The redesigned Apple TV app, first announced back at the company’s March event, is being released today on iOS, Apple TV, and Samsung’s latest smart TVs. To make that happen, Apple is rolling out updated versions of iOS and tvOS with a refreshed look and support for a new lineup of paid Apple TV Channels, including HBO, Showtime, Starz, Epix, and other networks. Users can subscribe to Apple TV Channels directly from the Apple TV app, and all content can be watched from right inside the app as well.
The Apple TV app is where the Apple TV+ service, with Apple’s original programming, will be found when it launches this fall. And all of your iTunes movies and TV shows, whether purchases or rentals, will live in the TV app going forward as well.
Apple has promised top-tier video and audio presentation for Apple TV Channels. When you subscribe to HBO or another network through Apple TV Channels, it’s Apple — not the video partner — handling the encoding and serving up the streams, so the company is in full control of bit rate and audio fidelity. So far, Apple isn’t offering specifics on the stream quality details for HBO or other available subscriptions, but it’s definitely aiming to best rivals like Amazon Prime Video, which offers some of the same premium channels. If you go back and watch that very dark Game of Thrones episode again, hopefully you’ll see less banding, pixelation, and other signs of compression from the Apple version. All Apple TV Channels offer a free weeklong trial, and they can be used by anyone linked into your Family Sharing group.
The interface for each Apple TV Channel is designed and maintained by Apple, but the company takes into account feedback from its partners with the goal of making things feel consistent between a network’s other apps. You can scroll through rolls of content a la Netflix, but Apple also came up with a flashy full-screen card view for navigating between content with a swipe left or right on the Apple TV remote. (Trailers will autoplay when you’re browsing this way.)
Another very convenient thing about Apple TV Channels is that all of them support downloads for offline viewing. Even HBO Now and HBO Go don’t currently let you download movies or shows, but the Apple TV app does. For some networks, these offline videos will act like iTunes rentals; once you hit play, you’ll have a window to finish watching them before the download expires. Here, again, Apple says users can expect optimal quality for whatever device they’re downloading to, be it an iPhone or iPad (or the Mac starting this fall).
Elsewhere, the “new” Apple TV app is going to look very familiar. The layout is largely the same as before, with an Up Next section at the top that rounds up shows, movies, or sports games you’ve already started watching. Below that is What to Watch where Apple’s editors surface content they want you to see. This won’t necessarily be limited to apps that you’re subscribed to; even if you don’t have HBO, Game of Thrones and other must-sees are going to have placement here. Content from any of these apps — over 150 in total — is fair game to show up in the Apple TV app’s recommendations.
But Apple is adding onto its own editorial suggestions with personalized recommendations. You’ll see a For You row that, like Apple Music, brings together movie and show choices based on your previous viewing. Underneath that are several “Because you watched ____” rows with yet more personalized picks.
You’ll still find the dedicated Sports section with scores for ongoing games and rows for your favorite teams. Brand-new, however, is a Kids tab that’s entirely curated by Apple’s editorial staff: no algorithms are at play here, so everything that shows up should be safe for all ages. Now, both the sports and kids programming will still kick you out to third-party apps, and that’s true for a lot of what you’ll see on the main Apple TV home screen, too. If it’s not a Channel, you’re getting sent out to another app when you hit play.
On Samsung’s TVs, the Apple TV experience is a bit different and more limited. It strictly revolves around content you get from Apple. Your purchased and rented shows / movies will be there, as will your Apple TV Channels. (HBO will stream directly from inside the app, just as it does on Apple TV and iOS.) But on Samsung hardware, you won’t find any tie-ins with third-party apps like Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, or those from cable providers. It’s likely this will also hold true for the eventual Apple TV app on Roku and other platforms, but Apple isn’t ready to share any details on that yet.
Alongside the new Apple TV app, AirPlay 2 is launching today on 2019 and some 2018 Samsung TVs. Vizio, LG, and Sony will be adding the same functionality sometime later this year.