Apple’s TV app is getting a makeover, and just in time for its expansion to smart TVs and third-party streaming devices. The new app comes first, of course, on Apple’s own hardware: Apple TV, iPhone and iPad will be updated in May with the new TV experience; the Mac will follow this fall.
I’ve used Apple’s TV app as my primary video hub since it launched in late 2016, so I was eager to get my hands on the updated app. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long – an early version of the new TV app is now available as part of the iOS 12.3 and tvOS 12.3 betas. Here are all the details on all the ways it’s new and improved.
Originally, the TV app was designed as an integrated hub for external video apps to launch and track their content from a single location. While it added value as a dedicated launcher and universal queue, there was a lot of unnecessary friction inherent in the TV approach. You will need to download and configure each video app separately. many video apps used their own custom players, which was never a good thing; Finally, when you’re done watching something, you land not in the TV app, but in the browser interface of the app you just used. The first version of the TV app was still useful, but it was crippled by giving too much control to third-party services. This changes entirely with the channels of the new TV application.
Channels give Apple and the TV app full control of the user experience. While existing app-based integrations will continue to live inside the TV, for channel-integrated services, such as HBO, Showtime, and CBS All-Access, there’s a much better TV experience.
Currently, the beta of the new TV app only includes a few of the channel services that will eventually be available at launch, but those few options provided enough testing ground to try out the channels.
Watching content through channels only takes a few clicks. On my iPhone, I clicked the “Try for Free” button for Tastemade, authenticated via Face ID to confirm my free trial subscription, and then a new section was immediately added to my Watch Now tab: “Featured on Tastemade” . From there, I could find any show that sounded interesting and play it right in the TV app.
I signed up for Tastemade from the main Watch Now screen, but it’s likely that in the future it will be easy to sign up for channels by first finding a show that looks interesting. For example, Showtime is currently available as a featured channel in TV, but when I select Billions and press “Play”, I’m prompted to download the Showtime app. I assume that before the end of the beta cycle, this behavior will be changed to requesting a Showtime subscription directly inside the TV.
Even in this first version of the channels, the new TV feature not only offers an easier setup flow, but also a better viewing experience. Videos play directly on the TV, which means they load faster than before and support tvOS and iOS video players by default, providing a consistent experience no matter what you’re watching. One of the benefits of the default player is that on the iPad you’ll get picture-in-picture support for content from all channels – a feature that’s hit and miss with third-party apps.
Another key feature of Channels is the ability to download any offline content to your iPhone and iPad. When I checked the show pages for Tastemade content, each episode included a cloud icon for offline download. The feature didn’t work in this first beta, but when it’s ready for prime time, it will serve as a valuable differentiator for channels. Unfortunately, but perhaps unsurprisingly, the ability to download offline videos is nowhere to be found on tvOS; it seems to be exclusive to iOS.
For the first time, the TV app adds personalized recommendations. One place you’ll find them is in Watch Now’s new For You section, which includes recommendations for shows and movies based on your viewing history. Unlike Apple Music and News, there’s no way to like or dislike suggestions to form Apple’s recommendation system, but that may come with time.
In addition to For You, the Watch Now screen has other sections dedicated to recommending content similar to specific shows or movies you’ve watched. These are like Netflix’s “Because You Watched” sections, collecting an assortment of recommendations that relate in some way to an individual show or movie.
If you’ve used the previous TV app, the new one will look quite familiar. The basic layout is largely the same, with a few tweaks to content cards, a revamped tab structure, and finally a new Apple TV navigation feature.
Apple has changed the way content is displayed when browsing the TV app. Previously, movies were presented as vertical rectangles that resembled the shape of a movie poster, while TV shows were presented as squares. Now, this distinction between content types no longer exists in visual form. Aside from some featured content that may be displayed differently, most of the movies and TV shows you’ll find are displayed as a rounded horizontal rectangle. Despite this removal of the ability to easily distinguish between shows and movies, I think it’s a positive change on all devices because of the way it optimizes screen real estate to fit the most content on screen at once.
On Apple TV, navigating the app is via a menu at the top of the screen that includes Watch Now, Movies, TV Shows, Sports, Kids, Library, and Search. On iOS, where a tabbed interface is used, the only three tabs are now Watch Now, Library and Search, while the Movies, TV Shows, Sports and Kids screens are all accessible from the top of Watch Now via a new navigation. on your mind. None of these screens are entirely new to the app, they’ve just been reorganized into the navigation structure.
The tvOS version of the app features a new exclusive browse feature, where you can browse videos in a collection with horizontal swipes on the Siri Remote. This feature was showcased on stage at last week’s event, where it was touted as the modern day equivalent of channel browsing. However, the main feature feature that stood out to me during this demo was the auto-playing Aquaman trailer. Yes, Apple is introducing auto-playing trailers in the new TV app, but no, it’s not as bad as you might fear.
Unlike Netflix, where trailers start playing almost instantly when you browse through them in the main app interface, in the TV app, auto-playing trailers are limited to that full-view browsing experience. screen where you browse the movies one by one; browsing titles from the main interface of the TV app will not cause trailers to play, you have to open a video’s detailed view first, and even then there is a delay about 5 seconds before a trailer starts, which in practice seems much better to me than Netflix’s timing. Although I personally would prefer there were no auto-playing trailers at all, especially since trailers in a movie’s detail view are already prominently displayed and easily accessible, limiting playback autoplay to detailed view and by implementing the 5-second delay, Apple has mitigated the annoyance of autoplay almost entirely. One interesting tidbit to note: After a trailer has started playing, you can swipe the Siri Remote up to view the full-screen trailer.
A few other miscellaneous redesign details:
- While some thought Apple’s on-stage demo of the TV app featured a new color scheme, Apple was simply using the dark look already available in tvOS; a clear appearance remains available as before. There’s no dark mode on iOS, but that may change later this year with iOS 13.
- News options like ABC News, CNN, and Cheddar have been removed from Watch Now and added to the TV shows screen.
- Watch Now on iOS now features your Apple user profile in the top right corner, similar to the App Store and Apple Music. This houses a quick way to view your current subscriptions, as well as a list of all video apps currently built into the TV, which you can enable or disable; this list was previously available in the settings.
Apple has made significant improvements to the TV app, especially with the addition of channels and the consistent experience they provide. If you’ve never tried the app before or quickly abandoned its first version, Apple hopes you’ll try TV again. The new app will be the exclusive home of Apple’s upcoming TV+ service, so if you’re planning on checking out the company’s original content, now’s a good time to familiarize yourself with Apple’s app. Despite its shortcomings, namely the lack of Netflix integration and limited channel options, I think it offers the most compelling unified TV experience available today.