tvOS for Apple TV: A Developer's Perspective

Apple's September 9 event heralded great news for iOS developers—Apple TV, a new platform for apps.

Apple's CEO, Tim Cook, summed up the drive behind tvOS this way: "I believe the future of television is apps." This is great news for iOS developers. Apple TV is the second new platform introduced this year for iOS developers (Apple Watch was the first). With over 1.5 million apps in the iOS store, it can be very difficult to get your app noticed. These new platforms provide a great opportunity for develoeprs to introduce new and innovative ideas that can help them stand out in a much less crowded field.

The Base Unit

The hardware for the new Apple TV is by far the most powerful to date. Here are the basic specs for the Apple TV unit:

  • 64-bit A8 chip (also found in iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus)
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi with MIMO (multiple/input, multiple/output for faster Wi-Fi speeds)
  • IR Receiver
  • 32 or 64 GB of storage (compared with 8 GB in its predecessor)

This provides superior performance necessary for graphics-intensive apps that run on the device.

The Remote

The new Apple TV remote is a huge upgrade from the previous version. It has a glass touch surface that handles smaller movements as well as larger sweeping movements, such as swipes. Since the remote is Bluetooth 4.0, you don't need to point it at your TV when using it. It also has long-needed volume controls and the ability to turn on/off your TV so you don't need multiple remotes.

The remote has two microphones. One for accepting voice commands for Siri, and the other for listening for and filtering out background noise, such as the sound coming from your TV.

The other important upgrade for app developers is the inclusion of an accelerometer and gyroscope for sensing motion. During the demo session, Apple showed off its capabilties in a new Beats Sports game (made only for Apple TV), where players can use motions, similar to the Wii console for playing games. 

In addition to the default Apple TV remote, you can expect the release of 3rd-party remotes for more intensive game play.


The best news for iOS developers is tvOS; a brand new operating system based on iOS that is available in beta right now. Developers can use the same tool (Xcode), the same languages (Swift or Objective-C), and some of the same frameworks (Game Center, Metal, UIKit, and CloudKit) to build apps for Apple TV.

Previously, when developers built a universal iOS app, this meant the app could run on either the iPhone or iPad. Apple has now expanded this to include Apple TV. This allows users to purchase your app for all of these platforms with a single purchase in the App Store. 

Apple TV Developer Kit

Apple announced the release of the new Apple TV Developer Kit, which includes the Apple TV base unit and remote. You must register by September 11, 2015 in order to be eligible to receive the kit. Apparently supplies are limited, so registration doesn't guaranty you'll receive the kit. Apple is giving precedence to developers who already have apps in the App Store. You can register for the Developer Kit at this link.

Although you can use the more traditional technologies in building an app for Apple TV, Apple has also introduced some new technologies such as:

  • TVML - Apple TV Markup Language: This is a UI framework that helps you quickly design screens for Apple TV. Apple provides several TVML templates that help your app's UI fit in with the look and feel of the built-in Apple TV apps.
  • TVJS - Apple TV JavaScript: TVJS is a JavaScript framework for creating client-server apps using the new TVMLKit. It allows you to interact with the Apple TV hardware. If you're unfamiliar with JavaScript, this may be a bit of a learning curve for you, but since Swift and Objective-C are also C-based languages, it's not too far of a leap.


Integrating with iOS Devices

What kind of apps can you build for Apple TV? The options are truly limitless. Given the nature of the device (a TV, usually located in a common area of a home) it opens up the opportunity for true multiplayer games and even business apps. For example, Apple highlighted the new version of the Crossy Road app, which is now multiplayer for the first time on Apple TV. As highlighted in the demo, when building your apps, you can include great features, such as allowing other players with iPhones or iPads to jump in on a multiplayer game, or handing off a game from an iOS device to Apple TV. Users love this kind of feature, which allows them to use their existing devices with new technology.


The new Apple TV is available in late October, so you have a short window to get your app ideas implemented on this great new platform. I'm looking forward to creating my own apps and seeing the other awesome apps that fellow developers create.