Apple brought its new TV app to iOS and Apple TV devices with iOS 10.2 and tvOS 10.1 respectively almost a month ago, and I’ve been using it extensively since. Josh Centers has a good article on how it works over on TidBITS for those unaware, including information on the complementary Single Sign-On feature. Joe Steel also expressed similar sentiments last month.
I’d like to touch on the app experience itself before discussing content, which is the crux of this post.
The TV app is broken down into four tabs:
Library tab of the app shows me my purchased Movies and TV Shows, sorted by Most Recent first. It replaces the old Videos app. I don’t understand why this is the first tab on iOS but the second on tvOS. I almost never launch the app with the intention of going here, and I don’t get the inconsistency. I’d much rather the ordering was maintained, with
Watch Now being the first tab on both platforms.
Watch Now is my biggest draw to the TV app, yet also the part of the app that I feel needs the most work. It has an Up Next section on top, which acts as a queue of content added from a number of sources (manually or automatically). I understand that Apple is trying to make it as invisible as possible but it feels a step too far right now. Currently, when you search for something in the TV app and choose to play it, it opens up in its parent app (Hulu, ABC, etc.) and the TV app automatically starts keeping track of it in Up Next. You can remove something from the queue by long pressing it and tapping ‘Remove from Up Next’ on iOS or tvOS. However, there’s no way to mark an individual episode as played or get a list of your currently tracked shows. When I watch a new episode of a show live on cable TV, I have to play the episode again in the app and scrub to the end to get it to mark as watched and remove it from the queue. I’d like to see Apple do more here. Underneath Up Next is a discovery section that presents content I have access to watch in the TV app. I’ve found this to be pretty useful, but I wish it was aware of shows that I’m already watching to reduce redundancy.
Store tab shows me which apps have added support for the TV app, and new releases on iTunes. I wish it differentiated the apps that I’ve already authorized from the list in some way (maybe grey them out or add a check mark). Apps that I’ve authorized from this list will populate the discovery sections of the
Watch Now tab.
The last tab is
Search, which is very cool. Like Universal Search on the Apple TV, it searches a bunch of supported apps (included Netflix, which is supported in
Search but not
Watch Now) and lets me know what’s available and where. For example, searching for Bob’s Burgers tells me that it’s available on Hulu, FOX NOW, Netflix, iTunes, and TBS. I can then jump through the list of seasons and see where each episode is available.
I have access to Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video, in addition to paying for cable TV through Comcast Xfinity.
Currently, most of what I’m able to watch in the TV app is shows available in Hulu. To be specific, that’s Designated Survivor, Fresh Off the Boat, Modern Family, The Goldbergs, and Bob’s Burgers1. I could watch some of these shows (like Bob’s Burgers) in their network’s app (FOX NOW) using my cable login, but I prefer to watch them ad-free in Hulu. The TV app remembers this preference and doesn’t ask me where I want to watch new episodes every week. I buy and rent movies from the iTunes Store fairly often and it’s great to have those automatically show up in the
Watch Now tab, too. Lastly, I love being able to search for movies and TV shows and adding them to Up Next to watch later. Even if I can’t watch what I add in the TV app itself, I can still add it to help me keep track of what I want to watch. For example, I currently have the movie Sully in my Up Next queue. When I’m ready to watch it, I can select it and see where it’s available for me to watch (currently only buy/rent from iTunes).
The bigger story here though is with the content that I can’t watch in the TV app. Black Mirror, Halt and Catch Fire, Mr Robot, and many more shows are available to me on Netflix but I can’t keep track of my progress in the Watch Now tab2. The Grand Tour, The Man in the High Castle, and 24 are available in Amazon Prime Video but not the TV app. And, unlike with Netflix, these shows don’t even appear in Search results so I can’t even tell if I have access to them (and other Amazon content) without doing a second search in the Amazon Prime Video app. Most inexplicable to me though is HBO. I don’t pay for HBO NOW, HBO’s standalone video service, because I pay for cable and thus have access to HBO GO, which has the same content but lets me watch it by signing in with my cable provider. For some reason, HBO has decided to make HBO NOW compatible with the TV app but not HBO GO. So when I search for movies/shows and see that they’re available on HBO NOW, I have to leave the TV app, switch over to HBO GO, and find them there. I also can’t keep track of shows I’m currently watching (like Westworld and Game of Thrones) in the TV app.
HBO isn’t alone though - other networks like USA haven’t updated their apps to add TV support either. And not only does that frustrate me, but I find it to be cause for concern. Well over a year since the release of iOS 9, most of these apps don’t support fundamental iPad Pro technologies like Split View and Picture in Picture. Hell, I can’t even think of a single network app that supports the larger iPad Pro’s native resolution. What hope is there that they’ll add in support for the TV app — a feature that’s received very little media attention so far — anytime soon?
While there’s a fair amount of what I watch available in the TV app right now, I’m still watching a lot of TV elsewhere. There’s also a lot of TV that I want to start watching, but I haven’t because it’s not supported in the TV app right now.
I think that sums up how I feel about Apple’s latest TV offering: It removes so much minor irritation and is leaps and bounds better to navigate than any other individual app out there, but it doesn’t have nearly enough support from networks and other content providers right now, and it’ll ultimately fail without them. It’s so convenient that I’m actively holding out on watching things that aren’t supported in it right now, but without Hulu alone, this app would be next to useless to me. If Apple could get Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and a few big networks (HBO GO and USA in particular for me) on board, it’d become infinitely more useful. And I do think that Apple has to go get these deals because I have little reason to believe that the networks will do it themselves.
I didn’t talk about Single Sign-On but there are parallels there: It’s supported by very few TV Providers and similarly few network apps. Comcast Xfinity doesn’t support it so I haven’t had a chance to try it out. Given that Xfinity’s TV app is a great iOS citizen3, I’m hopeful that this’ll get added soon.
- Jan 17: Netflix adds ability to play content directly in TV app. Now, when you search for something in the TV app, you can see if it’s available on Netflix and playing it will immediately start playback in the Netflix app. However, Netflix still doesn’t let you track what you’re watching in
- Jan 26: HBO GO adds support for Single Sign-On and TV app. This was a really big one for me. While I still can’t use Single Sign-On with Comcast Xfinity, having HBO accessible in
Watch Nexthas already been great. I’m still baffled it took so long (especially since HBO NOW has had this since day one) but that’s one less bastion4 left to fall.
Don’t judge me. ↩
This is doubly frustrating because, as I mentioned earlier, I can search for Netflix shows in the TV app and it’ll open the movie/episode in the Netflix app; it just doesn’t keep track of progress in
Watch Now. ↩
It supports the iPad Pro’s native resolution, Split View, and Picture in Picture - but not AirPlay. ↩
Netflix and Amazon Prime Video remain, for those keeping track. ↩