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What Makes a Good Apple TV App?

February 23, 2016 Written by Andrei Klubnikin, Senior Content Manager
The 4th Gen Apple TV has got off to a bumpy start. Despite the initial commercial success and optimistic forecasts for 2016, the gadget was met with generally mixed reviews. The critics praised the tvOS store and big screen experience, but felt most of the existing TV applications were rushed to release. What features are missing? Is Apple to blame? How to develop great Apple TV apps despite current technical issues?

Creating a successful Apple TV app

The 4th generation Apple TV is a great step forward from its 2013 forerunner. Besides the universal search option and Siri-enabled remote, it offers a brand-new store with tvOS applications. However, some reviewers, including Zac Hall of 9to5Mac, were ambivalent towards the gadget and stated the third-generation channels actually worked better. That’s right, channels. What we’ve got now is apps. Let’s make it clear: the new Apple TV is not meant for streaming only. It’s a smart device (similar to iPhone and iPad), with its own software ecosystem. It’s not pure TV. It’s games, advertising, business, shopping and a lot more! For the first time in history, third-party developers can build their own TV applications using the tvOS SDK. It’s a game changer for many industries, including entertainment, e-commerce and tourism. Still, there are only 3.6 thousand apps on the TV app store at the moment. The market is dominated by large content providers like Nat Geo, Disney and YouTube – the big guys who can easily spare a few bucks on new software. And even these guys sometimes fail. Netfix, the global streaming service with over 75 million subscribers, joined Apple TV back in 2013. The first version of the Netfix app had a simple vertical menu, arranged programs by categories and allowed users to save the videos they wanted to watch later. What we’ve got now is a visually rich application with a heavy focus on new offerings. Although the soft features detailed previews of movies and TV shows, it’s not easy to navigate through the content. Hulu made exactly the same mistake. The company got rid of the top menu, and users often struggle to locate themselves in the application. But don’t judge a book by its cover. There’s nothing wrong with the TV. A lot of companies were so eager to enhance their apps’ functionality that they completely forgot about user experience. Some developers, on the contrary, know what makes a good app. What Makes a Good Apple TV App

Apple TV app success stories

The HBO application, for example, resembles the company’s iPhone and iPad software. Its Watchlist section is always within reach & large enough to display video content artworks. By offering quick access to photos, playlists and live search, the Plex media server also managed to keep balance between new capabilities and easy navigation. Daily Burn 365 took advantage of the AirPlay Mirroring option to broadcast workouts and live shows on Apple TV. The program also features chats and polls for community interaction. The CARROT Weather application has a minimalistic iPhone-inspired design and delivers accurate forecasts spiced up with weather jokes. And yes, you can certainly guide your Crossy Road bird in the right direction with a Siri remote. Building apps for Apple TV is a new, largely undiscovered path. But it doesn’t mean you can’t have a safe journey.

4 steps to successful Apple TV development

  • Focus on user experience. Apple’s official developer guidelines concentrate on big screen visuals. The company encourages vendors to build software with the tvOS SDK and make use of On-Demand storage resources (after all, the app size is limited to only 200 MB). As a result, developers create beautiful apps stuffed with high-quality photos. And user experience is somehow left behind. A tvOS app is still an app. It should serve its purpose. And clear navigation is a must. We can surely add Airbnb to our app development success stories collection. The company provides users with exactly what they need to choose a place to stay: the images of houses to rent, a little text and ratings;
  • Take the “mobile approach” to Apple TV game development. The size of the Siri Remote is just 124 x 38 mm, and the touchscreen is even smaller. It’s not enough for Xbox-quality video games, and that’s why most Apple TV owners buy iOS-compatible game controllers like the Steel Series Nimbus. If you want to create Apple TV game apps that can be played with the Siri Remote, go for a simpler mobile-like solution (swipe to the left, swipe to the right). Otherwise your game will be slammed by reviewers;
  • Come up with a multi-user solution. Watching Apple TV is not a solitary activity. Zillow, the real estate tycoon, built a tvOS app for families to make home-buying decisions together. Edmunds, a car shopping website, launched an Apple TV channel for the same reason. Popular tvOS games like Sing! Karaoke, Crossy Roads and Sketch Party TV are designed for several players. Does your app idea fit the multiplayer concept?
  • Think big. 2016 is a turning point for Apple TV. The company has already released tvOS 9.1.1 with the Podcasts app. In the near future users will be able to create app folders and connect Bluetooth keyboards to the TV set. With the introduction of new features, it will soon be possible to launch an Augmented Reality TV solution similar to ModiFace. While the options are not available yet, you can validate your idea with an MVP app (or even a promotional video, like HotelsTonight did).
Tech experts note that the 4th Gen device provides better overall experience than Roku, Amazon and the like. And users agree. The gadget sold 25 million units between 2007 and 2015. The new Apple TV conquered the global streaming hardware market in a few weeks after its launch. In 2016, the device is expected to ship 24 million units. What is more important, it continues to evolve.

Apple TV keeps getting better

The latest Apple TV has been available for purchase since October. Upon its release, the gadget generated several harsh reviews. It turned out the TV remote app was incompatible with Apple Watch and iOS. Also, the setup process required manual data entry. The universal search option was somehow limited to iTunes content, and no Safari tvOS browser has been launched so far. Apple was quick to fix the remote app issues, and now the TV set works seamlessly with any Apple gadget. We’ve already mentioned the updates scheduled for 2016. It wouldn’t be Apple if they didn’t try to fix the bugs ASAP. By the end of 2016, there will be 10 thousand tvOS apps. If you consider creating a successful app for Apple TV, look for a reliable vendor right now, while the market is new and trending.

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