Today Apple launched its new Single Sign-on feature to all devices running version 10 or later of tvOS and iOS. The feature requires no software update or any other user action to get it.
Announced at this year's WWDC, Single Sign-on was originally intended to ship with tvOS 10 in September, but ended up being delayed to later in the fall. The feature, which is available only in the U.S., allows users to enter their TV credentials once to gain access to content their TV plan entitles them to from a variety of video apps like NBC or USA NOW. Its delay was a disappointment to anyone who has experienced the annoyance of repeatedly proving that they pay for cable or satellite service. Now that Single Sign-on has officially arrived, its usefulness depends entirely on whether your TV provider is a launch partner.
Apple has a support page listing the details of which TV providers currently support Single Sign-on, and also which apps support the feature.
- CenturyLink Prism
- Hawaiian Telcom
- A&E (iOS only)
- Bravo Now (tvOS only)
- E! Now (tvOS only)
- Hallmark Channel Everywhere (iOS and tvOS)
- History (iOS only)
- Lifetime (iOS only)
- NBC (tvOS only)
- Syfy Now (tvOS only)
- Telemundo Now (tvOS only)
- USA NOW (tvOS only)
- Watch HGTV (iOS and tvOS)
- Watch Food Network (iOS and tvOS)
- Watch Cooking Channel (iOS and tvOS)
- Watch DIY (iOS and tvOS)
- Watch Travel Channel (iOS and tvOS)
Look for Apple to update these lists in the weeks and months to come as more TV providers and apps come on board.
iBooks StoryTime, an Apple TV-only app, was released with no announcement by Apple today. Apple explains in the release notes that:
With Read-Aloud narration and beautiful illustrations, every handpicked title in the app transforms Apple TV into an engaging place for young readers to enjoy the stories they love.
The app, which comes with a free Dora the Explorer book, is designed for young children. Additional books can be purchased from the Featured Books section of the app. The number of books available is modest, but high-quality with a nice mix of classic children’s books and familiar modern characters.
The read-aloud feature can be turned on or off. When the feature is on, the book is read by a narrator while the words in the book are highlighted in sync with the narrator’s voice. In read-aloud mode the pages are turned automatically. Pages can also be turned by swiping on the Siri Remote when the read-aloud feature is turned off.
iBooks StoryTime (currently US-only) is a free download on the Apple TV App Store.
Joe Steel makes a good point in his look at this week's Apple TV announcements:
Why is TV the app an app and not the Home screen on the device? It’s obviously modeled after the same ideas that go into other streaming devices that expose content rather than app icons, so why is this a siloed launcher I have to navigate into and out of? Why is this bolted on to the bizarre springboard-like interface of tvOS when it reproduces so much of it?
You could argue that people want to have access to apps that are not for movies or TV shows, but I would suggest that that probably occurs less often and would be satisfied by a button in the TV app that showed you the inane grid of application tiles if you wanted to get at something else.
As I argued yesterday on Connected, I think the new TV app should be the main interface of tvOS – the first thing you see when you turn on the Apple TV. Not a grid of app icons (a vestige of the iPhone), but a collection of content you can watch next.
It's safe to assume that the majority of Apple TV owners turn on the device to watch something. But instead of being presented with a launch interface that highlights video content, tvOS focuses on icons. As someone who loves the simplicity of his Chromecast, and after having seen what Amazon is doing with the Fire TV's Home screen, the tvOS Home screen looks genuinely dated and not built for a modern TV experience.
I think Apple has almost figured this out – the TV app looks like the kind of simplification and content-first approach tvOS needs. But by keeping it a separate app, and by restricting it to US-only at launch, Apple is continuing to enforce the iPhone's Home screen model on every device they make (except the Mac).
That's something the iPad, the Watch1, and the Apple TV all have in common – Home screen UIs lazily adapted from the iPhone. I wish Apple spent more time optimizing the Home screens of their devices for their different experiences.
The Apple TV Remote app, which has been available as part of the iOS 10 developer beta since WWDC, is now available to the general public as a free download in the App Store. The app, which is iPhone-only, approximates the look and functionality of the Siri Remote that comes with the latest generation Apple TV, but with some important differences.
The Apple TV Remote app is a brand-new app. The previous app for controlling the Apple TV, called iTunes Remote, remains on the App Store, but warns that it is not optimized for iOS 10 if you open it on a iPhone running the iOS 10 beta. The top two-thirds of the Apple TV Remote’s screen is dominated by a dark grey rectangular area that is the equivalent of the trackpad on the Siri Remote. A large menu button dominates the space below the trackpad, which lets you step back through levels after drilling down into the Apple TV’s interface. To each side of the menu button are buttons that skip to the previous or next track if you are listening to music, and change to ten-second skip ahead and back buttons if you are watching video.
The bottom row includes a play/pause button, a ‘home’ button that takes you to the Apple TV’s grid of app icons from wherever you are, and a Siri button. A ‘Details’ button also appears in the top right corner of the screen when media is playing that opens a detail view that shows what is currently playing along with a timeline scrubber, a play/pause button, forward and reverse buttons, and shuffle and repeat buttons for music. Because the iPhone includes an accelerometer and gyroscope, the Apple TV Remote can also serve as a game controller for Apple TV games.
Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services sat down with The Hollywood Reporter to talk about Apple TV and Apple Music. In response to questions aimed at understanding Apple’s place in Hollywood and its media ambitions, Cue focused primarily on media distribution and the role Apple can play to improve it for consumers:
The problem with it is the way that we end up consuming it — generally a cable box. A satellite receiver is, to me, nothing more than a glorified VCR. And so I think there's huge opportunities in that space because people now want to watch on their phones, they want to watch on their iPads, and they want to watch on their TVs.
Cue also threw cold water on the notion that Apple is getting into the business of creating TV shows like Netflix, Amazon, and HBO do:
We're not in the business of trying to create TV shows. If we see it being complementary to the things we're doing at Apple Music or if we see it being something that's innovative on our platform, we may help them and guide them and make suggestions. But we're not trying to compete with Netflix or compete with Comcast.
Finally, in comments reminiscent of the interviews with playlist curators at Apple Music published by BuzzFeed yesterday, Cue explained that Apple Music:
… can't be about a service that's just providing the songs, because anybody can do that. It starts by the level of integration that we have within our product. Second of all, we do a lot of curation. Third is radio.
As a hardware manufacturer first and foremost, Apple’s approach to Hollywood content makes sense and reminds me in many ways of its approach to third-party app developers.
Chance Miller at 9to5Mac:
Earlier this year it was announced that Apple was planning to launch its first original TV series about the “app economy.” Now, Apple has posted an open casting call for the unscripted reality series, which we now know is called Planet of the Apps.
The show is being co-produced with Propagate, a newly launched production company co-owned by Ben Silverman, best known for The Biggest Loser, and Howard T. Owens of MasterChef Junior fame. Will.i.am will also have a hand in producing Apple’s reality series.
The casting call is open to legal residents of the US, and it requires you to have a functioning app (for iOS, macOS, tvOS or watchOS) by October 21. The show will also incorporate elements of mentorship, marketing and promotion ("featured placement in the App Store at the end of the show"), and even funding from "top-tier VCs".
Executive producers will.i.am, Ben Silverman, and Howard Owens are teaming up for an unscripted series about the world of apps and the talented people that drive its innovation. They’re looking for developers with the vision to shape the future, solve real problems, and inspire change within our daily lives. “We can really tell their stories as we explore how apps are developed and created and incubated,” says Silverman.
If you're interested in potentially applying to be a part of Planet of the Apps, you can visit their website which contains more information on the requirements and application process.
Shooting takes place from "late 2016 to early 2017" with no official broadcast date just yet, though the website does note that the show will "reach millions of viewers around the world on Apple platforms". Also yet to be announced are the tech experts and mentors, and these will be announced in "the coming weeks".
I'm not sure why they're calling the series "Planet of the Apps", a name which appears to inexplicably riff on the "Planet of the Apes" science fiction franchise. I hope that by the time the series goes to air it has a different, better, name.
Most of my time on the new Apple TV (probably around 90%) revolves around watching video (a combination of Plex, Netflix, Stan, iTunes or ABC iView). The final 10% is games and novelty apps like the hilarious GIFtv. The latest novelty app to catch my eye is Avian – a Twitter client.
But Avian is not a Twitter client like Tweetbot – that would be impractical for the Apple TV. Instead, Avian displays one tweet at a time, and literally places it on a map of the earth. You might be reading a tweet from the heart of New York City, and then Avian will surface a tweet from a user in Brazil, China, or New Zealand. As you transition from tweet to tweet, Avian zooms in and out, and rotates the map to the location of the tweet.
Last week, equinux, the maker of Live TV, an Apple TV app for streaming live German television, noticed something strange. Live TV, which was featured on the German Apple TV App Store and ranked among the top free Apple TV apps in Germany, seemed to disappear from the store shortly after an update to the app was launched.
In turns out, Apple now hides an app in the charts once you’ve installed it. Give it a try: Go install TV Pro Mediathek (VOD for German TV content) from the App Store (currently #3 Top Grossing in Germany) and then go back in to the App Store: boom – it’s gone from the charts and the next-placed app has moved up.
We have confirmed that the same phenomenon occurs in the US Apple TV App Store using the AMC television network’s Apple TV app. If you download the AMC app, which is currently featured and ranked among the top free apps in the US, and then force quit the store by double clicking the Home button on the Siri Remote and swiping up on the App Store app, the next time you launch the App Store, AMC will no longer be on the Featured page or on the top free app chart.
This is an interesting experiment. Screen real estate is at a premium on the Apple TV App Store. By eliminating apps that a customer has already downloaded, Apple is able to present customers with more new apps. The change does mean, however, that the charts are not true top charts, but instead, top charts of apps someone hasn’t already downloaded.
This change makes a lot of sense, especially on Apple TV. In my own experience, I am less likely to browse deep into the Apple TV App Store than I am on iOS App Store or Mac App Store. By limiting the Featured page and charts to apps that are new to me, it’s easier to discover new apps without paging past the ones I already downloaded.
When my family gets together, we like to play games. One game has been a mainstay of our gatherings for the last four years: SketchParty TV.
SketchParty TV is a multiplayer game similar to Pictionary which uses an iOS device as the marker and your Apple TV-connected television as the drawing board. If you have a 2nd or 3rd-gen Apple TV, you can use the iOS version with AirPlay Mirroring. For 4th-gen Apple TV owners, there's a native Apple TV app that connects to the iOS version.
The 4.0 update to SketchParty TV is a big one, with a visual overhaul for iOS 9+, a redesigned canvas, updated scoring system with speed-based rewards, and full support for the Apple Pencil on iPad Pro devices.
The Team Setup interface was always usable, but it got a lot of special attention in this update. In addition to improved word list settings, entry of team members is easier and now you can drag to reorder and even switch between teams.
If you own a compatible iOS device and a 2nd-gen or higher Apple TV, SketchParty is an excellent game for friends and family gatherings. Right now it's on sale, too, for $5.99 (normally $9.99). Check it out in the iTunes App Store.