Apple this week started selling its new streaming video box, another piece of hardware that connects to your TV set with the sometimes-undelivered promise of making cable unnecessary. But as anyone who's been paying attention to Apple TV announcements knows, this is not about hardware; it's about apps.
Executives at the Cupertino tech giant have said that tvOS, the new operating system for Apple TV, is "95 percent" of the same core framework as iOS, so that apps being built for the different platforms will stay in sync across different devices as they're updated. This basically means Apple is attempting to make it easier for developers to make all kinds of stuff for Apple TV, just like they do for iPhone. It's an interesting direction for Apple, which for years insisted calling the apps on its TV box "channels."
Apple used to call its TV apps "channels." Now they're apps
All of the standard video streaming apps are there on the new Apple TV, such as iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, Showtime, and HBO. Some of these have even been completely redeveloped for Apple TV. But the more interesting Apple TV apps might just be the ones you don't expect — the casual games, the commerce apps, even interactive weather apps. So I've rounded up a bunch for new Apple TV users to check out.
Crazytown alert: The Verge's Nilay Patel calls this home shopping app the "single most interesting" app on the new Apple TV. It blends a real live TV feed with a simple click-to-purchase option with the Apple TV remote. We haven't purchased any front-zip denim jackets yet for $51, but hey, at least the option is there. Also note: Apple's Siri can't help you rewind when you're using this app, a function the virtual assistant performs in other streaming video apps.
Booking an Airbnb almost always involves sending links to other people so they can check out the options you're considering (unless you're traveling solo). But browsing Airbnb on Apple TV makes it a legitimately communal experience. The app offers an easy login, using an activation code on the web rather than entering in your credentials using the remote, and shows big, gorgeous photos of vacation rentals. It's worth noting that you can only save listings to your Airbnb wish list, not rent directly through the TV. And, this is one of those apps where Siri isn't especially useful: I searched for "Vancouver" using Siri while in the Airbnb app and was told that was beyond her capabilities right now.
The idea of watching live, first-person POV videos on Apple TV will sound either incredibly mundane or very exciting, depending on how you feel about Periscope (or about vertical video on a large screen). And you can't actually log into your own Periscope account on Apple TV, at least not yet, so you're watching strangers' videos by default. But I've found it oddly fascinating in the short time I've been using it. How else would I see someone live streaming a "beautiful day in Toyonaka, Japan" or a random guy freestyle rapping on my TV screen?
Zillow uses your location to show you a variety of real estate listings nearby in a large-screen format. An information overlay pops up from the bottom of the screen showing the exact location and details on the listing, as well as its listed price and estimated mortgage. If you're looking for signs of a bubble, you can even scroll down with your Apple TV remote and take a look at the 10-year "Zestimate" of real estate prices in Silicon Valley. Unfortunately, you can't buy stuff through the Zillow app, but were you really going to buy that $9.6 million dollar home with a $36,000 per month mortgage payment, anyway? (And would Apple still take its 30 percent revenue cut?)
If Zillow is about real estate porn, Houzz serves the same purpose for interior design and renovations. The nicely-designed app, which lets you save home decor ideas in "lookbooks" and search for local contractors, doesn't offer all of the same functionality as the web or mobile app. You can't actually buy items, only save them to a wish list. But the Apple TV app does offer well-produced videos about home renovations. In fact, when you look at the video offered through apps like Houzz, Zillow, QVC, and others, you start to get a sense of why Apple is putting its TV eggs in the apps basket.
Does not Commute
If you thought playing this addictive game on your iPhone or Android phone was fun, you'll get hooked pretty quickly using the touch-sensitive remote on the new Apple TV. For the uninitiated, Does not Commute involves steering a car through a preset route, as directed by flashing arrows. But you're not just driving one car; the game layers each of your drives on top of one another, so that the second car you're driving is fighting for the road against the first car you drove, and so on. Pro tip: tapping on the touchpad remote gives you more control than sliding your fingers.
Storehouse launched as a notably beautiful iOS app for creating visual narratives, complete with social network features that made it feel like a mobile-only version of Medium. The company ditched the social features as part of a redesign last month, and now a new version of the app is available for Apple TV. Use it to view the photos and videos you've put into Storehouse already, or create new albums using a new companion app called Photo Remote. If your friends or family download Photo Remote and join the same Wi-Fi network, you can create new albums together on the fly. It's a refreshingly interactive take on the dreaded vacation slideshow, and in our tests it proved to be a lot of fun.
Funny or Die
Do you like to laugh? If you do not like to laugh, do not download this Apple TV app.
Greetings, meatbag. I, Carrot, am your new weatherbot. This is how you can expect the Carrot Weather app to greet you on Apple TV, right before it tells you that the weather won't forecast itself if you don't grant location access. From there you'll see the current temperature, chances of precipitation, UV index, humidity, and visibility, along with a short-term weather reading, an hourly forecast and a daily glance, all by swiping on the touchpad remote. Just as the Carrot weatherbot insists you're going to take a perfectly clear night and you're going to like it, you're going to download this app for your Apple TV, and you will like it. Just don't click the ocular sensor. You'll see what I mean.
With the Yummly app for Apple TV you can search for new diet foods while sitting on the couch. Just let that sink in for a minute. Okay, it's not just about helping you find your paleo dream dish. The Yummly app shows various cuisines, courses, and dishes on the left-hand side of the app screen, with perfectly staged food photographs in a grid on the right. Select an image, scroll down on the touchpad remote, and you'll get a full list of ingredients, as well as a caloric and macronutrient breakdown. Oddly, though, the app's right-side menu was cut off on my TV screen, and so far I haven't found a way to view a full recipe — just the list of ingredients.
You might already be familiar with award-winning casual game Crossy Road, which is available on mobile as well as on the Amazon Fire TV, but the new Apple TV supports multi-player mode. Provided that your game partner is on the same Wi-Fi network as your Apple TV, you can both play in the same environment, hopping and squawking your way across a multitude of highly trafficked roads. You can even fight with one another. Hopefully just within the game.
These are just some of the more interesting apps we've seen so far. On the upside, some of the tvOS apps look ridiculously good on a large screen. On the downside, some of them don't offer nearly the same amount of features as the iPhone version of the app, and Siri isn't fully optimized within the apps. Apple says there should be around 500 tvOS apps on Apple TV launch day with more to come in the days ahead, so we'll continue to keep an eye out for good ones.
The Verge's Casey Newton contributed to this article.