tvOS App Development

Apple Wants YOU to Develop TV Apps

At their September Keynote event, Apple launched their fourth-generation Apple TV with a vague release date of October sometime. With a week to spare, it looks like Apple will squeak in their latest set-top box right before the end of the month.

Apple CEO Tim Cook took the stage at WSJD Live to announce that “the foundation of the future of TV” is available for order as of today and that shipping will begin by the end of this week (Friday, October 30).

As discussed in my ‘Are Apps The Future of TV?’ post, the biggest new feature of the Apple TV is its new App Store. So that you don’t turn on your new set-top box to be greeted with a barren App Store, Apple has just started accepting app and game submissions from its development community.

Apple has provided app developers, like us, with guidelines for supporting major Apple TV features and submitting tvOS apps. Now they’re calling out potential app entrepreneurs and startups, like YOU, to change the way we consume and connect with television.

So what do disruptive app developers and entrepreneurs need to know about the fourth-generation Apple TV?

In this post, we examine Apple’s next big product and how you, as an early adopter, can create apps that change the way we gather around our big screens.

 

What’s in the Box?

Made entirely from glossy and matte black plastics, the new Apple TV looks just like its two predecessors, only around 50% taller with two rear port changes. All audio has to go through HDMI and the previous micro-USB port has given way to a USB-C connector. As iFixit notes, a giant heat sink inside makes it noticeably heavier than before.

The new Apple TV will also be shipped with a new Siri Remote, which is black on top and silver on the bottom. To make scrolling quicker, Apple has replaced the prior four-direction navigation circle with a small matte glass surface that can be used for navigational swipe and gentler positing. Gyroscope/accelerometer sensors are hidden inside the remote for future games, and not user within the main Apple TV interface.

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The evolution of the Apple TV Remote.

Four new buttons have been added to enable the Siri Remote to control your TV’s volume, activate twin built-in microphones for Siri voice input, and quickly return to the Apple TV’s main menu. Apple has also included a multi-month rechargeable battery this time that can be refuelled with an included Lightning to USB cable.

 

What’s the new Software?

Apple has substantially redesigned the Apple TV’s user interface with an ambitious, visually appealing set of improvements. Everything’s been whitewashed with a brighter colour palette, text has been flipped to Apple’s new San Francisco font, and drop shadows have been added. Translucent panes introduced in iOS7 have made their way to tvOS, with even better results.

One big change that isn’t obvious from screenshots is speed: the new Apple TV lets you zip rather than plodding through menus, thanks in equal parts to a considerably beefier A8 processor and the more responsive Siri Remote. Additionally, app icons and cover art images now wiggle in 3D thanks to an Apple mandate that developers include 2-5 parallax layers to create depth.

Much of the new UI, including Apple-developer widgets like Weather and Stocks that aren’t represented by app icons, can be navigated using Siri voice commands. You have to hold down the Siri Remote’s microphone button while you speak to get Siri to “hear” and process whatever you say. This takes a little adjustment, but is better than killing the Siri Remote’s by having it endlessly listen for the words “Hey Siri” or, even worse, trolling questions like “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuckwood”

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Siri’s answer to the age-old-troll question. Source: MacRumors

By holding down the mic button, Siri can be activated in the middle of pretty much anything, including videos. You can use Siri for voice-controlled navigation, “What did they just say?” type inquires, and lookups of information related to whatever’s currently playing.

Along with the new UI and Siri Remote, the biggest new addition to Apple TV’s Software – well, for us app developers and entrepreneurs – is the soon to be opened App Store. More than likely, the set-top box will arrive with only a handful of Apple-developed apps pre-installed, leaving you to choose which third-party developed apps will be filling up your Home screen.

 

What To Expect From TV Apps and Games

The A8 processor inside the new Apple TV is one year and three generations old, which is to say that it’s already been surpassed in power by the iPhone 6s/6s Plus’s A9 and iPad Pro’s A9X. But with at least as much horsepower as these other Apple products, the Apple TV will be well-equipped to play new games, as well as thousands of games previously released on iOS devices, assuming that they’re updated to support the tvOS operating system.

Expect the graphics in 3D games to be roughly on par with consoles such as the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, with no shortage of ability to handle 2D games of any type.

One note of caution about tvOS games: for all of the set-top box’s incredible potential as a gaming platform, Apple continue to ignore requests from serious gamers regarding basic controller issues, such as allowing developers to offer games without support for the restrictive Siri Remote. It remains to be seen whether software and hardware decisions like this, which have upset many within the gaming community, kills the Apple TV’s ability to win over major game developers and their customers.

While apps are a lot easier to code than games, the Apple TV’s living room-focused interface hints that Apple’s not looking to see it turn into a cut-rate Mac. Basic widgets to extend the functionality of traditional TV features – watching sports, learning about the weather – will appear quickly, as will tvOS versions of Netflix, HBO Now, Hulu Plus and other channels.

However, don’t expect Apple to endorse creation apps, web browsers, or other Mac mainstays for the platform. Well, not yet, at least. Similarly, it will be interesting to see whether compromised apps with audio and/or one-way video calling take off in the absence of integrated FaceTime-caliber hardware.

 

Have An Idea for a TV App?

Even though prior versions of the Apple TV haven’t been mega-hits, the second- and third-generation models proved to be quite handy for everything from watching videos to occasionally putting FaceTime calls on the big screen.

I’m personally very excited about the fourth-generation Apple TV’s potential and think the next year will be a wild ride for early adopters. The first two or three months may be chaotic for developers and entrepreneurs as they rush to get hastily completed apps and games into the Apple TV App Store. In time though, the right kind of apps will change the way we experience television for the better.

What kind of apps would you like to see on a television platform? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.