Apple TV 4K aficionados curious about tvOS 16 — the next major version of the operating system that powers the Apple TV — have likely circled WWDC 2022 on their calendars. Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference is where we see an annual unveiling of the next iterations of the software that Apples devices run on — and that includes the software powering Apple TV.
Last year, Apple revealed tvOS 15, which shared a lot of features that were found in other Apple updates. The biggest, arguably, is SharePlay for FaceTime calls. With this feature, you can synchronously watch shows and movies from select apps with people in other locations. SharePlay didn't debut with the first finished tvOS 15 release in September, but arrived the next month in tvOS 15.1.
Apple also added spatial audio in tvOS, so AirPods Pro and AirPods Max owners could hear content in a more immersive way. tvOS 15 added another feature for smoother AirPods connections, and support for multiple HomePod mini speakers, and HomeKit camera upgrades.
But if you ask us, tvOS 16 could have a loftier goal. A new version of tvOS is a new chance for Apple to try and make the Apple TV 4K worth its $179 asking price. which is $80 more than the Roku Ultra and more than three times the price of most 4K streaming devices. And we've got some ideas below that could bring the Apple TV to the next level.
So, what should you expect from tvOS 16? And — arguably more interesting — what do we want from tvOS 16? Let's break it down.
tvOS 16: Release date speculation
tvOS 16, based on past history, is likely released in two stages. The first tvOS 16 release date will likely be June 6, the same day as the Apple WWDC 2022 keynote. This is how Apple did it in 2021, and how Apple releases the first developer betas for its software.
That first beta will likely be a developer beta, and difficult to install without developer skills. The first public beta likely arrives at the end of June (as was the case in 2021).
Then, expect the final public release of tvOS 16 in fall of 2022, likely in September.
tvOS 16: Expected features
Most streaming devices have a pretty similar set of features, and while there are things we'd like to see Apple copy — the Fire TV devices and the Chromecast with Google TV have integration with some the best cable TV alternatives, for example — the world of smart TVs gives us a clue about what Apple TV could do.
As my colleague Kate Kozuch pointed out to me, LG and Samsung have embraced hyper-customizable home screens that try and do everything. And that got me thinking.
One thing we've picked up about Apple over the years is that it likes to bring its features across devices. And as widgets have traipsed across iOS to iPadOS and macOS, it's hard to imagine Apple isn't thinking about bringing them to tvOS.
Some apps use that space on the top half of the tvOS home screen to show content, and this is a primo spot for widgets (which could also sit besides apps). Apps such as Disney Plus and HBO Max could promote upcoming shows (or pull a JustWatch and tell you how many episodes you have left for the shows you're watching). The ESPN Plus app widget had a countdown to the next UFC fight you want to see.
The other thing that would make sense is Apple adding support for a webcam for SharePlay. Right now, to watch something on SharePlay but also show your own face, you need to have an iPhone, iPad or Mac on your person to share your face. If Apple could add webcam support, and figure out how to bring the face-detecting and framing CenterStage tech over? SharePlay would be great, and not a device juggling experience.
tvOS 16: What we want to see
Taking the same above idea — that Apple likes to share ideas and features across devices — I think it's time to bring the Split View to the Apple TV 4K in tvOS 16. Just ask anyone who followed all the March Madness 2022 games, or anyone who wants to follow an NFL game and RedZone at the same time. Apple's even toyed with technology like this in the past, per a patent for a display that would show "different content at different angles."
This is my request, though, because I had a need to watch three things at once over the recent WrestleMania weekend, and juggling Peacock, Fite and Sling at the same time on three different devices was no fun. It's really hard to focus on two things at once, and it gets worse at three. Samsung TVs offer something similar with their Multi View capability.
This is where another of Apple's software features from other devices could come in handy. Split view, for full screen apps, debuted in macOS 10.11 El Capitan (back when it was called OS X) in 2015. Then, iPadOS 13 brought the split view to iPad apps in 2019.
So, imagine if you could have two streaming apps open side-by-side, while you track what's going on in two different channels. This feature would be a whole lot more valuable, though, if app-makers bought in on it, and let you have multiple instances of the same app at once.
How would it work? Well, I'm not sure how you'd "add" an app, but FuboTV already shows how it's done right in its Multiview, where you can see four channels at once. Since allowing each app to play audio at the same time would not be productive, you control which app is heard by moving your cursor to select a screen.
Why does the Apple TV 4K need a feature so niche that you'll find it with only one of the live TV streaming services and one TV maker? As I said above, the Apple TV HD ($149) and 4K are very expensive relative to other streaming devices. And as much as I love their speed and minimalism, it's time for the Apple TV to offer something that Roku and Fire TV don't, so it can truly stand out in a crowded market.