More thoughts on tvOS development

The more time I spend in tvOS and on Apple TV, the more I find that it’s an environment better suited for the “big guy” crowd than independent developers. Its app store is hard for anyone who isn’t a preferred partner and the price points Apple’s partners have launched with won’t sustain a much reduced customer base for anyone who isn’t big to begin with.

I see ATV doing best for successful brands and products who want to extend from iOS rather than introduce new tvOS-specific products. In such cases, ATV offers Apple-watch-like extension of functionality instead of a standalone system.

You can advertise the features directly within an app, and offer tvOS support for free or low costs without compromising your bottom line. The real money remains on iOS and tvOS apps add value. This helps skip any issues of app store discovery.

You cannot compete with built-in content like weather, traffic, schedules, reminders, media access, and so forth. And the tvOS SDK doesn’t offer lightweight glances and complications that would be the best way to supplement media consumption.

When it comes to games, ATV is suffering in several ways. First, it doesn’t offer an Apple branded game controller — it’s all third party. The Siri remote kind of sucks when it comes to interactions, although I have created some Wii-like proofs of concepts for using the remote sideways as a steering wheel.

Real gaming needs more than an accelerometer and the Siri remote doesn’t have the buttons or hand-feel that would win. That means purchasing real controllers and building games that properly leverage those controllers. Those are two serious barriers to surmount. (Plus I should note that games must work with just the Siri remote, according to current Apple guidelines and cannot depend on controller purchases.)

Unfortunately, ATV also has a mission issue. It’s a media center that can also play games. It doesn’t have a big game selling point, whether physical movement like Kinect or Wii or “best games available exclusively” like other consoles.

That said, Apple’s sweet spot has always been health (from jogging with your iPod to HealthKit and ResearchKit). It would be great to see Apple introduce some kind of physical interaction features (like a wii fit board, or whatever) that could build on this “Get Moving” brand and get kids up and off the couch for more physical gaming.

Right now, if kids want to vegetate, they can already do that with their iPads and  in any room of their house and in a car. The iPad’s touch screen offers a lot more potential than the TV’s “kind-of-point-at-stuff” interaction. I also think most learning titles are still better on the iPad and with touch interfaces. Think Khan Academy type stuff.

The big question for current ATV apps outside of controller-based-games is “can this kind of be a TV channel?” and if the answer is anything other than a clear “yes”, then tvOS is probably not the right platform.

For example, think of a “Home Control” channel, where you tie into security cameras, garage door states, and thermostats. It’s a great way to integrate existing Apple frameworks with tvOS opportunities.

Life coaching products in particular would also benefit from tvOS check-in and review. It’s a natural fit to extending app flow into the living room. While traditional games have received the most press, I see a real target of opportunity here for display on a screen that’s likely quite close to the kitchen (calorie tracking) and your track sneakers (exercise tracking).

Right now tvOS and ATV feel like they haven’t entirely been realized: as if they’re still more hobbies than products. There’s a lot in these new products to like but I think Apple has to think through this push into applications to better define the niche or niches it intends to fill.


  • Every system has its limitations, and I feel like the market belongs to those who find ways of working within the limitations of the system. There will be indie developers who find a way to bring out the best in it. Playing Shadowmatic I thought, “yeah! That’s cool! Use the edge to rotate. I didn’t think of that!” I’m determined to make a game that works well on the system.

  • Yes, market for Apple TV apps still tiny, but rumor has it that many people get it for Xmas so if you have your Apple TV app in App Store before Xmas it may pay off

    I don’t agree with your learning assessment: some learning apps would be better on Apple TV than iPad, for example the one where learning material is complex and visible at one glance on Apple TV / big screen