tvOS is the operating system that runs on 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, dubbed tvOS 13, which was revealed at WWDC 2019. While the company didn't give as much airtime to tvOS as other software updates, the few details revealed should excite Apple TV owners.
In this article, we will list the confirmed features of tvOS 13 alongside information about when you will be able to install it on your Apple TV. We'll also detail which Apple TV models will be able to run the update.
It is possible that tvOS 13 will be available to download and install on the Apple TV on 19 September (at the same time as iOS 13 launches). However, Apple has indicated in an Apple Arcade press release that Apple Arcade won't arrive on the Apple TV until 30 September, which could mean that tvOS won't arrive until the 230 September. Apple is being very vague about this launch.
If you were thinking that the Apple TV+ streaming service would arrive at the same time, you'll have a slightly longer wait for that. It's coming on 1 November.
If you're keen to get your hands on the update now, the tvOS (and other OSes) 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. You can read about how to install the tvOS beta here.
So, what new features has Apple got in store for tvOS 13?
Redesigned Home screen
The highlight of tvOS 13 is undoubtedly the new-look Home screen. Along with new icons for a range of Apple TV apps, there's a new full-screen preview feature that'll play clips from various TV shows and movies, depending on the app you've got selected. We hope that it'll extend to games, with game previews, but Apple didn't touch on this during the initial announcement.
While the redesigned Home screen is arguably the most noticeable change in tvOS 13, there's much more on offer here.
Original TV shows and Movies
We know that the company is set to start to produce its own original TV programming that will be available to stream to the TV app on various devices, including the Apple TV, iPhone, iPad and Mac.
This content will be available via a redesigned TV+ app, but the Apple TV+ service won't launch until 1 November.
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.
That's why tvOS 13 introduces user profiles, not only for use within the Apple TV+ app, but for use system-wide. It's easy to switch between accounts via the all-new Control Centre for Apple TV, though Apple didn't go into too much detail about other benefits of the system. We hope that it'll allow different logins for a variety of Apple TV apps and, more crucially, games.
New Control Centre
The Apple TV will get a Control Centre like the one in iOS, which will make it easier to change settings.
Gaming has always been a focus for Apple with the Apple TV, and with the arrival of Apple Arcade due later this year, Apple's getting more serious. While up until this point you'd have to use an MFI-certified controller to play the various games on the Apple TV, the next version of tvOS will offer support for two of the biggest and best controllers on the market: the Xbox One controller, and DualShock 4 controller.
This should be welcome news to gamers, as you'll no longer have to spend £50+ on a dedicated controller for your Apple TV - especially if you've already got a PS4 or Xbox One to hand.
Those gaming controllers will prove handy once Apple Arcade arrives with Apple offering games on a subscription model. More information about Apple Arcade here.
Redesigned Apple Music app
Along with a fresh new look across tvOS 13, the Apple Music app will get an upgrade. While Apple teased an updated UI at WWDC 2019, the focus was on the introduction of lyric support. When you listen to your favourite tunes on your tvOS 13-enabled Apple TV, you'll be able to sing along with lyrics appearing on-screen in time with your music.
tvOS 12 included some gorgeous new aerial screensavers of the planet Earth that had been filmed by astronauts on the International Space Station, and that trend continues with tvOS 13. As revealed by the company during WWDC 2019, there will be a range of 4K HDR-enabled screensavers filmed in conjunction with the BBC for users to choose from and enjoy.
Of course, that 4K HDR content is best viewed on the Apple TV 4K, which got a brief shoutout during Apple's developer-focused event.
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 between now and Autumn 2019.
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.