What should you build for the Apple TV/tvOS

The Apple TV has been around for quite some time, in fact since 2007, when the very first iPhone came out, but always had a back-seat status of being an Apple hobby. Despite numerous incremental improvements, the small black box had still not received much attention from Apple. With this year’s Apple TV, this has all changed.

Amidst all the excitement of Apple’s announcements of the new iPhone 6s and iPad Pro in it’s September announcements, Apple put Apple TV on the spotlight, reborn with an array of hardware enhancements, including a fast A8 processor. The new Apple TV will now be controlled through a new cleaner interface with deep searching, a gesture-friendly remote control, the ability to hook up gaming controllers, and all powered by Siri.

But the most notable of the improvements introduced, is the all-new tvOS framework, opening up the platform for the first time to third-party developers, looking to build the ecosystem. The first obvious channel of apps we will be seeing are games, and the bridge from iOS to creating powerful and immersive tv-room games isn’t that difficult.

Why Build Apps for the Apple TV?

To answer that question, we need to look at what kind of apps would be useful and engaging in the living room, sharing one screen with your friends and family.  There are obvious candidates for apps that make sense on the big screen.

Games & Sports

Using controllers and a large TV screen, Apple games will become more social and inclusive, a shift away from people hiding away on their small screens. We will see developers like EA extend their gaming offering, from iPhone and iPad games like NBA 2K16 and John Madden Football, promising a more addictive experience. The platform Apple have set out, sets the stage for Apple to compete with other gaming consoles like Nintendo, XBox and Playstation.

While Guitar Hero have already announced that they will be building for tvOS, we will be seeing a lot more family-oriented games, like we have seen on the wii make their way onto tvOS.

Apple have demonstrated the new and improved MLB at Bat app, allowing viewers to stream at 60 frames per second live baseball games, with split-screen viewing, for live video mixed with full statistics. NHL is also working on a similar experience for all the hockey-fans out there. But the real anticipation will be with any sports channel being able to jump in with their own subscription-based live offering.

Showcase video content

Of course Netflix and Hulu have had a presence on Apple TV for quite some time, but Apple negotiated with those major streaming television services individually, to have them as a channel on Apple TV. Apple had also negotiated individually with other broadcasting partners, such as MLB and NHL, but the smaller companies and app developers were not part of the equation. This has now changed.

With the Apple TV now having it’s own App Store, any developer big or small is capable of showcasing his or her content on tvOS’s platform.

Podcasters and Video producers can create their own apps and channels for the benefit of consumers. Using the new TVML language and a bit of javascript, companies don’t even have to go to all the trouble of having to develop in Swift or Objective-C to create a simple tvOS app.

Apple have over18 free TVML templates to help companies get started on their apps, making the effort relatively straightforward, with potentially minimal mobile coding expertise. The templates are perfect delivery mechanism for the video-hosting style apps, like educational software giants Lynda and other educational providers, such as Coursera, to make their way onto Apple TV.

Traveling & Shopping Apps

AirBnB have already announced they will be on tvOS, and even demonstrated during Apple’s September event, and this type of app makes sense, as have real-estate app Zillow. Apps like these and Expedia would naturally fit in a sharing environment, such as the Apple TV, because it’s an experience that makes sense to be consumed consultatively.

 

Rather than emailing and texting friends and family, you can all share a large television screen in the comfort of your couches, and peruse holiday homes, hotel packages, and flights together, debating and discussing options. Clothing outlet Gilt have also shown what the experience would be like, to shop for items on Apple TV. Other apps that would make for a great sharing experience on tvOS include:

Social Apps

Not all social apps would make sense on the living room TV. You probably wouldn’t want to share your Facebook messages out in the open, but social apps like pin-board photo app Pinterest, photo-sharing app Instagram and video sharing app Periscope.

Whilst sharing content on the Apple TV via AirPlay isn’t new, being able to view holiday photos from your friends and family via social media apps brings a new experience of sharing, without compromising privacy. Potential social app candidates that could make their way to the big screen include:

You need to think about how you design for the big screen

Now that we have given you some ideas of the types of apps that could make it big on the big screen, there are indeed some UX & Design considerations worth noting, when building for the Apple TV. The first of which is architectural, and whether to go with a TVML App (such as using the templates Apple have provided) or creating a fully-fledged Custom App.

Choosing Between TVML & Custom Apps

TVML Apps are javascript-powered apps, and largely templated by Apple, in order to easily create the UI for hosting a series of videos or audios, and that’s pretty much it. If you want anything more robust, such as a game, a shopping app or social app, you would need to go down the fully-fledged Custom Apps route.

This would require significant development time, and are essentially iOS apps, that are custom-extended to support larger screens, with optimized assets and layouts. But if you do have an existing iOS app, supporting tvOS is rudimentary, which simply requires some design considerations for the big screen, as well as to be able to interpret the remote control gestures.

Privacy & Personalization

TV Apps unlike mobile apps are are not meant for your private eyes, but are exhibited in the living room, for others to also see. This is why personalization & privacy are two factors that need to be weighed on when decided on what’s appropriate for tvOS.

Apps like Facebook aren’t generally ideal for the big screen because of privacy concerns with having your personal messages out there for others to see. However, if they were to release their app for the TV, it would most likely be focused on the public feeds, as opposed to individual messages. Hence, it makes sense to consider what part of an app would make sense to stay private, and what can be shared with others.

This brings us onto personalization, the ability to distinguish between different users and their preferences. Netflix has been doing this for a while, and not just on their Apple TV app , but across all their other supported platforms.

You need to assume more than one user will be using and interacting with your app, and like Netflix, provide the ability for multiple users to access their personalized version of your app. Think Instagram, different users can be able to switch to their account to view their photostreams easily, with or without some form of authentication.

Conclusion

The trend in 2015 and beyond is for households to cut the cord, and move away from the mainstream cable broadcasters and move towards an a-la-carte style consumption of entertainment, such as Hulu and Netflix. HBO and Showtime have also started a similar service this year, and the trend will continue, and this presents the perfect opportunity for smaller broadcasters globally to showcase their videos and subscription-based entertainment on Apple TV.

Gamers, especially those that have been very popular on the iOS, to extend their brand and presence onto the Apple TV and allow for a new style of multiplayer gaming. Karaoke games and Guitar Hero of course will be much more engaging and entertaining on the bigger screen, due to the nature and genre of the type of game.

News, shopping and traveling apps like AirBnB present a great opportunity for app developers to present apps that families enjoy discussing together, on a bigger screen, making the experience more succinct and inclusive, as opposed to tossing and sharing an iPhone or iPad.

This year presents the first time Apple is taking the Apple TV platform seriously, and with yet again a new platform for developers to sink their teeth into, we will start to see a whole new category of apps emerge and evolve over time.