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Apple’s tvOS 13: Everything you need to know about the latest version

Simon Cohen
apple tv app os all you need to know tvos watch now julian edit
apple tv app os all you need to know tvos watch now julian edit

The latest version of Apple’s tvOS has arrived. Introduced June 3 at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference 2019, tvOS 13 offers a number of much-requested design changes and features, including a new Control Center, a revamped home screen, and multi-user support.

But the fun doesn’t end there. There’s also a refreshed Apple Music client that showcases lyrics in time with the music, and compatibility for both the PlayStation DualShock 4 Wireless Controller and Xbox Wireless Controller. Below, we’ll explain everything you need to know about Apple tvOS13, as well as the universal Apple TV app.

Mom, use your own account

Despite being one of the most expensive streaming devices on the market, the Apple TV has always lacked a feature its cheaper counterparts have long offered: Support for multiple users — and that has irked customers since its inception.

We can see why. There’s nothing worse than starting a new series, pausing to make dinner, then being unable to resume viewing when you return because a family member jumped in while you were slaving away at the stove.

With tvOS, however, the whole family will be able to sign into their own account — through the new Control Center — in order to be served their own personalized recommendations for new shows, movies, and music. They’ll also be able to resume playback of old ones.

Karaoke, meet Apple TV

Having a little get-together? Enter Apple Music. More specifically, the revamped Apple Music for tvOS 13, which has a new karaoke mode built in. Granted, that’s not what Apple calls it, but take it from us, that’s what it’s good for.

Just like on iOS, Apple Music for tvOS can now display lyrics in sync with the music that’s being played. So, stock up on vodka (or your preferred poison), invite some of your closest friends over, and relive the ’80s the only way we know how.

Plug and play

Apple will introduce support for two new handheld controllers with tvOS 13, namely Microsoft’s Xbox Wireless Controller and Sony’s PlayStation DualShock 4 Wireless Controller, for use in controlling titles available through Apple Arcade.

That, for those unaware, is the Cupertino, California-based firm’s on-demand game subscription service, which will be home to more than 100 new and exclusive titles that will run on the Apple TV, iPad, iPhone, and Mac when it launches sometime this fall.

Is that a new home screen?

apple tv app os all you need to know tvos julian watch now 2 edit
apple tv app os all you need to know tvos julian watch now 2 edit

In short: Yes, it is a new home screen. But it’s not one that will tickle everyone’s fancy, and that’s because it comes with full-screen content previews — leave the cursor on a title for a few seconds and it’ll begin playing the trailer. That could get annoying.

Still, Apple is somewhat of a master when it comes to implementation, so we can’t help but think the company has at least included the option to disable the feature, if not the choice of varying start times for those who’d prefer to start the trailer themselves.

TV app, take two

In March, Apple launched a new version of its Apple TV application used within tvOS and other operating systems included in the Apple ecosystem, and outside it as well. Here’s the low-down on this universal app.

The new TV app builds on the features of the previous version, letting customers access a variety of content within a single experience, but it takes a new approach to how this is done. Using an interface that will feel immediately familiar to Netflix subscribers, the TV app home screen is called “Watch Now,” with additional screens for categories like Movies, Kids, and Sports. Each of these screens features subsections like Up Next, What To Watch, and For You, which make it easier to find what you’re looking for.

Apple claims that it’s using expert human curation to make high-level recommendations, but that there will also be highly personalized suggestions done by software, on your Apple TV or another device.

Multiple apps in one

In addition to being able to add a select set of cable and satellite TV providers, as well as live TV streaming services such as Spectrum, DirecTV Now, Optimum, Hulu, PlayStation Vue, Fubo TV — something current TV app users can already do — there will be more than 150 additional “Apple TV Channels” available to be added, all within the TV app interface. It’s a familiar concept and gives viewers greater choice over what they want to watch and how much they’re willing to pay for it.

These channels are the same third-party products — like Starz, HBO, Epix, CBS All Access, and others — that are available on platforms like Amazon Prime Video. The biggest difference is that signing up for them (and starting free trials if available) can all be done quickly and easily from within the TV app. Apple says there are more than 100,000 titles to choose from if you add all of these services up. Needless to say, Apple’s new Apple TV Plus streaming service will be one of those options. Notably, Netflix is not.

Apple devices and more

The new TV app is now available on Apple TVs and iOS devices and as we’ve already mentioned, it will arrive on MacOS in the fall. The big surprise, however, is that for the first time, the TV app will also appear on non-Apple devices. Apple is making it available on a wide variety of smart TVs starting with Samsung, but LG, Sony, and Vizio will get it too.

It’s not just for smart TVs: The new TV app will eventually be available on Roku, and Amazon Fire TV devices. Apple hasn’t announced support for Android TV devices like the Nvidia Shield, but given that Sony’s smart TVs are powered by Android TV, it seems like a good bet that it will show up in the future.

If you’re using an Apple device, Siri can be summoned at any time to help you find what you’re looking for.

Is it live or on-demand?

picture in apple tv app tvos13 tvos 12 3 v3
picture in apple tv app tvos13 tvos 12 3 v3

The new Apple TV app, much like its predecessor, places a focus on providing easy access to on-demand content. Regardless of the source, the various shows and movies can be watched online or downloaded for later viewing offline, and there are never any ads. For now, it looks like the app will be positioning live streaming content side by side with on-demand material, without the benefit of an on-screen guide to help you navigate livestreaming TV services. We expect that this will be available at some point because Apple already supports livestreaming services like PlayStation Vue and FuboTV, both of which have optional guide views. In fact, with tvOS 13 right around the corner according to some sources, tvOS 12.3’s features may soon be eclipsed by a much grander vision for Apple’s TV experience.


The new Apple TV app is free to use, but you’ll still have to pay for much of the content it’s designed to show you. Subscribing to channels is done right inside the app, and pricing can vary a lot depending on what you want to watch. Here are a few examples, courtesy of Macworld (all prices are monthly fees):

  • Acorn TV ($6)

  • Cinemax ($10)

  • Comedy Central Now ($4)

  • CuriosityStream ($3)

  • Epix ($6)

  • HBO ($15)

  • Lifetime Movie Club ($4)

  • MTV Hits ($6)

  • PBS Living ($3)

  • Showtime ($11)

  • Starz ($9)

The newest addition to this list, starting July 29, is CBS All Access, whose participation had been previously announced by Apple. This list isn’t comprehensive; there are several other channels available within the TV app. One aspect of channel subscriptions that is likely to rankle some users, is that they are not cross-platform. In other words, if you subscribe to HBO (as an example) within the Apple TV app, that’s the only place you can use that subscription. The same is true in reverse: If you sign up for HBO Now by subscribing directly to HBO, you won’t be able to use those credentials to sign in to the HBO channel within the TV app. If the latter arrangement describes your situation, it’s not a total deal-breaker as far as the TV app goes — if you have the HBO Now app installed on your Apple TV, the Apple TV app can still promote HBO content to you and even make show recommendations, but when it comes time to actually watch an HBO show, you’ll get booted over to the HBO Now app. Hardly a seamless experience.

What’s more, those prices listed above are — with the sole exception of Acorn TV — the same price as a direct subscription. As Macworld points out, if you subscribe to Apple’s Channels, you’re actually getting less flexibility in terms of viewing options for the same price. Perhaps with tvOS 13, Apple will be able to make a better case for being your one-stop shop for subscription-based on-demand content, but at the moment, it isn’t very compelling.