In more recent years, tvOS on the Apple TV 4K and Apple TV HD has felt like a bit of a forgotten cousin compared to how exciting the developments in other areas have been – and this year it seemed to have actually been totally forgotten, because it didn’t get a mention or showcase on-stage.
But the good news is that it does exist – although we only really know this because we went hunting for evidence, as if for some kind of benevolent software chupacabra.
As it turns out, developers can download the beta for tvOS 16 right now, and there are some very limited, very scattered bits of info about what’s new. So far, the hot features incoming are some improvements in cross-device connectivity (i.e., between iPhone/Apple Watch and Apple TV), new and redesigned smart home support (including the upcoming Matter standard), support for more Bluetooth games controllers, and some limited support for the new Metal 3 graphics API (according to Apple Insider (opens in new tab)).
Specifically, Apple World (opens in new tab) has highlighted the following features of tvOS 16 – but note that these are features for developers to make use of, so won’t come to every app:
“Integrate your tvOS app with your iOS, iPadOS, or watchOS app to unlock new experiences on Apple TV. For example, you can deliver more personalized workouts on Apple TV based on motion sensor data from Apple Watch, display real-time information on iPhone while media plays in your app on Apple TV, or include more screens for gameplay.
“Make it easier for people to enjoy your Apple TV app with improved system integration for user profiles. With credentials stored in a shared keychain, users won’t need to sign in and choose their profile every time they launch your app.”
We’ve asked Apple to confirm the new features and improvements in tvOS 16, and we’ll update this story with details when we get them.
It appears that a public beta of tvOS 16 will be available next month, and the full release will come in the fall/autumn – last year that was September 20 to be precise, following the launch of the iPhone 13, and we’d expect similar timing this year around the iPhone 14 launch.
Opinion: it’s not looking great for Apple TV
We love the Apple TV 4K here at TechRadar – its image quality beats pretty much every other streaming box, and the movie downloads from Apple’s store are at a higher quality than you get from any other streaming service. They’re the closest to 4K Blu-ray you can get without actually splashing out on discs… but you can often buy 4K movies for less than the cost of a sandwich, which is not true of Blu-rays (well, maybe except in the case of some New York sandwiches).
But the lack of development of tvOS is really concerning, and makes us wonder if Apple is still committed to the platform. It’s not like there haven’t been additions – Spatial Audio in iOS 15 was a fantastic new feature. But in, say, watchOS 9 or iPadOS 16 you’re getting five or six fantastic new features, and lots of smaller cool ones.
One of the improvements mentioned above implies that there could be real-time second-screen info on your iPhone or iPad relating to what you’re watching on your main screen, and that sounds great… but how many developers will work to add that if Apple isn’t pushing tvOS as a platform? Apple needs to lead, and show people what they could have, otherwise these new tricks will just be ignored.
Do we really think there’s nothing more in the world of TV interaction that would benefit from some fresh thinking? Of course not. What kind of smart picture-in-picture options could we have? What about if Apple applied its machine learning skills to analyze what you’re watching and tell you everything about it, such as who the actors in a scene are, and what else they’ve been in – like Amazon X-Ray, but on everything you watch? Could Apple use its language processing to create subtitles even for shows that don’t have them?
And you know, the keyboard on the Apple TV is still horizontal rows of letters on the screen, a solution that exactly zero people love.
So the question is: why isn’t Apple adding more to tvOS? And we may not like the answer.