The TV app has been a fixture on the iPhone and iPad for some time now. It arrived in the UK back in 2017 when it replaced the Videos app. The TV app arrived even earlier in the US.
Back when Apple first introduced the app, it positioned is as a solution to the problem of having so much to watch in so many apps. With Netflix, Amazon, and services local to your country, streaming countless films and TV shows it can take a whole evening to find something to watch.
Apple's idea was to create a library app where you could search for something to watch and then see where it was available - and choose the best deal. If a film is free on Netflix you won't want to pay to watch it on iTunes, after all. Users can also jump straight to the things they are already watching in the Up Next section.
We thought that the TV app was pretty neat, although there are some features that used to be in the Videos app that are missing (like the next episode of Peppa Pig automatically playing). Apple clearly thought it needed to do more though, as the company has announced that changes are coming to the TV app in 2019.
Changes include access to the TV app on more devices. Right now, the TV app isn't only available on the iPhone and iPad, you can also use it on the Apple TV, but later in 2019 it will be coming to Macs, smart TVs and Roku and Amazon FireTV devices. Read about the devices that the Apple TV app will work with here.
Other changes include Channels: a new home for services you subscribe to, within the Apple TV app; and new Apple-made content coming from a number of Hollywood A-listers. Find out what TV shows are being made by and for Apple's TV+ subscription service here.
Find out more about Apple's plans to launch its own streaming service here.
What can you watch on the TV app?
Currently you can't actually 'watch' anything in the TV app unless it's something you purchased or rented from iTunes.
The apps other purpose is that it can be used to search for content across all your apps and services, including (in the UK) iPlayer, iTV Hub, My 5. Even though All4 is now available as an app it's not searchable within the Apple TV app. You can also search Prime Video and Netflix, and the kids app Hopster.
The TV app also lets you search for content from film subscription apps: MUBI, Sundance Now, Shudder, and Classix, and documentary subscription app Curiosity Stream.
There are changes coming to the TV app in 2019 though. In May, when iOS 12.3 arrives on your iPhone or iPad you will be able to subscribe to various 'Channels' within the TV app, including Showtime, Starz, Smithsonian Plus, and Tastemade in the US. Subscribing will be a simple process as it will be linked to your Apple ID, and once you are signed up (or using a trial) you will be able to watch the shows from that service inside the TV app.
How to use the TV app on iPhone/iPad
Once you open the app you’ll see a Watch Now screen. The first time you use the app you will see a Welcome to the Apple TV App video, which shows you a little of what to expect from the app.
Once you have started using the app you will see a shortcut to the last things you were watching in this Up Next section.
What to Watch showcases the content Apple is pushing and a collection of options from Amazon Prime Originals, BBC, ITV, My and so on.
When the new version of the TV app launches in May 2019 these recommendations will come from a combination of Apple's team of human editors and AI. The company says it will use machine learning to recommend shows you are actually likely to want to watch based on your viewing habits.
Below that you’ll see sections (at least in the UK) for Best of BBC, Best of ITV Hub, Best of My 5, Trending TV Programmes, Trending Films, News, Bingeworthy, Apple Music Shows & Films, Children’s Favourites, Hit Films, New Releases on iTunes, Films We Love, and Recently Watched.
There is also a Browse by Category section about half-way down the page, that makes it easy to search by TV series genre (comedy, drama, reality, documentary and sports). You won’t find everything that’s available here though - for example, some shows that we know are on iPlayer, such as Have I Got News For You, couldn’t be found this way.
How to find what you want to watch using the TV app
If you want to find a particular show, and it isn’t being showcased by Apple, it’s easy to search for it.
- Tap on Search at the bottom right of the screen and type in the name of the show.
- Tap on the results to see where it’s available and to start watching.
- You will see results sorted by category: TV Shows, Films. If it's a TV show you are after, for example, tap on that option.
- At the top you'll see information about where the show can be watched. IN this case Peppa Pig can be watched on Prime Video, My5, Netflix and iTunes.
- You can either scroll though the series and episodes below and find the one you want to watch, or choose an episode that is free on one of the apps listed.
- If you just want to jump straight to a particular app you could tap on the three dots inside the blue circle. This will bring up a menu with Open In and you can choose to open the relevant app straight into that programme.
Since the TV app doesn't integrate with Netflix particularly well, searching for Brooklyn 99 doesn't bring up Netflix as a result, although, if you search for Peppa Pig you will see the option to watch on Netflix.
How to watch films & movies in Apple's TV app
For now the TV app doesn’t really showcase films very well, althoguh it has got better since the app first launched.
If you are looking for movie inspiration there's a section of Trending Films, but this is predominantly films currently available on iPlayer in the UK. There's also a Hit Films section further down the page featuring films from various services.
Another option is to go to the Search page where you will see Trending Films (Elf was not surprisingly one of the most popular options before Christmas - it’s on Amazon Prime Video and iTunes).
You can also search for a film to see options of where you can watch it.
Another way to find content using the TV app is to click on a Cast & Crew image to see other programmes or films that the person appears in. So if you like a particular actor it's easy to find other films they star in.
You can also browse related content the same way.
The only way you can watch movies within the TV app right now is if you buy or rent them from Apple's Tunes Store. The TV app is helpful in that it lets you know if the film you want to watch is available to watch elsewhere - especially if you could be watching it for free in one of the services you subscribe to.
If you'd like to find out how you can watch movies on your iPhone or iPad for free read this.
How to autoplay the next video in the TV app
We have a separate article addressing the fact that the TV app doesn't autoplay the next video if you purchased a series from iTunes.
It's a major annoyance if you frequently turn to the iPad to entertain the kids during a long car journey, for example. Here's what to do if you are using the TV App on your iPhone and it no longer autoplays the next video.
How to watch TV shows and films on the TV app
Once you have found a show or film you wish to watch, either by tapping on any of the shows that Apple has showcased in the Watch Now page of the TV app, or by searching you are all set to start watching. Here's how you do that:
- Tap on the cover image of that programme.
- This takes you to that programmes page, where you can see the rating, Rotten Tomatoes score, and other information. You will also see the options of where the programme or film is available to view. BBC iPlayer, Prime Video, My5, and so on.
- If you would like to see what episodes are available to watch in the other apps, tap on the dots in the blue circle to see the options: Open in My5, Open in Tunes, Open in Prime Video, and so on…
- You can then choose to Open in the relevant app, or Add to Up Next.
If you haven’t yet installed the companion app in which you want to watch the content, you will need to do so.
The first time you tap to play a programme in a companion app (iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, etc) you will see a page telling you about the apps you can use with the TV app, and it will alert you to the fact that the information about what you are watching will be shared with Apple. This is only so it can let you watch from where you left off on any of your devices. Tap Continue and the app will open up and the episode will start to play.
If these TV services become Channels in the TV app when the new Channels feature is added in May, you may be able to sign up for them within the app and watch the content within the TV app.
Watching content in the iPlayer app
We selected Blue Planet II, one of Apple’s What to Watch recommendations. At the time it was available in iPlayer as well as iTunes.
- To watch the first episode in iPlayer, all we needed to do to watch was tap on the blue arrow beside Play in BBC iPlayer - this will either start playing from the beginning of the first episode, or if you have already started watching it will carry on from where you left off.
- Alternatively you can tap any of the episodes listed to watch that one.
- Once you have selected the episode you want to watch the iPlayer app will open on your iPhone with that episode ready to play.
Watching content in the My5 app
When we tried to watch Peppa Pig, there were options to watch in My5, iTunes, or, if you have a subscription, on Amazon Prime Video.
- We started off by tapping on the link to Peppa Pig that Apple provided in their Children's favourites section.
- To watch in My5, all we needed to do was tap on the blue circle with the dots and choose: Open in My5.
- The My5 app will open with all the available Peppa Pig episodes available to choose from.
- Alternatively, you can jump to a particular episode.
- You will also see various episodes listed in Apple’s TV app - these are the episodes that are available to buy from iTunes (so you can download them onto your device and you won’t have to watch adverts). You may also see the option to Subscribe (this indicates that they are available on Amazon Video). If an episode is available on My5 (or any ofter TV-compatible app, then you will also see that as an option.
- We tapping on a specific Peppa Pig episode from Series 5 that was listed as available on My5, we were taken straight to that episode (which played after about a minute of adverts from Channel 5).
Watching content in the Amazon Prime Video app
To watch content from Amazon Prime Video you need to first install that app from the App Store (if you haven’t already). You will also need an Amazon Prime subscription. Log into the Amazon Prime Video app and if you have a Prime account you will be able to watch the programme.
One of Apple’s What to Watch recommendations that you can see inside the TV app is The Grand Tour, which is only on Prime Video.
We tapped that cover image to go into The Grand Tour page where there was a shortcut to Play in Prime Video, as well as a list of all the available episodes and shortcuts to them.
- Tap on the episode you are interested in and you’ll be taken to a page in the TV app for that episode - which would show your options if there were other places you could watch it.
- You can choose to tap the Play button or just tap the arrow inside the still from that episode to automatically start playing it in the Amazon Prime Video app.
You can also see Related content in the TV app page about The Grand Tour, so you can view all the Top Gear episodes that are available on the various companion apps, as well as various shows that Apple has deemed related (Fifth Gear, and so on).
Watching content from Netflix in the TV app
You can't watch Netflix within the TV app - and the Netflix CEO has made it abundantly clear that Netflix will not be signing up to be a channel (because they think Apple takes too big a cut and too much control of the data). However, you can - at least for now - search for content and see if it is available on Netflix.
That said, not all the content on Netflix will appear in the TV app results. For example, we know that Brooklyn 99 is available on Netflix, but a search in the TV app brings up no results.
Watching content you have bought in iTunes
What if you have already bought programmes on iTunes? How can you find the content you already own? Along the bottom of the screen is a Watch Now, Library. Store and Search.
- Tap on Library.
- Here you will see your Recently Purchased programmes and films.
- Tap on Downloaded to see the content you have already downloaded to your device.
- Alternatively tap on a show you want to watch but haven’t downloaded yet and you will be taken to a page for that show, which offers you the option to download from iCloud (where your purchased episodes and films will always be available).
- Tap on Get More episodes to go straight to the iTunes Store where you can buy even more (or in the case of films, rent as well).
How to browse the iTunes Store from the TV app
There is a shortcut to the Store from the TV app. This is one of the options along the bottom of the screen.
Tap on Store. Here you will also find links to content on the various companion apps, like ITV Hub and Amazon Video. You will also see a showcase of New Releases on iTunes, shortcuts to Top Movie Rentals, TV Series you can Buy or Rent on iTunes, and TV Box Sets.
You also have the option to Browse All Apps, which gives you an overview of which apps work with the TV app.