tvOS is the operating system that runs on the fourth-gen and later models of the 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.
Each version of tvOS is numbered to match the contemporaneous version of iOS which it is based on, so the update launched in autumn 2017 was named tvOS 11, even though it was only the third full release. tvOS 11 was rolled out on 19 Sept 2017.
We're now looking ahead to next year's tvOS update. In this article, which will be updated regularly, we will round up all the rumours, clues, hints and leaks that indicate when tvOS 12 will be announced and released, what new features it will bring to the Apple TV, which models of the Apple TV will be able to run it, and much more.
Apple follows a highly predictable, regular pattern with its OS updates.
tvOS 12 will be announced and briefly demoed at WWDC in June 2018, alongside iOS 12, macOS 10.14 and watchOS 5. The four OSes will then drop into an extended beta testing phase, with beta versions first available only to developers and then (with the probable exception of watchOS) as a public beta which anyone can try out.
Finally, tvOS 12.0 and its fellow OSes will roll out to the general public in September 2018. This will be followed by smaller point updates - tvOS 12.0.1 and so on - through the following 12 months, each of these preceded by a beta version.
It's rather early to have much of an idea of the new features Apple has in store for tvOS 12, although we suspect that the company is set to continue its push into the production of original TV programming which is likely to be reflected in further updates to the TV app in tvOS. (At present Apple's own programmes are accessed via Apple Music, but in future that will focus on music-related programming and the other shows will migrate elsewhere.)
We also expect more updates to HomeKit that will affect the Apple TV's capabilities as a home hub.
Which Apple TVs will be able to run tvOS 12?
All app-capable Apple TVs, we expect: fourth-gen and later.
tvOS 11 could run on the fourth-gen and 4K Apple TVs (the third-gen and earlier cannot install apps and do not run tvOS at all - they run a simpler platform called Apple TV Software) and we would be surprised if this is not also true for tvOS 12. The fourth-gen will be three years old in autumn 2018, which is very young to stop getting OS updates.
Apple may unveil a new Apple TV to coincide with the rollout of tvOS 12, and if so then this will come with the OS preinstalled. But the company tends to update this line less frequently than its iPhones, and may well have to wait until 2019 for the next model.
How to update tvOS
When tvOS 12 becomes publicly available (or any time you want to install the latest version) you should go into your Apple TV's Settings app and select System > Software Updates > Update Software. Then click on Download and Install, and Update Now.
Depending on your settings the device may prompt you when an update becomes available, or even update automatically. We cover all of this in our detailed tutorial How to update tvOS on an Apple TV.