Just as iOS and macOS receive regular free updates, patching bugs, tweaking the interface and unlocking new features, tvOS has a major update on the way: tvOS 11. tvOS is the operating system software platform that runs on the fourth-gen Apple TV.
It's the Apple TV's equivalent of iOS on the iPhone or macOS on the Mac; it manages the apps you can install on the device and offers various features of its own. Read on for all we know so far about tvOS 11, and a wishlist of our most highly desired features.
tvOS 11 release date rumours
tvOS 10 was released on 13 September 2016 alongside iOS 10 and watchOS 3, after releasing the tvOS golden master on 7 September following the iPhone 7 event. That means, if you have a compatible Apple TV (more on that below) you can update to tvOS 10 now. But what about 2017's tvOS 11?
We expected to see tvOS 11 make its first appearance at Apple's annual developer conference (WWDC) in June 2017, but Apple surprised us by giving tvOS only a brief mention, to announce that an Amazon Prime Video app is coming to the service some time later in 2017.
tvOS 11 beta
Instead of showcasing the update at WWDC, Apple quietly released a developer beta of the software immediately following the keynote without much fanfare, while also announcing that tvOS 11 would be getting a public beta - the first time it's released a public beta for a tvOS update.
Following the announcement, the public beta of tvOS is now available to download - the current build is tvOS 11 beta 4. Simply head over to the Apple Beta Software Program website, log in with your Apple ID and follow the instructions on how to install it on your fourth-generation Apple TV.
tvOS 11 features
Now that Apple has launched a tvOS 11 beta, here are the features we know are on the way.
Better AirPod support
Here's one we know is coming as part of the update: soon AirPods will automatically pair with the Apple TV through iCloud, just as they already do with iPads and iPhones. That's a small update, but it's a nice quality of life improvement for users who've had to manually pair the headphones so far.
Amazon Prime support
This is another one Apple actually announced at WWDC: Apple TV is finally getting support for Amazon Prime Video, after lagging behind the competition for years. The app should be made available for tvOS users along with second- and third-generation Apple TV users later this year.
Home Screen Sync
This new feature will let you sync your apps and home screen across any Apple TV device connected to the same iCloud account - though both will need to be running tvOS 11 for it to work.
Automatic appearance switching
This optional feature sees Apple TV automatically switch between light and dark user interfaces depending on the time of day, to give you the most comfortable UI based on local light levels - even taking into account changing sunrise and sunset times during the year.
tvOS feature wishlist
We now know what new features are coming to tvOS later this year, but we can think of a few that are missing that we'd still like to see in the next update.
Online App Store
It's a small thing, but there's currently no easy way to check whether an app is available on the Apple TV, other than by looking on the App Store on the Apple TV itself.
The Apple TV is odd in this respect. You can search for iPad, iPhone and Apple Watch apps in iTunes on any Mac or PC, or through a browser - you don't need to search for them on the device itself (although, with the obvious exception of the watch, you can do so if you prefer). And while Mac apps are normally viewed through the Mac App Store app, it's also possible to browse the Mac App Store through a browser if you happen to be stranded temporarily on a Windows PC.
Admittedly most people now download apps directly to the device they'll be running on - the days of downloading an app to a Mac and then syncing it to an iPhone are gone, essentially - so a lot of app browsing will take place there too.
But what if you want to check through the latest Apple TV games in a break from work, or on your commute? What if you want to send a friend a direct link to a recommended app's page on the store? What if you're a hard-working games journalist who wants to offer readers a direct link?
Better App Store categorisation
Talking of the App Store, better categories and sub-categories would make it a lot easier to find the apps we're looking for. You can look at games, for instance, but you don't then get an option to look at shooting games, or RPGs, or puzzle games, or whatever. The
(There's a workaround: activate Siri and tell it search for roleplaying games. But this doesn't produce terrible reliable results.)
There are significant changes coming to the App Store on iOS which include these features, so we hope it makes an appearance on the Apple TV too.
Self-explanatory, this one. Apple TV doesn't support Chromecast - and we suspect never will - but we'd really love if it did.
3D Touch - or something approaching it
We love the remote that comes with the fourth-gen Apple TV, but it could do even more.
What we really want is 3D Touch, allowing app makers to build in shortcuts from the home screen: go straight to App Store search, for instance, or to select a TV channel within a streaming app with on tap. But 3D Touch would required a hardware upgrade to the remote.
As a stopgap compromise, perhaps app icon shortcuts could be enabled via long presses - the icon reshuffle function which is presently activated by long-pressing could be listed as the bottom option in the shortcut menu that pops up, if you've got this feature enabled - or double taps.
The Apple TV's screensaver are lovely, but a bit confusing and restrictive. Go into screensaver settings and you get the option to download screensaver videos weekly, monthly or whatever (these take up 600MB each, so be cautious); what you don't get to do is select which video to download, or which of the videos you've downloaded to select as your screensaver (or put into a random shuffle).
If you want more control of the screensaver you can choose your own pictures, but we'd like to be able to carry on using Apple's lovely screensavers - with just a modicum more control.