On Monday January 11th Apple hosted a tech talk event in London dedicated to the new version of Apple TV released last autumn. At Degree 53 we develop for anything that has a screen and we need to keep up with the latest technology developments, it was an easy decision to attend. Besides, official Apple developer events outside of Cupertino are a rare enough thing.
The main new feature of the Apple TV being an SDK and an App Store, the tech talks aimed at bringing existing iOS and Mac developers up to speed with the new platform named tvOS. Around 500 developers gathered at The Landmark in Marylebone for what felt like a mini WWDC (i.e. Apple’s annual developer conference in June). The day was organised around back-to-back talks from Apple staff, covering mostly technical and design topics for tvOS apps. There also was a Q&A lounge where developers could get in touch with Apple engineers.
- tvOS fundamentals
- tvOS user experience
- Focus driven interfaces with UIKit
- On demand resources and data storage
- Video playback
- Developing tvOS Apps with TVML
- Best practices for designing tvOS apps
- Tuning your tvOS app
- Top shelf
- App Store and marketing
So what is developing tvOS apps about?
From a developer's standpoint, the SDK is almost identical to iOS, making it very easy for iOS developers to get started. Apple discourages developers though from simply cloning iOS apps to tvOS, since the user experience on Apple TV is distinctively different: The Apple TV is typically used together with other people in a living room, and it is all about presenting immersive content such as videos, photos or games. Instead of touching the screen, the user navigates by highlighting interactive controls with swipe gestures on the remote and then clicking. Entering text with the on-screen keyboard is extremely tedious and should be avoided as much as possible by design.
One main weakness of tvOS is marketing your apps. Searching for apps with the available input methods is not something users are likely to do very often. And it is not possible to create web links to tvOS apps, which leaves the user with top charts and featured apps to discover new apps. One workaround to this is to create companion apps with the so called universal purchases: Developers can link their tvOS app to an existing iOS app, so if a user has already bought the iOS app, he will automatically get the tvOS app. This way however there is no way get paid for the tvOS app.
It was a unique opportunity to learn about Apple’s latest development platform. While tvOS is clearly not as attractive as iOS for development because of the smaller user base, it may become more relevant than Watch OS. Besides games, I can imagine companion apps to present media becoming popular. What made the trip to London worthwhile for me personally was the opportunity to chat with many talented and inspiring people among fellow iOS developers and Apple staff members.
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