Understanding the upcoming Apple TV App — Supported Hardware and Content Sources

At an event that focused mostly on TV, Apple announced a new TV app that is coming to 3rd-party devices, like the Amazon Fire TV, as well as several new streaming services with both new and existing content. In a sense, Apple has packed their new Apple TV interface into an upcoming app that will make it possible to access Apple’s television offerings without buying their hardware. While most of what Apple announced isn’t new to the streaming industry a whole, it does give Fire TV owners a new way to access content, so it’s worth understanding. Here’s a breakdown of what we know about the upcoming Apple TV app.

Supported Hardware

Apple Devices

The existing Apple TV app is currently only available on the Apple iPhone, Apple iPad, and Apple TV. Those devices will be updated to the new version of the Apple TV app in May. Apple is also going to release a Mac version of the Apple TV app in the Fall.

Streaming Media Players

The Apple TV app is also coming to Amazon Fire TV devices and Roku devices for the first time. Nothing has been said about which specific models will be getting the app. If Apple chooses to not support all Fire TV models, the 1st-gen Fire TV and 1st-gen Fire TV Stick are likely the ones to not be supported. It’s unlikely that Apple would only support Fire OS 6 devices because the 2nd-gen Fire TV Stick, which is a Fire OS 5 device, is used by more Fire TV customers than all other models combined, according to my estimates. That would be quite a huge chunk of users to omit and is, therefore, unlikely to happen.

Most notably, Apple made no mention of support for Android, Android TV, or Chromecast devices. This certainly doesn’t mean that they’ll never be supported, but it’s telling that they weren’t explicitly mentioned when Apple displayed Fire TV and Roku logos during their presentation. NVIDIA currently has a special arrangement with Amazon that brought the Prime Video app to the Shield TV with an OS update, which bypassed the Google Play Store. It’s possible that NVIDIA will make the same arrangement with Apple for the new Apple TV app.

Smart TVs

Apple will be bringing the Apple TV app to select smart TVs. It seems like Samsung TVs will get the app first, followed by Sony, Vizio, and LG TVs. It looks like 2018 and 2019 smart TV models are the most likely ones to get the Apple TV app.

It’s worth noting that Sony TVs run the Android TV operating system. This likely means that Apple will be making an Android TV version of their Apple TV app that they might deliberately keep out of the Google Play Store. If Sony TVs do get an Android TV version of their Apple TV app, this opens up the possibility for sideloading the app on other Android TV devices. It also makes a direct deal with NVIDIA for the Shield TV a more likely possibility.

Content Sources

iTunes

Movies and TV shows that are purchased or rented from iTunes will be accessible through the new Apple TV app. It’s assumed that this will be the case across all devices and not just Apple devices. If that is the case, it means that iTunes content will be directly available on Fire TV devices for the first time when the new Apple TV app debuts. Apple uniquely does not charge extra for 4K movies, compared to 1080p movies, so iTunes might be a less expensive market for 4K content than Amazon Video for Fire TV owners.

If Apple does make iTunes content accessible through their upcoming Fire TV app, there’s no guarantee that customers will be able to purchase content directly within the app on a Fire TV device. There’s a good chance they’ll require that customers purchase content through an iOS device, Mac, or PC directly from iTunes and then only allow the Fire TV app to play content that has already been purchased.

Apple Channels

One of the new streaming services that Apple announced for the upcoming Apple TV app is Apple Channels. Similar to Prime Video Channels, the Apple Channels allow customers to subscribe to individual networks directly from Apple. Once again, it’s unknown if Fire TV users will be able to start a subscription through the Apple TV app on a Fire TV device or if the app will only be used to access content from an existing subscription.

The networks that were shown in a slide during Apple’s event are: Acorn TV, BritBox, CBS All Access, Cinemax, CollegeHumor’s Dropout, Epix, Eros Now, HBO, Lifetime Movie Club, Mubi, MTV Hits, Nickelodeon Hits, Noggin, PBS Living, Showtime, Shudder, Smithsonian Channel Plus, Starz, Sundance Now, Tastemade, Up Faith and Family, and Urban Movie Channel.

Apple TV+

The biggest announcement that Apple made regarding content is a new service called Apple TV+. This is a new streaming service directly from Apple that will include original movies and TV shows that you won’t be able to find anywhere else. Apple has not said how much this new streaming service will cost each month.

Some might compare Apple TV+ as a competitor to Netflix, Prime Video, and Hulu, but that’s not really the case because, unlike those existing streaming services, Apple TV+ will not include any 3rd-party content. This means that the few Apple-produced movies and shows will be the only content available through the service. Other upcoming new streaming services, like Disney+ or Viacom’s Pluto TV content, will include a back catalog of each companies existing content. Apple will be starting from scratch with Apple TV+.

Streaming Services

Speaking of streaming services, Apple mentioned that content from Prime Video, Hulu, ESPN+, MLB, and other streaming services will be accessible through the new Apple TV app. This is a bit misleading because selecting content from those 3rd-party services within the Apple TV app will kick users out to each service’s own app, instead of playing directly in the Apple TV app. Apple will simply have the catalog information for those services in their app to use for recommendations and watch history listings. This is similar to how the Fire TV interface recommends content from 3rd parties and allows you to use the Fire TV’s universal search to jump directly to a 3rd-parties content in the 3rd-party’s app.

Since 3rd-party streaming services will not actually be streaming from Apple and will require the 3rd-party app to be installed, this aspect of the Apple TV app will likely not be available through non-Apple devices, like the Fire TV.

It’s worth noting that Netflix has chosen to not integrate its catalog with the Apple TV app. This means that, even on Apple devices, none of Netflix’s movies or TV shows will appear anywhere in the Apple TV app. Netflix does integrate its content into the Fire TV interface, including a recommendations row on the home screen, and the Fire TV’s universal search.

Cable, Satellite, and Internet TV Providers

Similar to streaming services, select TV providers will also have their channels and content integrated into the Apple TV app in the form of recommendations and watch history. It’s expected that this content will also kick users out to individual 3rd-party apps when the content is select, so it will also likely not appear in the Apple TV app on non-Apple devices, like the Fire TV. Traditional TV providers, like Spectrum, DirecTV, and Optimum, as well as internet TV providers, like PlayStation Vue, Hulu Live, and FuboTV, will be part of this integration.

Apple TV app on Fire TV

When the Apple TV app arrives on Fire TV devices later this year, at the very least it will allow Fire TV customers to access Apple Channel subscriptions and Apple TV+ original content. There’s a good chance it will also be a way for Fire TV customers to access content purchased from iTunes on their Fire TV device for the first time. A big unknown is if new subscriptions and content purchases will be feasible directly through the Apple TV app or if the app will merely be a way to access content that has been paid for outside of the app.

It’s unlikely that any of the integration with 3rd-party streaming services or TV providers will be available in the Apple TV app for Fire TVs. Those features will likely be reserved for Apple devices. The Apple TV app for Fire TVs likely won’t arrive until this Fall at the earliest.

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9 comments
  1. Jay says:

    It seems like an attempt to make things easier for consumers that could wind up just being more confusing!

  2. dennycranium says:

    Apple TV? Thud!
    We don’t need iTard nation polluting the Firestick

    • Bob says:

      I always think it’s neat when software companies write software for their competitor’s operating system.

      • dennycranium says:

        My first comment was supposed to be a little tongue and cheek.
        I just find it strange that Apple will share their revenue generating apps but keep things like FaceTime and iMessage locked inside their ecosystem.

  3. Nope says:

    Funny, I am an AFTV guy, but leave it to Apple to make something better. The AFTV interface SUCKS….. and we all know it!

    • Jay says:

      Yes. Love the remote, can’t stand the interface, thus I use my Apple TV 4K much more often. Oh, and there is that Google/Amazon silliness which doesn’t help in the app department.

  4. NashGuy says:

    Kudos to Elias for putting together one of the most comprehensive and well thought-out articles I’ve seen yet about the upcoming Apple TV app and its spread to non-Apple hardware platforms.

    Read his remarks above under the Streaming Services sub-section. I would definitely agree with him that the Apple TV app on Fire TV (or Roku, etc.) will probably NOT integrate curated content from non-Apple apps, such as Hulu, HBO Now, ESPN+, PBS, Prime Video, Tubi, etc. nor will it allow the user to maintain a universal Up Next watchlist that tracks viewing across those 100+ third-party apps, the way that it already works on an Apple TV box. I just don’t see Amazon or Roku allowing Apple to deep-link to content in third-party apps from inside their own Apple TV app because that would allow (even encourage) their users to rely on the Apple TV app as their primary “home base” UI on a Fire TV or Roku device. Why would those companies want or allow that?

    I don’t think that the Fire TV home screen has anything exactly like the Apple TV app’s Up Next cross-app watch list. (No, it doesn’t support Netflix, but it supports pretty much everything else.) Yes, apps, including Netflix, *suggest* individual series or films to watch on the Fire TV home screen but there’s not a row — is there? — that actually keeps track of exactly which series you’re watching across all different apps and knows which episode is “up next” for you to watch. Just click on the tile for that series and you’re taken directly to the next unwatched episode for it inside its native app, without having to manually open the app and look for the content there. No need to remember which show is in what app, no need to juggle multiple watchlists across multiple apps. And when a new episode or season of a show you’ve watched before becomes available inside an app, the new content shows up automatically in the universal Up Next watchlist.

    Lastly, although Netflix doesn’t support the Up Next watchlist on Apple TV, it does work with universal voice search. I can ask for Stranger Things and then see an Apple-designed screen with show info and tiles for each season and episode. Clicking on any of those tiles will immediately switch me to Netflix and start the video stream for that episode. The bummer, though, is that that Apple screen for Stranger Things does not include a button to let me manually add the series to the Up Next watchlist. And after watching an episode of a series in Netflix, it doesn’t get automatically added to the Up Next watchlist, reflecting which episode is next for me. That’s what happens in virtually *every* other app I use on the Apple TV. Supported apps and Apple’s Up Next watchlist have two-way communication, so each “knows” what’s going on with the other. No other streaming box or stick has that feature and, to me, it’s HUGE.

  5. James P Updike says:

    Out is so annoying when app makers like this and Hulu and others make an app for the FireTV , which is android , and refuse to put that app on Android TV .

  6. Kawshik Ahmed says:

    Correct you facts. Amazon Video on Nvidia SHIELD, Sony and Phlips Android TV’s don’t bypass the Google Play Store anymore. They are being updated from Play Store from nearly a year now. Here is the ‘Amazon Video for Android TV’ link from Play Store:
    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.amazon.amazonvideo.livingroom&hl=en_US

    Amazon just whitelisted Nvidia, Sony and Phlips devices in ‘Play Store Dev Console’ so other Android Tv devices can’t find the app when searched.

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