-screen view.
tvOS 14 makes HomeKit video doorbells more interesting. When someone rings the doorbell, a preview window appears over whatever video is playing, showing the view from the camera.
Better 4K Support
Apple likes to tout the superior image quality of the Apple TV, but there are a few places where it still lags. One that’s been a particular bugaboo for some Apple TV users is the lack of 4K video support in YouTube, the subject of a recent comment in TidBITS Talk.
It was a classic case of Apple and Google butting heads over formats. Google supports 4K YouTube videos only in the open-source VP9 codec, while Apple steadfastly supports only H.264 and H.265. There’s speculation as to what sort of compromise they reached, but it’s enough to know that the two have resolved their conflict.
Another 4K improvement is that you can AirPlay videos in their full 4K glory from the Photos app in iOS 14 to the Apple TV in tvOS 14.
Improved Picture in Picture
Apple announced Picture in Picture (PiP) for the Apple TV last year, a feature that had been on my wishlist for a long time. But I was disappointed when, at some point in the beta cycle, Apple restricted PiP so that it worked only inside the Apple TV app (see “How to Use tvOS 13’s Picture in Picture,” 5 October 2019). My guess is that Apple needed more time to work out the kinks, and the original feature was indeed buggy in the betas.
The good news is Apple is now apparently confident enough to take PiP system-wide, and it’s likely key to the new HomeKit camera integration. I’ll be curious to see if YouTube allows PiP on the Apple TV, unlike on the iPad (for workarounds, see “TipBITS: Watch YouTube Videos in Picture in Picture,” 19 July 2019).
AirPod Audio Sharing
With tvOS 14, you can connect two pairs of AirPods to the Apple TV and listen to them at the same time, so you and your spouse can both enjoy a movie while the kids sleep. Apple didn’t mention which versions of the AirPods would be supported, but we hope it will be all of them.
Apple added limited multi-user support in tvOS 13, which allows multiple members of a household to have their own profiles, at least for some built-in apps like Apple TV. That’s expanding in tvOS 14, with game progress, leaderboards, and invitations for each unique user.
tvOS 14 also extends the third-party controller support Apple introduced in tvOS 13, with support for the Xbox Elite Wireless Control Series 2 and Xbox Adaptive Controller. The latter is great news for those with accessibility needs. (I mistakenly thought the Xbox Adaptive Controller was already supported by last year’s tvOS and iOS revisions. If you purchased one based on my advice, I apologize profusely. See “Xbox and PlayStation Game Controllers with Apple Arcade: The FAQ,” 25 October 2019).
Interestingly, Apple phrases it as “including” those two controllers. What other controllers will tvOS 14 support? Something not yet announced?
That’s about it for tvOS 14: nothing earth-shattering, but some welcome improvements for Apple TV fans. And we’re hoping for some new screensavers—as pretty as the Aerial videos are, they still get old.
What’s Coming in HomeKit
As with tvOS, Apple didn’t reveal anything game-changing about HomeKit’s future, other than promoting an industry group formed last year. But there are some helpful new enhancements, especially for HomeKit security cameras.
Project Connected Home Over IP
The big news about HomeKit, though it’s not really new, is that Apple is teaming up with Amazon, Google, and other home automation vendors to create a single, standardized standard for home automation devices. While Project Connected Home over IP was announced last year, and Apple offered no new details in the keynote, the company felt it important to remind keynote viewers of the alliance (see “Apple Teams Up with Rivals to Create Open Smart Home Standard,” 18 December 2019). Hopefully, that alliance will be fruitful, and we’ll soon be able to control our smart home devices from whatever device we prefer.
Improvements to the Home App
One of the toughest challenges for average HomeKit users is knowing how to take full advantage of their hardware. They might know how to turn lights on and off but be unaware of or forget about scenes and automations. In iOS 14, the Home app will suggest automations to you when you add a new accessory.
While this might help empower HomeKit users, I’m worried that new users might absentmindedly enable automations, forget about them, and be stricken with what I dub “haunted house syndrome” in Take Control of Apple Home Automation. That’s when rogue home automation causes lights to turn on and off and no one knows why.
One thoroughly welcome improvement is an overhaul of Home’s status display. No longer just an annoying list of the status of your accessories, it now displays icons that let you take action with various accessories.
Adaptive lighting has long been a common feature of smart lights that can change color, like the Philips Hue, and now the Home app supports it directly. Adaptive lighting changes throughout the day, reducing blue light at night to help you fall asleep more easily. I’m curious to learn if it will be adjustable, or if you’ll have to either live with Apple’s opinions about lighting or turn the feature off entirely.
Security Camera Improvements
The most significant HomeKit updates come to security cameras. First up are Activity Zones that you can draw in the camera’s field of view to denote areas that should trigger motion alerts. You probably want an alert if someone walks up to your door, but not every time a car drives down the road.
Another smart addition to HomeKit cameras is facial recognition. Working from data in the Photos app, HomeKit can identify people on camera. This feature is primarily aimed at video doorbells. So when someone whom iOS recognizes rings your doorbell, you’ll receive a custom alert on your iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, and even your HomePod.
So that’s what’s coming in tvOS 14 and HomeKit, at least as far as Apple is sharing now. Do any features get you excited about implementing or adding to your home automation? Tell us in the comments.