Apple had very little to say about the Apple TV during the WWDC 2017 Keynote earlier this week — mention of it was limited primarily to the announcement of Amazon Prime, and there wasn’t even any specific mention of a tvOS update at all. Of course, with iOS, watchOS, and macOS all getting updates, it was a safe assumption that tvOS would be included, so it wasn’t a surprise that the first beta of tvOS 11 appeared alongside the other updates on Monday. Also, for the first time, it appears that tvOS 11 will be included in Apple’s public beta program, so non-developers will get a chance to take a crack at it within the next few weeks.
Not surprisingly, tvOS 11 isn’t as significant of an update as its iOS counterpart, but the new beta still adds a few small and interesting features that we thought were worth taking a quick sneak peek at. As usual, the standard caveats apply here, however: This is a first beta of an operating system that we’re not expecting to see in public release until the fall, so things may still change between now and then.
Automatic Dark Mode
tvOS 10 introduced a new Dark Mode to the Apple TV — a welcome change in our opinion from the garishly bright white background that heralded the fourth-generation Apple TV UI. We’ve generally been pretty content to use Dark Mode on our Apple TVs all the time, but we can understand some users may want to switch back and forth, using the original Light Mode during the daytime, but switching the more subdued Dark Mode at night, so tvOS 11 now allows for this with a new “Automatic” option.
You’ll be prompted to enable Location Services the first time you switch this on, as tvOS will use your current location to figure out sunrise and sunset times. Once enabled, the Apple TV will switch into Dark Mode at sunset, and back into Light Mode at sunrise.
iCloud Home Screen Sync
It seems that one of Apple’s goals with its new releases this year is to sync even more information via iCloud; iOS 11 users will gain the ability to sync Messages and Siri information between devices using iCloud, and tvOS 11 isn’t left out of the iCloud game either — you’ll be able to store your Home screen layout in iCloud, along with your installed apps, so that this information can be synced across multiple Apple TVs, and restored should you ever have to reset or replace your Apple TV. It was a feature that was kind of conspicuously missing in tvOS 10, so it’s good to see Apple finally addressing it.
The option to enable this can be found in the your iCloud account settings (Settings, Accounts, iCloud), and is simply an on/off toggle. Right now it’s off by default, and Apple doesn’t seem to provide a prompt yet to turn it on during the initial setup process, although we expect this will probably change before the final release.
During the WWDC 2017 Keynote, Apple announced a new AirPlay 2 protocol that would support multi-room audio, noting that the Apple TV would become one of the first devices to support the new protocol. While this doesn’t appear to be there in the first tvOS beta, Apple has made an interesting change to how AirPlay authentication and security are handled.
The AirPlay Settings now show an additional “Access” option at the bottom that allows you to decide whether users can stream to your Apple TV via AirPlay from any device within Wi-Fi range , or whether AirPlay devices have to already be joined to the same Wi-Fi network as your Apple TV. The Security options available will also depend on which Access option you choose: “On W-Fi”allows you to select “None” as an option, relying simply on your normal Wi-Fi access controls; however if you choose to grant access to “Everyone” then you’ll need to at least require a first-time passcode as the minimum security, to prevent just anybody in the neighbourhood from randomly broadcasting to your Apple TV.
This will make it easier to allow guests and visitors to stream to your Apple TV without having to first join your Wi-Fi network, and we can see this being especially useful in conference room or classroom environments.
The standard video player has received a couple of interesting tweaks. While a single tap on the Siri Remote touchpad brings up the scrubber timeline as before, tapping a second time will now switch to a time-of-day display, showing the current time by the playback position and an estimate of what time the video will finish at the end of the timeline.
You can also now double-tap on the Siri Remote touchpad to zoom in and out when viewing 4:3 or 2.35:1 content, and a triple-tap will toggle subtitles on and off, if available; this could previously be accomplished with an accessibility shortcut, however now it’s built-in and works independently of the accessibility shortcut option, which remain assigned to a triple-click of the Menu button, as before.
The Computers tvOS app — used for accessing content stored in your local iTunes library — has been something of an anachronism in the Apple TV environment, maintaining a UI that was far more reminiscent of the third-generation Apple TV, with vertical hierarchical menus for navigating content. With tvOS 11, it appears that the Computers app will finally be brought in line with the rest of the tvOS design motif, adding a top navigation bar for content types such as Music, Movies, TV Shows, Podcasts, and Audiobooks, as well as a new “Search” option. As before, only available content types will be listed here, so if you don’t have any movies in your iTunes library, you won’t see the “Movies” heading.
The Music section basically inherits the style of the Music app redesign from tvOS 10, while the other sections such as Movies and TV Shows now basically match the style of their corresponding iTunes apps. Individual movie and TV show items also gain the same type of info screens found in the tvOS iTunes apps.
Although there’s nothing new in terms of HomeKit on the Apple TV itself, it does appear that Apple has made some under-the-hood changes to the Home Hub engine in tvOS 11 to allow the Apple TV to support new HomeKit automation features such as timers and location triggers based on multiple HomeKit users. There’s still no native Home app on the Apple TV, however.