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Apple updates TV App ahead of streaming service launch with new features

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor
Apple is updating its Apple TV app ahead of the launch of its own streaming video service later this year. (Image: Apple)

Apple (AAPL) is rolling out a major update to its Apple TV software. Available for Apple TV, as well as iOS devices, the update brings a slew of new features including an improved look, a new Kids tab, improved TV show and movie curation and, most importantly, the company's new Apple TV Channels feature.

All of this comes ahead of the launch of Apple's highly anticipated streaming service: Apple TV+. Available later this year, the service will compete for consumers' attention spans with the likes of Netflix (NFLX), Hulu, Amazon (AMZN) Prime Video, and Disney's (DIS) recently unveiled Disney+.

It also marks the debut of the Apple TV app on Samsung smart TVs, as well as Roku (ROKU) and Amazon streaming devices, something that was virtually unthinkable just a few years ago.

Here are the biggest changes coming to the app.

Apple TV Channels

The most important feature for the updated Apple TV app is its new Apple TV Channels. Announced at Apple's March event, Apple TV Channels are premium channels like HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc. that you subscribe to directly through the Apple TV app via your iTunes account.

There are a few differences between subscribing to one of these services through Apple TV versus subscribing to something like HBO Now or a subscription to HBO Go through your cable or satellite subscriber.

If you sign up for HBO Now or have a cable subscription, selecting a show or movie through the Apple TV app currently takes you out of the Apple TV app and launches HBO Now. It's not exactly a frictionless experience, and Apple clearly isn't a fan of the process.

With Apple TV Channels, you subscribe to and view premium channels from within the Apple TV app rather than a secondary app. And while that will certainly make for a more cohesive viewing experience, the main change this brings to the Apple TV app is the ability to watch shows from premium channels both on and offline.

The Apple TV Showtime service provides you with access to all of the premium channels' content, as well as offline viewing. (Image: Apple)

So if you've got a long flight, you can download every episode of "Game of Thrones" and catch up while you travel. That's a first for a number of these premium channels.

Unfortunately, you won't be able to get offline viewing if you subscribe to services like HBO Go or HBO Now. It's an Apple TV-only feature. That means, if you're a diehard Apple fan, you might want to ditch your HBO Go, Showtime Anytime, CBS All-Access, and sign up via Apple TV instead. Thankfully, Apple says subscription prices for the services will be the same through Apple TV as they are through the services' parent sites.

There's no word yet, however, on how much Apple is splitting subscription fees with its content partners at this point. In its App Store, Apple charges partners 30% of each app purchase or the first year of a subscription. The cut the company takes from subscriptions drops to 15% per year thereafter.

An improved design

There was nothing really wrong with the current version of Apple TV, per se, but the updated app has a more refined look and feel.

There's a new What to Watch section that points you toward shows that match up with your tastes. Apple is positioning this as a feature curated by algorithms and real-life human beings to ensure that you actually see the kind of content that interests you, and not random nonsense that doesn't fit your tastes.

There's also a new Kids tab that serves as a space where you can access children’s content from across the various services you use within the Apple TV app. Apple says this is editorially curated, which means no content meant for older audiences should accidentally slip in there.

Finally, Apple says it's bringing its entire iTunes movie and TV show library over into the Apple TV app. This is meant to make finding movies and shows easier for Apple TV platform users, as well as consumers who access the Apple TV app through third-party devices.

Speaking of those third-party device users, Apple says its Apple TV app won't let you do things like open movies and TV shows on Hulu or Netflix, since those services are controlled by the device they run on. So if you're using the Apple TV app on a Roku, the Roku will control Hulu and Netflix, taking you out of the Apple TV experience. When using an Apple TV device, the transition would be far more seamless.

All of these changes mean that Apple is entering its final stages before it puts the full force of its efforts behind its video service. We'll find out how much this all pays off when Apple launches Apple TV+ later this year.

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Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@oath.com; follow him on Twitter at@DanielHowley. Follow Yahoo Finance on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, andLinkedIn.finance.yahoo.com/