Apple TV may have received its most surprising update release this year, and I’d argue that tvOS 17 is also Apple’s most impactful. With the launch of Apple TV+ and the expansion of Apple’s TV app to third-party devices, Apple TV the platform had gone through a bit of a confidence crisis. It was hard enough before to get developers and the wider Apple community to talk about its software, but now it had to compete for attention with the likes of Jennifer Anniston, Reese Witherspoon, and Ted Lasso.1
Attention then moved onto Apple’s next big platform reveal, a project so steeped in secrecy and excitement that when a tvOS engineering manager made a brief public change to their social media profile indicating they had moved on to work for the company’s AR/VR division, I began to wonder if Apple TV and tvOS would ever get their special moment to shine. That special moment would come exactly nineteen minutes before the debut of Apple Vision Pro, and while it may have been a fleeting moment quickly forgotten by the majority, it’s a moment in Apple TV’s story I’ve been thinking about ever since.
The introduction of FaceTime on Apple TV was more than just a feature announcement. It also represented a realignment in what mattered most for the platform and Apple’s customers and a shift away from a focus previously reserved for the needs of the wider entertainment industry.
FaceTime and Continuity Camera may be the headline acts in this year’s tvOS update, but they’re also supported by a cast of big changes elsewhere. They include a newly redesigned Control Center – Apple’s latest triumph in intuitive interaction – automatic profile switching, Find Siri Remote, third-party VPN support, Shared Spatial Audio, updates to Fitness and Music, enhancements to both audio and video presentations, and a small but meaningful update to the tvOS Home Screen.
After using tvOS 17 over the summer, I’m happy to impart that the new features are all positive additions, even though there remains work to be done. So, without further ado, in a MacStories return to tvOS reviews, let’s dive into tvOS 17.
tvOS 17 isn’t trying to reinvent any of this. There are now six icons in each row, so you can add yet another app to your main “dock” at the top of the screen, but that’s about as exciting as the big interface changes get. Apple no longer seems preoccupied with becoming some all-encompassing aggregation hub for streaming entertainment, and there are good reasons for this. The company’s pipe dream of streaming content from popular third-party subscription services directly from the Apple TV app quickly fell apart. Netflix refuses to play ball with any effort to create a universal watchlist outside of the confines of its own app — whether it’s from Apple, Google, or anyone else — so what’s the point? Things are now more fragmented than I’d like, but it’s the content owners and streaming services putting those walls up for their own self-interest.
So instead, Apple is making improvements and touching up areas of the Apple TV experience that it can fully control. And it’s starting with one of the iPhone’s first major ecosystem tricks.
Chris put together a great list of changes coming to tvOS this year, most of them revolving around the ecosystem advantage Apple has compared to their competitors in this field. Rather than trying to beat Google and Amazon on price, Apple is finally leaning into the unique feature they have: iPhone owners who also have an Apple TV.
My favorite change coming in tvOS 17, however, is something that will allow me to stop using my iPhone when watching TV: VPN apps.
For years I’ve been forced to watch HBO content1 with a fake US account by starting playback on the iPhone and AirPlaying the video stream to my Apple TV. Later this year, I’ll be able to install a VPN app directly on the Apple TV and stream content on it without having to worry about my iPhone and AirPlay. Good riddance.
I refuse to call it “Max” now. Sometimes I wonder how some companies can even come up with some names. ↩︎
Yesterday, Craig Hockenberry announced a free Apple TV app he created called Blank. The app blanks out your TV screen until you press a button on the Apple TV remote. That way, you can listen to music or a podcast through an Apple TV without also watching the album art or screensavers.
Blank is a clever solution to something that’s been a problem ever since the second-generation Apple TV, which ditched its dedicated audio out port in favor of HDMI. How do I know that? Well, I tackled the same problem myself in 2016 in a far hackier way than Hockenberry, which I shared more than 300 issues ago in MacStories Weekly 25. As I said then, when the Apple TV’s flyover screensavers, and even HDMI, were brand new:
I enjoy the new flyover screensavers on the Apple TV, but whether you have a current generation Apple TV and use those, or use a different screensaver with any model of the Apple TV, the screensavers are a distraction when you throw a party and want to use the Apple TV for music. In my experience, people are drawn to the screensaver like moths, focusing on it instead of socializing.
My solution? Create a Photos album with a single 1080p image of a black rectangle and use it with the Apple TV’s ‘Sliding Panels’ screensaver. Blank is a far more elegant solution and even offers an inspirational quote that appears onscreen before the screen goes blank.
For the past eight years, Six Colors’ Jason Snell has put together an ‘Apple report card’ – a survey that aims to assess the current state of Apple “as seen through the eyes of writers, editors, developers, podcasters, and other people who spend an awful lot of time thinking about Apple”.
Once again, I’m happy Jason invited me to share some thoughts and comments on what Apple did in 2022. MacStories readers know that last year didn’t exactly go as planned. While iOS 16 delivered a meaningful update to the Lock Screen for people who care about customization and the iPhone 14 Pro came with substantial improvements to the display and camera tech, the iPad story was disappointing and confusing. This is reflected in my answers to Jason’s survey, and it’ll be a recurring topic on MacStories in 2023. At the same time, I was also impressed by Apple’s performance on services, concerned by the evolution of the Shortcuts app, and cautious about the company’s newfound approach to HomeKit.
I’ve prepared the full text of my answers to the Six Colors report card, which you can find below. I recommend reading the whole thing on Six Colors to get the broader context of all the participants in the survey.
Today, Apple published a press release announcing an update to the Apple TV 4K, which now comes in two configurations that offer different storage capacities and network connectivity. The Apple TV HD is no longer available on Apple’s online store.
The Apple TV 4K has been updated with an A15 Bionic chip and support for HDR10+, which is part of tvOS 16. The base configuration, which is $129, has 64GB of storage and is WiFi-only. The other model adds Gigabit Ethernet and has 128GB of storage for $149. The top-tier Apple TV 4K supports Thread networking too.
CPU performance is now up to 50 percent faster than the previous generation, delivering greater responsiveness, faster navigation, and snappier UI animations. GPU performance is now up to 30 percent faster than the previous generation for even smoother gameplay.
The Siri Remote now charges via USB-C.
The Siri Remote has remained mostly the same, except it has added USB-C charging in place of the previous model’s Lightning port. The Siri Remote is included with the Apple TV but can be purchased separately for $59.
Overall, the changes to the Apple TV 4K are fairly minor, notwithstanding the snappier UI the A15 Bionic enables. I don’t see a good reason for most people to upgrade from a previous generation Apple TV 4K unless you play a lot of games on the Apple TV and have run into storage limits. If you have an Apple TV HD before and are planning on buying a 4K TV, the new model will save you some money and offer a few new perks. Although it’s a shame that Ethernet is only available in the more expensive configuration, that’s probably part of how the cost of the base model has been brought down, and I’m sure most people connect their Apple TVs via WiFi anyway.
The new Apple TV 4K is available for pre-order now, with deliveries beginning on Friday, November 4th in 30 countries, including the US.
Apple’s fall OS updates will include a variety of HomeKit and home entertainment features. Unsurprisingly, some of those changes can be found in the company’s Home and TV apps, but this year, those apps only tell part of the overall story. To get the full picture, you need to zoom out from the apps, where you’ll find an interesting mix of new smart home device and entertainment features sprinkled throughout each platform.
Let’s start with HomeKit devices. This year, many of the changes coming to Apple’s OSes relate to two important categories: video cameras and door locks. Controlling both types of devices will become easier this fall, thanks to deeper integration with the upcoming OS releases.
Joe Rosensteel has an in-depth look at the new Apple TV 4K on his website, Unauthoritative Pronouncements. Joe covers every step of the setup process, the new Siri Remote, and the new Apple TV 4K hardware. He concludes that although there have been substantial improvements in some areas, notably with the Siri Remote, there is a lot of room for improvement, especially for a device that is considerably more expensive than its competition.
One of my favorite critiques is of the setup process, which does a good job transferring your Apple TV apps to a new device, but leaves users to log into them one by one. It’s a frustrating experience that’s all too common on more than just the Apple TV. As Joe explains:
There is still this logical disconnect in this process where I have authorized the Apple TV to log into my Apple ID and access my iCloud data, including data from my existing devices, and iCloud KeyChain, but it can’t set up an Apple TV with all my apps and services logged in. I know someone might insist that this is for security, but it absolutely isn’t because all this data exists, in iCloud, accessible to anyone who has my unlocked iPhone and Apple TV - which is what is required to just populate empty apps on the screen.
My login state for these other services should really be stored in iCloud across all Apple devices I own, or with a token authorization system that uses the iPhone in my hand. At the very least, aggregate all of the services I need to log into in one spot for me to do it with Face ID, or Touch ID, opening up the saved password data for each of the entries I need to make.
The new jog wheel ring around the Siri Remote’s clickpad can be confusing to interact with too, especially because it doesn’t work with all third-party apps:
What about using it as a jog wheel? Well … it doesn’t work in all circumstances you will expect it to work in. You need to be in an app that supports the feature. YouTube, Hulu, and Disney+ don’t support it, for example. In some apps, the wheel moves the position on the timeline forward … and then backward, even though you’ve completed “a rotation” around the wheel because this isn’t really a wheel. It’s four directions mapped to a ring that doesn’t actually turn. It really breaks the rotation metaphor.
There’s a lot more to Joe’s review of the latest Apple TV, so be sure to check it out. As someone who consumes video exclusively through an Apple TV, many of these criticisms rang true. I haven’t tried the new Apple TV 4K myself, but I did replace my old Siri Remote with the new model, and despite taking a bit to get used to, that one change has been a substantial upgrade.
Jon Porter of The Verge rounds up recent discoveries about the new Apple TV 4K’s Siri Remote. First reported by Digital Trends, the new Siri Remote lacks an accelerometer and gyroscope. As Porter explains:
The change means that the new Siri Remote won’t work with certain Apple TV games that rely on motion controls. According to code in tvOS 14.5 seen by MacRumors, trying to play an incompatible game will lead to the following error message: “To play this game on your Apple TV, you need to connect the Apple TV Remote (1st generation) or a compatible PlayStation, Xbox or MFi controller.”
On one level, the omission of the sensors in the new Siri Remote is surprising because it comes hard on the heels of an expansion of Apple Arcade’s offerings on all platforms, including the Apple TV. Still, the original Siri Remote was never a good game controller. The button layout and diminutive size made it a poor substitute for a traditional game controller. The new Siri Remote is a little bigger than the former version, but I don’t expect it would work any better as a controller.
With support for Microsoft and Sony controllers available since tvOS 13 and the addition of support for current-generation console controllers in tvOS 14.5, Apple has clearly made the decision that a purpose-built controller provides a better gaming experience. I just wish Apple would consider making its own controller with a fast, low latency connection like AirPods, which benefits from Apple’s proprietary technology layer that sits on top of Bluetooth.
It has been a long time since the Apple TV was updated, but today the day for an update finally arrived with an all-new Siri Remote and other new and updated features.
The new Apple TV 4K announced today runs on the A12 Bionic chipset, which enables high frame rate HDR and Dolby Vision for the first time. Not only will 60 frame per second HDR content be streamable from video services, but it can also be AirPlayed to the Apple TV using an iOS device that supports recording HDR video. Apple didn’t mention it on stage, but the device’s tech specs reveal that the Apple TV 4K also supports HDMI 2.1, WiFi 6, and Thread, a feature that we covered recently on AppStories. Thread will enable the Apple TV 4K to act as a border router directing HomeKit device traffic in your home.