Apple's TV app explained: How does it work and where is it available?

Apple’s TV app has undergone a new transformation as the company gears up to launch its subscription service later this year.

Ahead of the new roll out today, we’ve delved a little deeper into the new app and the new features it delivers to help you understand the changes and get more from the new features Apple has introduced.

What is Apple’s new TV app?

The TV app is meant to be your central hub for movie and TV show content. It shows content from iTunes, your library, connected streaming services, and now subscription Channels.

In the US it’s supported by services such as Hulu, Starz, HBO Now, or CBS, while in the UK streaming partners include Amazon Prime Video, ITV, BBC, Channel 5, and StarzPlay.

Previously, on the iPhone and iPad, the TV app was called the Videos app, but with the release of iOS 10.2 in 2016, it was changed to TV, with the purpose of helping you discover new stuff to watch on your iOS device.

Now in 2019, the TV app has had a new revamp ahead of the launch of Apple’s new subscription service Apple TV+.

The new updated version of the TV app is available in iOS 12.3 and tvOS 12.3 as well as certain Samsung TVs and introduces a new look and fresh functionality that is consistent across all devices.

How do you get Apple’s new TV app?iPhone/iPad

Download and install the latest version of iOS 12.3 on your device. Once the update concludes, search for the new TV app on your iPhone or iPad, if you don’t already see it on your device’s Home screen.

Apple TV

The Apple TV app works on Apple TV (4th Gen) or newer. If you bought the Apple TV at the end of 2015 or later you’ll be fine. To ensure you have the app, download and install the latest version of tvOS on your Apple TV. Once the update concludes, search for the new TV app on your set-top box, if you don’t see it on the Home screen.

Samsung TVs

Starting 13 May, the Apple TV app offering Apple TV channels and iTunes movies and TV shows will also be available on all 2019 Samsung smart TVs and select 2018 models.

Apple has promised the TV app will also be coming to Sony, LG, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku devices later in the year.  

Here is the full list of compatible Samsung televisions:

– Samsung FHD/HD 4, 5 Series (2018)
– Samsung QLED 4K Q6, Q7, Q8, Q9 Series (2018 & 2019)
– Samsung QLED 8K Q9 Series (2019)
– Samsung The Frame Series (2018 & 2019)
– Samsung The Serif Series (2019)
– Samsung UHD 6, 7, 8 Series (2018 & 2019)

How does Apple’s new TV app work on iOS?Single sign-on

From the moment you launch the app on your iOS device (and pass the intro/welcome screen), you will be asked to sign in to your streaming app provider. At this point, you will sign in once and be able to access all supported apps like the BBC iPlayer app for example. This is a new feature that Apple calls “Single sign-on”. 

Whether you sign in or not, the next screen you’ll see is the home screen, with a navigation bar running along the top. It has tabs for the following screens: Watch Now, Movies, TV Shows, Sports (US only), Kids, Library, and Search.

Tap any of these tabs to access their respective screens.

Watch Now

The Watch Now screen in the TV app lets you access all the TV shows and movies you’re currently watching on the Apple TV or on your iOS device – so you can pick up where you left off and the latest update has seen a tweak to the user interface bringing to life the shows and movies it is highlighting. Where available you’ll get a trailer automatically playing in the same way it does on Netflix.

If you start watching something from an app or service like BBC iPlayer, it will appear in the Watch Now tab although you’ll actually watch the content in the providers app. So clicking on a show that’s available on BBC iPlayer will take you to the iPlayer app on your device.

In the UK that’s BBC, ITV, Channel 4, and 5. As well as Amazon Prime Video. Sadly, nor Now TV or Netflix are available in the Apple TV app, with the former supposedly working on being involved, and the later not in any way interested.

When you’ve finished an episode, the next available one will appear in the Watch Now screen. If you’re watching, for instance, Westworld by HBO in the US, tapping the episode will automatically open the HBO Now or HBO Go app and begin playing.

Whatever the streaming service, it will always take you to the relevant app rather than try and ape the experience in the Apple TV app unless it’s an Apple TV channel (more on that in a moment).

Watch now also suggests different things to watch. You can browse through different categories, too, like TV Shows, Movies, and Collections and the recommendations are a mix between human editors recommending you new TV shows and movies (a nice change to your feeds being dominated by the echo chamber), and algorithms suggesting things based on what you’ve watch.

Movies, TV Shows, Sports

As the names suggest this is those categories broken down into more manageable sections and not only pulls from the apps or channels you have connected, but also the iTunes store.

The iTunes store integration is much more subtle now rather than insisting you go to a dedicated shop front.

Kids

In a nod to understanding that kids are watching more and more on demand content, Apple has introduced a new Kids area that will highlight child friendly content on the services you have available.

Frustratingly the TV app experience for kids isn’t anywhere near as on par with offerings from other services within dedicated apps like Netflix or Sky in the UK. There’s no way to lock a device into the Kids section to stop your little ones venturing into horror movie territory, for example, or isolate what is watched so it doesn’t affect your recommendations.

This is early stages for Apple, and while it’s welcomed, it’s very lacklustre beyond recommending shows and movies for your children.

Library

Apple’s TV app on the iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, or Samsung TV has a Library screen so you can find all the movies and TV shows you’ve already purchased or rented on iTunes. You can browse your content by movies or TV shows, recently purchased, or genres. When you are ready to watch something, just tap it and then select the Play button with the app knowing where you left it last.

On iOS, you can also download a movie or TV show from here, to your device, for offline-viewing. Just tap the download button after you select the TV show or movie. To access your downloads, go to the Downloaded section in the Library tab of the TV app. When you tap a downloaded movie or TV show, it will automatically open and play.

Search

Tap the Search tab and manually enter any TV show or movie title in the text field. Apple will then see where that show or movie is showing be it the BBC or ITV or Amazon for example. You can also use the Search tab to see trending movies and TV shows.

How do Apple TV Channels work?

One of the new features of the TV app is the introduction of Channels.

Although on the surface they look like the connected apps experience that delivers content recommendations, Channels takes things one step further, by not only allowing you to manage your subscriptions with the Apple TV app experience, but also pick up where you left off and watch everything within the TV app rather than various dedicated apps.

In the US Channels at launch include HBO, Starz, SHOWTIME, Smithsonian Channel, EPIX and Tastemade, and more will be added over time, including CBS All-Access and MTV Hits. 

In the UK Channels will launch with StarzPlay and Smithsonian.

Subscribers can watch and download shows and movies both online and offline, including HBO in the US.

Through Family Sharing, up to six family members can share subscriptions to Apple TV channels using just their Apple ID and password.

Channels will also be the only way you can get access to third-party content beyond iTunes on devices outside the Apple device eco-system like a Samsung TV for example.

It’s also how the new Apple subscription service, Apple TV+ will work within the TV app.

How does Apple’s new TV app work on Samsung TVs?

The TV app on Samsung has been designed to work in a virtually identical way to how the TV app looks on an Apple device like an iPhone or iPad. The functionally and layout is the same with the only core different being how the app handles content from other parties outside of Apple.

What that means for users is that only content that is available via Apple or the Apple Channels is available. This is because the app isn’t able to open other apps on the TV operating system like iPlayer or ITV hub.

Users will however be able to watch any supported Apple TV Channel within the app.

With the introduction of the TV app on Samsung TVs users will also be able to now stream from their iOS devices via AirPlay 2. AirPlay 2 offers support for 1080p streaming or mirroring of the iOS device.

TV content providers like ITV or Channel 4 could in the future offer Apple Channels, and they don’t have to have a subscription fee associated to them, however one of the requirements of the Apple TV Channels is that there aren’t any adverts. While that would be fine for the BBC, we suspect services like Channel 4 or Channel 5 wouldn’t accept that approach.

What services are supported on the Apple TV app beyond Channels?

In the UK the service is supported by: BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, My5, Amazon Prime Video, Hopster, MUBI, Curiositystream, Classix, Shudder, Sundance. However, Sky’s Now TV and Netflix aren’t currently part of the offering. 

In the US the service works with Hulu, CBS All Access, Showtime, HBO NOW, plus some smaller services. Netflix isn’t offered on the app. 

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