Apple's new TV app: The deep dive

Yeah, sure, TV+ has all the glitz and glamor and Aniston and Oprah, Spielberg and Momoa, but that's not coming until September.

What's coming today, or at least starting today, is the new TV app proper that's meant to not only contain it, but serve as a new age digital hub, collecting together everything else you want to watch all in one place so you never have to go hunting and pecking for content ever again.

Well, almost everything and almost never.

Because TV just isn't music. With music, you can get pretty much every song on pretty much every service. Movies and TV, though… well, they're still in the dark ages, with every studio wanting to command and control their own service, tied to their own exclusives, refusing to play nicely with each other, the major platforms, and yeah, consumers who just want it all to be as clean and easy as music.

And that's not going to change any time soon, not even for Apple. But, what Apple's hoping they can change is the way we experience it:

One, unified view, for all the content from all the participating services. And not just for the various apps, but for the actual content inside them. Find something you want to watch, hit it, and you're watching it, as if it was all part of the same service.

Also, one place to subscribe, manage, and unsubscribe from all the services. Not everything, not all for one price, nowhere nearly, but a few pretty big ones, corralled together, when and if you want them.

Now, the old Apple TV app was available in 10 countries. The new app is available in ten times that: 100 to start. Basically, every country that currently has iTunes Movies now has the new TV app.

Apple's new TV app: The navigation

Navigation has gotten a new look and new organization as well: Watch Now, Movies, TV Shows, Sports, Kids, Library, and Search across the top. Watch Now is the main one, and I'll get back to it in just a minute.

The Apple TV app

The Apple TV app (Image credit: Apple)

Movies and TV contain, just as you'd expect, all your movies an TV shows. Not just from iTunes but from any video service that integrates with the TV app. Next is Sports, just like in the old version, which has all the live sports available to you from all the live sports apps you have installed.

And, you know, In that spirit, I'd love a News tab here as well, collecting all live news available, and all the video content from the News apps on iOS and macOS.

Library, also like in the old app, is everything you've bought from iTunes. And yeah, like pretty much each and every one of you, I would love, love, love it if Apple changed this to everything you have on your local machines as well, like Plex, but I'm guessing Hollywood still won't allow that. Shame.

Kids is cool. Kids is great. It's all the content for your children, organized, categorized, and editorialized. And, unlike YouTube, where a video that looks like a kid's show can end up being something completely different and inappropriate, this is all exactly what it says it is and completely safe for kids to watch.

Search is search, it just has a magnifying glass icon now rather than spelling it out.

It's a little thing, but having the tabs as a floating capsule rather than an anchored bar just opened up the whole interface so the top shelf content can reach all the way to the top and not feel so cut off and oppressed.

And I'm still a huge fan of how the TV app has ditched the sidebar still found in the separate iTunes and TV Shows apps. Those remain clusters where you can switch tabs when you think you're switching content, or accidentally swipe into the sidebar and have to start browsing all over again. It's a bad experience and this, by comparison, is really good.

Apple's new TV app: Watch Now

Back to Watch Now. This is the main tab, the main interface. The design goal was to create a place where you can go and find something you actually want to watch. Not just scroll endlessly through endless stuff. So, it wants to provide you with a very finite quantity of content to browse but content it hopes is really appealing.

And that's… kinda beyond audacious. Whether it succeeds or not we'll have to wait and see. My guess is not for a couple of reasons. First, it's a really hard problem to solve and every content company has wasted obscene if not truly offensive amounts of money trying to solve. Because, second, human beings are weird. We'll scroll past a movie or show a dozen times on a streaming service without so much as a click then, if we happen to turn the old fashioned cable on and the same exact movie is just playing on it already, we'll just watch it.

Choice breeds indecision and virtually unlimited choice can breed near paralysis. I wonder if the only actual way to solve for not knowing what to watch is to have a few curated channels, doing exactly that kind of old fashioned TV station programming. Like Beats 1 but for video. And we can just join the Sci-Fi or Comedy playlist, or catch the movie monsters marathon, or something when all we want to solve for is noise in the room.

But… back to Watch Now.

The first row is Up Next, which is exactly that. If there's anything you started but haven't finished, it'll show up front loaded here, along with anything new that you typically watch immediately, for example, a live sports event or the latest episode of your favorite show or the movie you pre-ordered and has just become available.

Freshness counts for Up Next. So, if a new show you watch comes out on Tuesday but you don't have time to watch it, and a different new show you also watch comes out on Wednesday, the Wednesday one will slot in before the Tuesday one. Because more recent. Fresher.

The next row is What to Watch. It contains recommendations from Apple's editors. Apple has a bunch of Movie and TV editors all around the world that all pick what they think is the best content for people in their regions. It's part of Apple's approach to curation which, like Apple News, uses a lot of machine learning but filters and enhances it with and by actual human beings.

Both of those rows were in the old TV app, as was Trending, which remains strictly what's popular with other people using the TV app in your region.

For You is new. It's similar to For You in Apple's other content apps and I like that. Consistency, as I keep saying, is a user benefit. For You is the machine-learned part. It tries to surface what it thinks you'll like to watch based on what you've previously watched.

I just love the interface work here. Both concept and execution. Previously, you could just browse all the thumbnails and that was fine. But, if you wanted to click into anything and get more information, you then had to click or tap back out again, and it made for a less than elegant experience.

Now, click into any of the thumbnails and you get this new card view with all the details and then, rather than having to click out, you can just stay in the card view and swipe through all the rest of the content. You can even play the trailers right in the card and then keep going. The whole thing, from the information density to the animation between cards is just really top notch. Love it.

All three of these rows, What to Watch, For You, and Trending can and will contain content you already have access to through the services you already get, including cable companies that integrate with TV, like Spectrum, DirectTV, and Optimum, and streaming services, like Hulu, Amazon Prime, PlayStation Vue, and Fubo.

But, you'll also see some popular or highly recommended content you may not yet have access to because you haven't yet subscribed to some of their services.

Apple's new TV app: Channels

The content is branded, for example, with an HBO logo, so you should be able to avoid clicking on anything you know you don't already get, if that's what you want to do. But, if it's really compelling and you do want to click, you'll be offered a free trial, if available, or a subscription option, and with just a couple more clicks you'll be watching.

No need for a new account or new password or to visit a website or type in any code. It's all done through the TV app and, thanks to Family Sharing, if and when you do sign up, that subscription works for up to six family members, all using their own Apple IDs and passwords.

There's also a section for your channels, if you've subscribed to any and want to browse by specific channel, you can find them under My Channels. If you want to see what other channels, you can find them under Available Channels. There can be feature sections as well. For example, when Game of Thrones is dragon-breath hot it could be damn near a take-over.

Now, TV channels are going to vary a lot based on region. Some countries have a fairly open market where channels are available across multiple services. Other countries have providers that own or exclusively license channels and are inextricably commingled. So, yeah, they're going to vary a lot.

In the U.S., HBO, Starz, SHOWTIME, Smithsonian Channel, EPIX and Tastemade, are all available at launch and more will be added over time, including CBS All-Access and MTV Hits.

In Canada, Acorn at launch, with CBS All-Access and Smithsonian Channel coming soon.

In the UK, StarzPlay and Smithsonian at launch, also with more coming soon.

I'm really hoping channels take off. Right now I subscribe to a bunch of different services and have to jump around to a bunch of different websites or apps to try to manage them all. If I could just turn them on and turn them off whenever I want to, all from within the TV app, it'd make things so much easier.

Well, a little easier. Some big services like Netflix aren't willing to work with Apple on the TV app. They prefer you launch, navigate, and manage them all separately.

And I can understand that. They feel they're so big they don't need Apple or the audience the TV app could provide for smaller services. But, you know, the video landscape isn't getting any smaller. With Disney+ on its way, and Netflix not only losing some catalog but continuously raising prices, I'd urge them, strongly, to make things as easy on customers as possible.

I never thought I'd say this, but my subscription dollar is being stretched like everyone else's, and for the first time I'm actually not sure if I'll keep Netflix or not. Because, well, everything is too big until it's not.

Apple's new TV app: Cross-platform and offline

Unlike the old TV app, when you do pick something to watch, you're not booted out into another app. You play the content directly from the TV app. And that vastly simplifies the navigation and the experience.

iTunes app displayed on a Samsung TV

iTunes app displayed on a Samsung TV (Image credit: iMore)

Also, because of Apple's tight integration, they can offer downloads for a lot of the content as well. Including HBO. And Game of Thrones. Yeah.

So, if you're watching on your iPhone or iPad and are about to travel, you can store your episodes locally so you can keep on watching, even when you're offline.

What Apple is doing with the new TV is also, while not unprecedented, is pretty rare — just like iTunes back in the days of Windows, Apple is taking it cross-platform.

It launches today, of course, on Apple TV, iPhone, and iPad today and on the Mac later this fall, presumably with the next version of macOS.

But also, today, the new TV is launching on 2019 and select 2018 Samsung smart TVs with the TV app. Yeah, somewhere in Cupertino, Apple engineers are coding in Wizen. Let that sink in for a while.

You'll also be able to AirPlay from the TV app on your Apple devices to any Samsung TV that supports AirPlay 2, in case you're visiting and don't want to login with your own account.

Coming later this year, you'll also be able to AirPlay from your Apple devices to recent VIZIO, LG, and Sony TVs with AirPlay 2, and play from boxes like Roku and Amazon FireTV. Even multiple TVs. As long as they're set up in HomeKit, you can just use the AirPlay 2 interface or tell Siri what you want to play and on which TV.

And that's just the start. Apple really seems intent to get the TV app everywhere, so I wouldn't be surprised if, eventually, we did see the TV app everywhere. That every major vendor and every platform that can support will support it. Yeah, maybe even Android one day, which already has Apple Music.

Apple's new TV app: Privacy

Privacy is also key to the TV app, the way Apple is making it key to every one of their services and all o their products in general. Apple won't share your personal information from the TV app with anyone.

That might not sound like much when it comes to TV viewing but so many smart TV platforms are sucking up so much viewing and behavioral data, that privacy becomes a major differentiator, even if Facebook and Google are doing everything possible to destroy the meaning of the word.

Because, here's the thing: Even if you don't care about the privacy of your viewing habits, they're still yours and no one should be allowed to just steal that data from you. Not without clearly offering you something of value in return, like discounted subscriptions. You want my viewing data, you charge me $5 instead of $15, cool? Cool.

The TV app always syncing not just your content but your exact place within content, you can leave off and pick back up again from any device with the TV app, at any time. Leave the Samsung TV in your bedroom, continue on the iPad as you get dressed, switch to the Apple TV in the living room as you eat breakfast, and then take it with you on your iPhone as you head out for the bus.

That's the other promise of the TV app that has me so excited. Not just one place for all your stuff, but one place for all your content, but all your content in one place that you can access from everywhere or anywhere.

Apple's new TV app: To be continued...

In a perfect world, Apple Video would be just like Apple Music. Hell, so would Netflix and Google Video. We'd have all our movies and shows all in one service and all we'd have to do is pick the one we want. No multiple apps, websites, or subscriptions to manage, no exclusives to worry about.

But we don't live in that perfect world, at least not yet and likely not for a long time to come.

We live in a broken, busted, fractured, frustrating world of often petty fiefdoms that all too often treats all customers as potential thieves and wants to lock things down far more than open them up.

And that's the world Apple has been struggling to do their usual Apple thing in for years now — package it all up in a way that makes it not just accessible but delightful to the mainstream.

Have they succeeded? No. I don't think success is possible right now. Not with Netflix not playing along, and not with massive non-studio platforms like YouTube not quite fitting in at all yet. For example, I'd love to see my YouTube subs handled like Channel subs in the TV app. Could that be possible? I sure hope so.

But, for now, I think TV app is the closest Apple's come to making modern TV sane. It's a unified view over a lot of different pipes, but it works. At least better than anything has before.

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Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.