Apple announced a new version of its TV app at a March 25 event the company called “it’s showtime,” where Apple also unveiled a new News Plus service, a new TV Plus streaming service, and more. The announcements followed months of speculation about Apple’s TV plans.
Not to be confused with Apple TV (the set-top box), or Apple TV Plus (Apple’s new streaming video service, which will compete with Netflix), the TV app has been standard on all Apple TVs since tvOS 10.1. It was also added to iOS devices with iOS 10.2. But with tvOS and iOS 12.3 — which launched in May — we’re getting our first taste of Apple’s redesigned TV app experience. It has already landed on select Samsung smart TVs and soon it will be making its debut on many more devices and platforms including MacOS.
The new TV app is an attempt to simplify what has become a crowded and somewhat confusing array of TV- and movie-watching options by putting all of that content within a single experience that moves with you, wherever you go, on virtually any screen.
Here’s everything you need to know about the new Apple TV app.
TV app, take two
The new TV app builds on the features of the previous version, letting customers access a variety of content within a single experience, but it takes a new approach to how this is done. Using an interface that will feel immediately familiar to Netflix subscribers, the TV app home screen is called “Watch Now,” with additional screens for categories like Movies, Kids, and Sports. Each of these screens features subsections like Up Next, What To Watch, and For You, which make it easier to find what you’re looking for.
Apple claims that it’s using expert human curation to make high-level recommendations, but that there will also be highly personalized suggestions done by software, on your Apple TV or another device.
Multiple apps in one
In addition to being able to add a select set of cable and satellite TV providers, as well as live TV streaming services such as Spectrum, DirecTV Now, Optimum, Hulu, PlayStation Vue, Fubo TV — something current TV app users can already do — there will be more than 150 additional “Apple TV Channels” available to be added, all within the TV app interface. It’s a familiar concept and gives viewers greater choice over what they want to watch and how much they’re willing to pay for it.
These channels are the same third-party products like Starz, HBO, Epix, CBS All Access, and others, that are available on platforms like Amazon Prime Video. The biggest difference is that signing up for them (and starting free trials if available) can all be done quickly and easily from within the TV app. Apple says there are more than 100,000 titles to choose from if you add all of these services up. Needless to say, Apple’s new Apple TV Plus streaming service will be one of those options. Notably, Netflix is not.
Apple devices and more
The new TV app is now available on Apple TVs and iOS devices and as we’ve already mentioned, it will arrive on MacOS in the fall. The big surprise, however, is that for the first time, the TV app will also appear on non-Apple devices. Apple is making it available on a wide variety of smart TVs starting with Samsung, but LG, Sony, and Vizio will get it too.
It’s not just for smart TVs: The new TV app will eventually be available on Roku, and Amazon Fire TV devices. Apple hasn’t announced support for Android TV devices like the Nvidia Shield, but given that Sony’s smart TVs are powered by Android TV, it seems like a good bet that it will show up in the future.
If you’re using an Apple device, Siri can be summoned at any time to help you find what you’re looking for.
Is it live or on-demand?
The new Apple TV app, much like its predecessor, places a focus on providing easy access to on-demand content. Regardless of the source the various shows and movies can be watched online or downloaded for later viewing offline, and there are never any ads. For now, it looks like the app will be positioning live streaming content side by side with on-demand material, without the benefit of an on-screen guide to help you navigate live-streaming TV services. We expect that this will be available at some point because Apple already supports live streaming services like PlayStation Vue and FuboTV, both of which have optional guide views. In fact, with tvOS 13 right around the corner according to some sources, tvOS 12.3’s features may soon be eclipsed by a much grander vision for Apple’s TV experience.
The new Apple TV app is free to use, but you’ll still have to pay for much of the content it’s designed to show you. Subscribing to channels is done right inside the app, and pricing can vary a lot depending on what you want to watch. Here are a few examples, courtesy of Macworld (all prices are monthly fees):
- Acorn TV ($6)
- Cinemax ($10)
- Comedy Central Now ($4)
- CuriosityStream ($3)
- Epix ($6)
- HBO ($15)
- Lifetime Movie Club ($4)
- MTV Hits ($6)
- PBS Living ($3)
- Showtime ($11)
- Starz ($9)
This list isn’t comprehensive; there are several other channels available within the TV app. One aspect of channel subscriptions that is likely to rankle some users, is that they are not cross-platform. In other words, if you subscribe to HBO (as an example) within the Apple TV app, that’s the only place you can use that subscription. The same is true in reverse: If you sign up for HBO Now, by subscribing directly to HBO, you won’t be able to use those credentials to sign-in to the HBO channel within the TV app. If the latter arrangement describes your situation, it’s not a total deal-breaker as far as the TV app goes — if you have the HBO Now app installed on your Apple TV, the Apple TV app can still promote HBO content to you and even make show recommendations, but when it comes time to actually watch an HBO show, you’ll get booted over to the HBO Now app. Hardly a seamless experience.
What’s more, those prices listed above are — with the sole exception of Acorn TV — the same price as a direct subscription. As Macworld points out, if you subscribe to Apple’s Channels, you’re actually getting less flexibility in terms of viewing options for the same price. Perhaps with tvOS 13, Apple will be able to make a better case for being your one-stop shop for subscription-based on-demand content, but at the moment it isn’t very compelling.
What’s coming in tvOS 13?
Apple’s next big event is the annual Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in June. Traditionally this event has been all about Apple’s software, so it’s a good bet we’ll hear the company’s plans for all three of its operating systems. When it comes to what Apple has planned for a new software release, it’s anyone’s guess, so here are some of our best guesses:
- Some way to adjust recommendations within the TV app based on who’s watching. Apple has resisted the idea of multiple user profiles on both iOS and tvOS, and we doubt that will change, but there’s no reason why the TV app itself can’t support this feature independently from the operating system. After all, if the TV app is going to show up on Roku OS, Amazon Fire OS, Tizen OS, etc., it’s going to have to carve its own path, separate from tvOS and iOS.
- Better support for uncompressed audio. While it’s true that the Apple TV 4K is compatible with both Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, every video app that runs on this device is limited to outputting audio in Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby’s good, but compressed audio format that it largely developed to help with limited bandwidth connections such as streaming Netflix over a so-so internet connection. Given that the Apple TV can run apps like Plex (designed to access your local media library) and iTunes rentals and purchases (also stored locally), it should really let it users get the very best audio: The lossless Dolby TrueHD format that delivers Dolby Atmos and Dolby Surround at their highest possible quality.
- The launch of Apple TV Plus: Now that Apple has rolled out the red carpet for its Netflix competitor, it’s time to see whether it lives up to the hype.
- A control panel for HomeKit devices: TVs have always felt like an ideal mission-control screen for home automation, whether it’s viewing the live streams from your security cameras, or seeing the status of various devices like lights, and thermostats. A well-designed app for Apple TV that gives you this control would be a welcome addition.
So that’s where Apple’s TV universe stands at the moment, and where it may be headed in the near future. Be sure to check back with us over the coming months, as we’ll be keeping this resource up to date with any changes that get announced.