The countdown to WWDC is underway and we’ve already looked at what we want from watchOS 5 and Apple Watch. Next up is tvOS 12 — something Benjamin and I conceded on 9to5Mac Happy Hour isn’t likely to impress with new features, but we can dream!
Apple TV features we want are far from pie in the sky, too, which I think adds to the probability that we could someday see them become reality.
Learn from iOS
The first category of features, including many that we independently added to our lists before we recorded last week’s podcast episode, already exist on iOS and would be welcome on tvOS:
Picture-in-picture: Apple TV can run real apps just like iPad, but it can’t do picture-in-picture for videos. PIP is a feature that originates from TV watching and is even built-in to some TVs. Apple TV should offer a way to view videos in the corner of your screen while returning to the Home screen, browsing other apps, or even just looking for something else to watch in the same video app.
Night Shift: Apple introduced Night Shift to iPhones and iPads and eventually added it to Macs — including Macs with third-party displays. Apple describes Night Shift as a feature that “automatically adjusts the colors of your display to the warmer end of the spectrum—making the display easier on your eyes.”
TVs usually have energy-saving features that can create a similar effect, but automatically enabling and disabling color-shifting based on time of day would be welcome to Apple TV. And since Apple can do it on third-party displays, I think it should be possible on TVs too.
Home app: Apple TV can serve as a HomeKit hub for running automations and remote access and Siri on tvOS can control HomeKit, but there’s no Home app for Apple TV. Home for Apple TV could even focus on video feeds primarily since it’s a TV app.
There are a few third-party apps that offer visual control of HomeKit accessories including HomeCam (pictured below), but a dedicated Home app for Apple TV from Apple would be handy — especially for guests. Control your smart home with your TV without having to know what commands work with which accessories.
Apple News app: Just like with the requested Home app, Apple News for Apple TV could primarily highlight video content — something it’s already promoting on Apple News for iPhone and iPad. You could even have a Watch Later feature for queuing up videos from iOS and watching on Apple TV.
I’m not sure people want to read entire articles on Apple TV, but media-rich stories could be presented with headlines and story previews with full stories read on iOS. This is similar to how Apple News for Apple Watch works today.
Better TV features
Next are TV-specific features lacking today that would improve Apple TV as a digital media streaming box:
Dolby Atmos support. Here’s how Dolby describes its Atmos sound technology:
Sound moves around you in three-dimensional space, so you feel like you’re inside the action. Experience how Dolby Atmos transports you from the ordinary into the extraordinary.
The trick to Dolby Atmos at home in part is using upward-facing speakers to bounce audio off the ceiling and create an overhead audio effect.
My LG 4K OLED TV can drive Dolby Atmos and my LG SJ9 soundbar supports the audio technology, but Apple TV 4K doesn’t support Dolby Atmos yet despite supporting Dolby Vision HDR imaging technology. Apple has even said Atmos support is coming, but not when. For now, Atmos support is limited to select apps built-in to my TV, but I really want to hear Dolby Atmos support from my iTunes movie purchases.
Live TV guide: There are lots of bad user interfaces for video apps on Apple TV. Hulu is a big experimental playground, Netflix pushes discovering new shows over resuming the last played show, and Amazon isn’t much better. The TV app does a decent job of minimizing how often you need to interact with those (although Netflix integration is still missing), but it doesn’t have a layer for live TV.
Video services that offer access to live TV streaming without cable are growing in popularity (Hulu with Live TV, Sling, YouTube TV, DirecTV Now just to name a few), so Apple’s TV app should evolve to integrate content from those services as well. The content should be the same across services in theory (with available channels being the only variable), so offering a unified user interface for live TV programming should be possible.
Rounding up our tvOS 12 wishlist this year is a grab bag of missing features that would generally improve the user experience — but aren’t so simple.
Siri remote control is likely coming for Apple Music and Apple Podcasts with tvOS 11.4 thanks to AirPlay 2 and iOS 11.4. Tell Siri on iPhone, iPad, or HomePod to play a song or episode on Apple TV, and it can turn on and start playback without ever touching the TV remote. Extend that functionality to video sources outside of Apple Music and Apple Podcasts and now we’re talking!
Profile support is sorely needed for built-in apps including TV, Music, and Photos. You can use Family Sharing to share access to movie and TV show purchases from iTunes, but there’s no real profile support except in third-party apps like Netflix and Hulu. This can mess up viewing progress unless everyone watches content at the same time, and it totally breaks viewing history.
The biggest problem is the TV app is tied to the Apple ID that sets up the Apple TV, but then the family’s TV viewing is only reflected for the main account. The main user’s TV app on iPhone and iPad has all of that viewing history, and other family members have no viewing history from Apple TV on their iPhones and iPads.
Remote for Apple Watch isn’t directly tied to tvOS as it’s built-in to watchOS, but it needs an update that reflects features that are part of Apple TV 4 and Apple TV 4K.
For example, newer Apple TVs support swiping across apps with one-click D-pad style navigation, but Apple Watch’s Remote app still treats the touch surface as a D-pad and not a trackpad. It also lacks Siri control and dictation for text input, features included on the Apple TV Remote app for iOS, presumably because it was designed for the second- and third-generation Apple TV and not current models.
It works well for what it is — a remote control on your wrist — but it could be a lot better with a little TLC.