tvOS is the operating system that runs the models of the Apple TV that have an App Store - that's the fourth-gen and 4K Apple TV models. 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 version of iOS it's based on, so the update launched in September 2018 was named tvOS 12, even though it was only the fourth full release. We're now looking ahead to 2019's update, which will be called tvOS 13 and is likely to be announced at WWDC 2019 on 3 June.
We know something of what to expect from the next software update for the Apple TV from Apple's Special Event held in March 2019 at which the company revealed its plans to make start streaming its own shows via the TV app. Changes to the TV app on the Apple TV will be made to allow this new subscription service.
In this article we will list the features we hope to see in the next version of tvOS as well as rounding up all the rumours, clues, hints and leaks relating to the Apple TV. We'll also detail which Apple TV models will be able to run the update.
We don't yet know then tvOS 13 will launch but going by recent years, it is likely to be around 16 September 2019.
If you're keen to get your hands on the update sooner than that, the tvOS (and other OSs) are available as part of a beta test program - with beta versions first available only to developers and then (with the exception of watchOS) as a public beta anyone can try out.
The first developer beta of tvOS 13 is likely to be made available on 3 June after the WWDC keynote, there will be a delay until the first public beta becomes available, probably towards the end of June 2019. You can read about how to install the tvOS beta here.
So, what new features has Apple got in store for tvOS 13?
Original TV shows and Movies
We know that the company is set to start to produce its own original TV programming.
This content will be available via a redesigned TV+ app so we expect the TV app in tvOS to be redesigned to reflect this.
It will also be possible to watch this content on iPhones, iPads, Macs, Apple TV, on various smart TVs, and on the Roku and Amazon Fire TV. (We have more details about TVs that work with the new Apple TV+ content here).
tvOS 12 introduced support for Dolby Atmos, making it the "only streaming player both Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos certified", according to Apple.
The Dolby Atmos 3D surround-sound technology has been around for a while (you might have experienced it in a cinema), but it's only now becoming something you can enjoy in the home. Netflix has offered some Dolby Atmos content since June 2017, although not all devices are capable of handling it.
Now there are calls for lossless TrueHD Atmos, so maybe that's something we'll see.
iCloud back up
Currently it's not possible to back up the Apple TV. Given that it has up to 64GB space so users will be storing content on it, that does seem like an omission.
Luckily, if you were to get a new Apple TV you would be able to grab all the apps and movies you had previously downloaded - you'll find them in the purchased section - and put them on your new Apple TV. But the whole process could be easier if you were able to clone your Apple TV using a previous backup. Similar to the way you can set up a new iPhone to be like your previous handset.
Apple has indicated that we'll be able to download content from various sources to our Apple TVs too, so it would be nice to be able to back this up too.
Different user profiles
If you have a family using the same Apple TV the ability to set up user profile will likely appeal. We don't necessarily want to scroll through episodes of Paw Patrol and Peppa Pig looking for the show we were watching last night. And we don't necessarily want to see recommendations of stuff our partner might want to watch if their tastes aren't the same as ours.
Similarly, you might want the kids to only be able to access certain apps and games.
It's time for Apple to allow multiple user profiles for the Apple TV.
Speaking of the kids, Parental controls so you can stop them accessing certain content, or limit the amount of time they can spend playing games, would be good.
Apple TV can show 4K content, it's only natural to expect the next version of tvOS to include support for 4K YouTube.
Apparently it's an issue with codecs, but surely the two companies can come up with a solution for compatibility.
Find my Remote
If you are anything like us you lost your Apple TV Remote years ago. Luckily there is a remote on the iPhone that works perfectly well, if not better, but it's still frustratingly easy to misplace that remote.
Apple has made it easy to ping your iPhone device using your Apple Watch if you've forgotten where it is (which also happens to us all the time). Isn't it time you could ping your Apple TV remote to find that?
Integration with HomePod
It's already possible to set up your Apple TV to use the HomePod as a speaker, but how about some more integration.
Siri on Apple TV
You can control the Apple TV using Siri via the Remote, but you can't speak to Siri on the Apple TV across the room - something you can do with a HomePod. It seems like when the Apple TV was last updated Apple hadn't perfected Siri for being able to listen to us across a room, but we know it now can, so isn't it time it did!
Download 4K movies
You can play 4K movies on the 4K Apple TV, but you can't download them. If you own the movie you may resent having to download it and rely on your WiFi every time you want to watch it.
Autoplay next episode
Apple: Please allow the next episode of Peppa Pig to autoplay! This is more a criticism of the TV app, and it was especially annoying because the older Video app that the TV app replaced could do this. Apple needs to fix this issue with the next version of the TV app!
We have often thought that the Apple TV needs a web browser. In fact we have this article about How to surf the web on Apple TV.
There are third party apps, and you can browse using AirPlay - but they aren't a great solution to the issue.
Apple might think that there is no place for Safari on your TV screen, or it might be intent on bring the web to the Apple TV in the form of apps. We imagine hotels providing Apple TVs in guest bedrooms (some do apparently) would appreciate being able to offer a browser to their guests.
Various apps have moved from iOS to Mac, it's time for some to move to the Apple TV. One prime example is the News app, which might be one solution to the browser issue mentioned above.
Another app we'd like to see on the Apple TV is the Home app. Allowing managing your various HomeKit devices from your TV screen
Some Apple TV users would like to see picture-in-picture mode added in tvOS 13.
tvOS 12 included some gorgeous new aerial screensavers of the planet Earth that had been filmed by astronauts on the International Space Station. We expect to see new screensavers in the next version of tvOS.
Which Apple TVs will be able to run tvOS 13?
All app-capable Apple TVs should be able to run tvOS 13, that's fourth-gen and 4K and any new Apple TV that might launch.
The third-gen and earlier Apple TV cannot install apps and is not able to run tvOS at all - they run a simpler platform called Apple TV Software.
How to update tvOS
When tvOS 13 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.