tvOS is the operating system Apple uses to run its popular Apple TV hardware, just like iOS runs your iPhone and iPad, macOS runs your MacBook, and watchOS runs your Apple Watch.
Released: September 16, 2020
The tvOS 14 update brings a bunch of new features including sharing audio, picture-in-picture mode, new screensavers, and the ability to stream photos and videos from your iPhone to the Apple TV 4K.
You can now connect two sets of AirPods or Beats products to an Apple TV and take in a movie or show with a friend. Plus, you get separate volume controls. Picture-in-picture lets you multitask, such as checking the weather while watching a movie or playing a video game while watching gaming videos.
Gamers also get multiuser support and more compatible game controllers, including Xbox Adaptive Controllers.
Finally, if you have smart home products you can get a notification when your doorbell rings and see who’s there from your Apple TV.
Released: September 24, 2019
Final version: tvOS 13.4.8
Apple’s tvOS 13 brings some cool new features for your Apple TV. There’s a new home screen that includes full-screen video from apps, a new Control Center to show you the time, date, Now Playing and AirPlay controls, Multi-User support to help you carve out your own Apple TV space (with personal Apple Music capabilities, too), Apple Arcade, the company’s premium subscription gaming service (with support for Xbox and PlayStation controllers), new wireless audio sync to help make that annoying lag between your TV and speakers easier to fix, new picture-in-picture support, and (naturally) new screensavers.
First version: September 17, 2018Final version: tvOS 12..4.1
In 2018, Apple released another big software update for Apple TV: tvOS 12. The new software initially added support for Dolby Atmos sound on Apple TV 4K with up to 7.1.4 surround sound channels. Apple also brought a new zero sign-on experience for TV apps that support it; no more signing in to various cable providers to use their app on the Apple TV. The OS also included password AutoFill as long as you had an iPhone or iPad running iOS 12, too, along with several new aerial screensavers. Finally, tvOS 12 brought more developer support for home control systems like Control4, Crestron, and Savant, as well as support for third-party remotes to include Siri.
Now at version 12.3, tvOS has a redesigned TV app that includes Watch Now, Movies, TV Shows, Sports, Kids, Library, and Search sections to make navigating and finding what you want to watch that much easier. The first version of the app (first seen in 2016) only had Watch Now, Sports, Library, Store, and Search areas. It will eventually integrate with Apple’s anticipated streaming service, Apple TV+, set to launch in the Fall of 2019.
Key New Features:
- Support for Dolby Atmos
- Zero sign-in for cable apps
- AutoFill from iOS devices
- Space-based screensavers
- Support for more third-party home control systems and Siri-enabled remotes
- Redesigned TV app
- Tell Siri where to play your videos and music
- Find a Mac or iOS device
First version: September 19, 2017Final version: tvOS 11.4.1, July 9, 2018
The same 4th generation Apple TV received another software update in 2017, and though it wasn’t as hyped as the previous versions, several features were included for Apple’s television device. With tvOS 11, users were able to schedule dark mode based on the time of day, sync their Home Screen across multiple Apple TV devices (via iCloud), and set up their AirPods automatically like on iOS. The update also eventually included better support for live sports with the TV app (including Siri support), and the ability to get on-screen notifications for various games and teams. AirPlay 2 brought multi-room audio play to HomePod, while speakers connected to the Apple TV appeared in HomeKit.
At the same time tvOS 11 came out, Apple also released a 4K Apple TV, which includes HDR support, too. This is also known as the 5th Generation Apple TV.
Key New Features:
- Automatic Dark Mode scheduling
- Home Screen sync
- Automatic AirPod pairing
- Better Siri support for sports
First version: June 13, 2016Final version: tvOS 10.2.2, July 19, 2017
The following year, Apple released the next version of its Apple TV OS, tvOS 10. It included a brand-new Remote app for iPhone and iPad, a single-sign-on system for easier access to apps and media content, HomeKit support, and a dark mode. All of these features were available for the 4th generation Apple TV via a software update.
Key New Features:
- iOS Remote app support
- Single sign-on for cable providers
- HomeKit support
- Dark mode
First version: September 9, 2015Final version: tvOS 9.2.2, July 18, 2016
Introduced in 2015 alongside the first version of iPad Pro and iPhone 6S, tvOS 9 brought new features to Apple TV’s 4th Generation device, including a built-in software development kit (SDK) for developers to create apps for the device and an Apple TV App Store to sell those apps to consumers. It also lets you search across apps with Siri, via the redesigned Siri Remote, which included a touchpad and a microphone.
Key New Features:
- Built-in SDK
- tvOS App Store
- Siri search across apps
- Support for new Siri Remote
A Brief Apple TV History
The original Apple TV was first unveiled in 2006; pre-orders started the following year. Initially called iTV (later changed to avoid a lawsuit from British-based ITV), this first-generation Apple TV came with a 40 GB hard drive. A 160 GB model was released in 2009. The operating system, based on Mac software Front Row, got a software update in 2008 to allow Apple TV to operate on its own without the need for a computer running iTunes to stream to it. This first iteration was discontinued in 2015, with the iTunes feature removed in 2018 due to security concerns.
The second-generation Apple TV came out in 2010; it was the first to run an iOS-based operating system, paving the way for the tvOS of today. It wasn’t until 2015’s 4th generation Apple TV that tvOS 9 became the first operating system named such. The most current tvOS is at version number 12, with tvOS 13 announced by Tim Cook and Apple at the latest WWDC.