If you are thinking about the ways to monetize your video content, developing TV apps is the go-to strategy. The variety of OTT TV platforms opens up immense opportunities for expanding your audience, revenue, and prospects. Streaming your content via several platforms and devices multiplies the chances of your business for a major takeoff.

In this article, we’ll focus on the specifics of Apple TV app development.

Apple TV at the Global OTT Market

Apple TV is one of the top 10 streaming platforms. And although the set-top box has some catching up to do with Samsung, Roku, Amazon Fire and others, Apple TV enjoyed quarter-over-quarter growth of a whopping 33%.

Top streaming platforms

Source: Statista

Diving deep into tvOS

Developed on the basis of iOS by Apple Inc., tvOS was launched as a successor of the Apple TV Software operating system for the 4th generation of Apple TVs.

Coding languages, SDKs, and frameworks

To create Apple TV apps, developers need to master a solid tech stack. Moreover, some technologies that were once widely used for Apple TV development are now becoming deprecated, giving way to new successors. For instance, since there are no updates to Objective-C on the horizon, Swift is becoming developers’ go-to language for iOS apps, meaning that to ensure efficient app maintenance and new features development your legacy Objective-C code needs to be migrated to Swift.

In addition to Objective-C and Swift, developers need to know such languages as JavaScript, TVML. As for the frameworks, the most used are UIKit, SwiftUI, TVMLKit, FocusEngine, Foundation, TVMLKit JS. The list is not exhaustive and other technologies include CocoaPods, Swift Package Manager, etc.

Supported formats

The operating system employs HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) technology as its main streaming protocol format that ensures dynamic video delivery by adjusting content playback to the present network state. tvOS supports FairPlay Streaming DRM system to deliver securely protected video content.

User experience

Minimalistic design and stellar user experience have always been the hallmarks of Apple products, and Apple TV is no exception. To provide the best lean-back experiences for viewers, Apple has introduced Siri Remote — a sleek remote control that combines a touchpad, buttons, and voice control capabilities. In those countries where Siri Remotes are not available, Apple TVs are also controlled by minimalistic 6-button remotes.

But given the big screen and the remote control, designing for tvOS requires a unique set of considerations and limitations:

  • Focus-based navigation
  • On iOS, users usually interact with apps via a device’s touchscreen. But on tvOS, user interaction is based on moving the focus between the screen elements. When these elements are perfectly aligned on the user interface, the focus engine, the system that controls focus movement, automatically detects the next focusable element and shifts focus left or right, up and down.

    Things become difficult when a user needs to focus on zones located diagonally from each other. To fix this problem, developers use UIFocusGuide, a subclass of UILayoutGuide, to make non-view areas focusable and thus redirect the focus engine where needed.

    Focus-based navigation
    Apple TV App Development: Create a tvOS App

  • No WebView support
  • In an attempt to control the user experience, Apple has removed WebViews from tvOS. On the one hand, Full HD and 4K screens will not render web content well, and no WebView support means better security as no content can be displayed using exploitable browser wrappers. On the other hand, developers face new challenges when developing Apple TV apps as WebViews are widely used for the majority of web-related tasks.

    The alternative offered by Apple is TVMLKit JS framework that provides developers with the means to create client-server apps with the help of Apple TV Markup Language (TVML). The benefit of keeping the app’s content on a server is that updates can be made, and dynamic content utilized, without having to update the app on the device itself.

Apple TV App Development: Create a tvOS App

Source: Apple

Reusing iOS code to build Apple TV apps

“Thanks to the properly designed logical and UI representation layers of the iOS app, we managed to reuse 70% of iOS code and significantly accelerate time to market, rolling out the first release of an Apple TV app in just 6 months.”

— Igor, iOS developer

Sharing the codebase between iOS and tvOS is possible when approached correctly. As we’ve already mentioned, when building an Apple TV app special attention should be paid to UI design as users interact with TVs in a different way, so many navigation elements need to be adapted to the specifics of TV navigation. Other limitations like no web browser needs to be accounted for as well. For instance, if your iOS app leverages OAuth for authentication and redirects a user to a web page, you will need to design a different flow that uses, for example, a QR code that viewers can scan with their smartphones.

Apple TV App Development: Create a tvOS App

How we can help

Looking for ways to diversify your audience’s lean-back experience? Oxagile is ready to share its Apple TV app development expertise to make the most out of your project.

tvOS App Testing with TestFlight

When the app is ready, testing struggle begins. To improve developer experience, Apple has introduced TestFlight app. The tool makes it easy and convenient to beta test tvOS applications by inviting up to 100 internal testers and 10,000 external ones by simply sharing a link to gather valuable insights and provide a high-quality final product.

tvOS App Submission

Before being presented to the end-user in the App Store, all Apple apps undergo a strict process of quality verification based on revisioning technical, UI/UX, and content parameters. To meet the submission requirements and get Apple certification, make sure to:

  • Build your Apple TV app with Xcode 14 to comply with iOS and tvOS frameworks and libraries
  • Optimize for tvOS 16 to enable customers to use the latest version updates and enjoy your content to the maximum extent
  • Beta test your app with Testflight
  • Submit app name, icon, description, set of keywords up to 100 characters, and add up to 10 screenshots uncovering the essence of the app
  • Create app previews in form of short 30 seconds-long illustrative videos
  • Add app privacy information
  • Use the recommended channels for app promotion

Apple TV App Development Takeaways

Having gained a strong foothold in the market with its Apple TV media player, Apple continues to push the envelope of stellar viewing experiences. In October 2022, Apple introduced the new Apple TV 4K — an entertainment powerhouse that brings best video and audio capabilities to the biggest screen in the house.

Thus, it stands to reason that many content owners and distributors choose to expand their video streaming offerings with Apple TV apps and capitalize on a larger customer base. For those who already have an iOS app, developing an Apple TV app becomes even more reasonable since code re-use simplifies and speeds up the entire development processes. However, when it comes to building new products and services for the Apple ecosystem, Apple has strict quality standards and rules. And in order to create a successful Apple TV app, a well-thought-out approach is needed that would take into account tvOS development specifics like UI design, navigation and interaction with web services on Apple TV.