tvOS 13: Keeping Apple TV relevant in 2019

Yes, even in the age of the TV app on Samsung smart tvs and Roku streaming boxes, Apple is still making the Apple TV and updating tvOS. This year, taking it to 13. I'll get to the why in a minute, but first here's the what.

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Starting with the new home screen. Apple has made it dynamic, so whatever app is highlighted can just start playing video and showing off content to you right away. It's meant to be more immersive and to draw you in to new and interesting shows and experiences. But… Ah… I don't know.

Netflix has been doing this for a while and I find it incredibly annoying because it means I can't stop browsing for even a second to do something else — something that often requires a modicum of concentration — without being bombarded by a noisy trailer.

But it's the noisy part that really gets me. I don't honestly care what's playing on screen because I'm either looking and interested or not looking and oblivious. It's the sound that's super annoying when you have no control over whether it blares out at you or not. So, here's hoping Apple gives us that control.

That way, whether it's a hot new show in TV or a hot new game in Arcade, come this fall, I'll be smiling and not just gritting my teeth.

tvOS 13: Multi-user

Apple loves to troll us with tvOS. A couple of years ago they announced dark mode… for tvOS. Now they've announced multi-user… of tvOS.

It's designed, like the similar but voice-based version coming to HomePod, to make sure the content your family loves doesn't pollute the up next, recommended, and other highly personalized lists of content you love.

If you're into Brooklyn 99, you don't have to see their Outlander. If you're into Public Enemy, you don't have to worry about their Blue Grass. Not songs, not playlists. And with new in-time lyrics, your in-time lyrics, not theirs. You get the idea. Your idea, your recs, not theirs.

And there's a spiffy new control center, which'll be familiar to anyone who's ever used an iPhone or iPad, there to make account switching fast and easy.

tvOS 13: Xbox and PS4 controller Support

The big news is Apple TV support for Xbox One S and — wait for the crowd reaction — PlayStation Dual-Shock 4 game controllers. This also applies to Apple's other platforms like iOS and iPadOS, but it's a big deal for Apple TV first because big screen gaming just feels better with a big league controller, and that'll be true with Apple's upcoming Arcade service as well. But, also, because they'll be first class controllers on Apple TV with support for:

  • Single click to open Control Center.
  • Double click to open App Switcher.
  • Press and hold (4 sec.) for Home screen.

I say "briefly" because you don't want to hold longer than like 4 seconds in case you get close to 10 seconds and collide with the controller's shut down function. Awkward.

tvOS 13: Screen savers

Since Apple TV 4 — now called Apple TV HD — one of the big new features every year has been the big new screensavers. Yeah, they're just screen savers, but anyone who's ever looked at them has seen the enormous effort put into them each year.

For the first few it was with helicopters and drones going through cities and mountains and, eventually, remote and magnificent locations on earth. Last year, it was with the international space station and views of the earth from outer space.

This year, they're diving underwater to show flora and fauna beneath the seas and oceans, all shot by BBC's natural history team.

tvOS 13: Still Apple TV

One of the big questions following the announcement of the new TV app and it's availability on smart TVs and streaming boxes was: What place did that leave for Apple TV 4K, which could now come off as expensive at best and superfluous at worst?

And Apple, with Tim Cook doing the presentation, started to make that case at WWDC. It's about the experience, dammit. And that experience is:

  • Apple silicon
  • Apple software
  • Apple integration

All driven by tvOS.

It's not quite a compelling case, at least not yet. Not until Apple does more only Apple things with it, like brings Maps to the TV, and video-centric versions of news and News+, and handoff for video the way HomePod is getting handoff for audio, and maybe makes a dongle that gives that experience at a lower cost of entry.

But, with all the attention coming with TV+, and all the other pieces falling into place, I think a lot of that is more about when than if now. And we could still be in for an interesting year to say the least.

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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.