Apple doesn't always make big updates to its tvOS platform, but with WWDC 2023 coming up in June, it’s time to turn our thoughts to once again to tvOS and our hopes and expectations for it.
The new Apple TV 4K that the company released in late 2022 mostly introduced incremental changes such as a new A15 Bionic chip for faster navigation and gaming and a Siri remote with a USB-C port for charging. But perhaps the most notable change was the price: starting at $129 / £149 / AU$219, the new Apple TV 4K was notably cheaper than its predecessor.
When tvOS 16 officially launched in September 2022, the new features it brought to Apple’s streamer included HDR10+ high dynamic range support, extended game controller compatibility (including Nintendo Switch controllers), and deeper integration with Apple Fitness Plus.
Since that time, Apple has made further updates to tvOS 16, with the list including a more compact Siri interface with a vertically scrolling window showing personalized program recommendations; the ability to recognize multiple users’ voices and automatically switch user profiles; Matter Smart Home device support; Apple Music Sing; and an accessibility option to dim flashing lights in content.
tvOS 17: predicted announcement and release date
Apple announced tvOS 16 at WWDC 2022, and we expect the company to follow the same pattern for WWDC 2023, which kicks off on June 5. Continuing the trend, Apple should make a public beta version available in July and then officially release tvOS 16 in September – around the same time we expect to see the launch of the iPhone 15.
We haven’t heard any leaks about what’s forthcoming in the tvOS 17 release, but here are a few upgrades we want to see the company bring to its Apple TV streaming box…
1. 8K video support
8K TVs have struggled to capture public attention, mainly due to the lack of 8K content available on the best streaming services. But even if 8K were to suddenly become more widespread, the Apple TV 4K at present doesn’t support 8K output from streaming services or local files.
While 8K content may be tough to dig up, it is available on YouTube, and there are high-end cameras – and drones! – capable of 8K capture. Amateur and prosumer 8K video production may be a niche activity at present, but it might ramp up over the next few years, and viewers creating their own 8K content and sourcing it from YouTube will want to stream it using their Apple TV box. As the maker of the best streaming device on the market, Apple should give them that capability.
2. Xbox and GeForce Now cloud gaming
Apple Arcade has come a long way since it first launched, and at $5 / £5 / AU$8 a month, it’s a cheap way to get your gaming fix. The company has also made Apple Arcade gaming on the Apple TV 4K better and more accessible through the extended controller support introduced in tvOS 16.
With Apple Arcade now firmly established, is there any reason why apps for other cloud gaming services like Xbox and GeForce Now aren’t available on Apple TV 4K? Both of those, along with other services like Utomik, are available on Samsung smart TVs, while LG sets like the LG C3 OLED feature GeForce Now and Utomik.
Is Apple TV Plus the only entertainment app on the Apple TV 4K? Of course it isn’t. Apple could easily open up its walled garden to additional gaming services, and that’s an upgrade we’d like to see in tvOS 17.
3. Smart picture-in-picture
The Apple TV 4K’s picture-in-picture feature lets you swap between two different streaming sources, and it also allows you to browse for new shows while one is running in an inset box. Apple’s just-dropped tvOS 16.5 version expands the Apple TV 4K’s picture-in-picture potential via a multi-view feature that supports four streaming sources. Multi-view is intended mainly for sports viewing – specifically MLB Friday Night Baseball and MLS Season Pass on Apple TV Plus – and it’s a good indication of Apple’s plans to add more live sports options to its TV platform.
But is there any reason Apple should stop its picture-in-picture development with multi-view? How about smart features that, for example, launch a picture-in-picture HomeKit camera feed when it detects a baby crying, or when someone knocks on the front door when you’re watching a movie? Or maybe show a stream of images of a particular actor when asked via Siri so you can see what other roles they’ve played, and what they look like in real life? The possibilities here are vast.
4. Ability to use HomePod 2 for surround sound
Streaming via the new HomePod 2 is a great way to listen to the best music streaming services, with Dolby Atmos tracks on Apple Music sounding particularly powerful and spacious with two of Apple’s speakers paired for stereo playback. You can also use a HomePod 2 pair for movie playback, with the speakers configured as the default AirPlay 2 audio output from the Apple TV.
As good as that setup can sound, why isn’t it yet possible to use a second HomePod 2 pair as surround sound speakers? Wireless speakers like the Sonos Era 300 can be easily configured as surrounds in a Sonos system, and while that specific setup would be based around a soundbar like the Sonos Arc, it seems entirely possible that an equivalent “HomePod Surround” option could be included in tvOS 17.
5. Revised on-screen keyboard
Entering text on the Apple TV 4K is nothing short of a drag. The main reason is that its on-screen keyboard extends across the full width of the TV screen, making you scroll left and right and then back again to search or to enter login credentials in apps. If an iPhone is handy, you do get prompted to enter text using a keyboard with a better layout on your phone’s screen, but it’s not always the case that your iPhone is at hand – and there are people who buy Apple TV 4K who don't use iPhones. Yes, Siri can be used for voice searches, but it’s not the answer for all Apple TV 4K text input needs.
Surely Apple can do better here. Other streaming platforms have more compact keyboard layouts that are easier and faster to use – Roku, for example. There's no need to reinvent the wheel here, guys! Just bring things closer together.
6. Apple Music Classical app
After what seemed like an eternity of waiting, Apple finally released its Apple Music Classical app in late March 2023. With its clean layout, extensive metadata, and ability to browse using categories like Composers, Conductors, Orchestras, and even Soloists, Apple’s new app is a fantastic resource for both classical fans, and for those looking to discover classical music and learn more about the genre. The app is free to Apple Music subscribers, and like that service it offers tracks and albums in both high-res (up to 24-bit/192kHz) and Spatial Audio formats.
As great as Apple Music Classical is, it has one problem: no availability on the Apple TV 4K. After all the time and work it put into the new app, it seems odd that Apple would neglect to make it available on an entire hardware platform. Apple TV 4K, in fact, seems like the perfect platform for browsing the deep Apple Music Classical library. Album artwork would look beautiful on a big-screen 4K TV, and music would sound fantastic played over a Dolby Atmos soundbar setup that's designed for total immersion. When it comes to tvOS 17 upgrades, this one seems like a no-brainer.