Have An Idea For an Apple tvOS App? Don’t Start Before You Read This

Posted by Davzo Inc

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Making its first appearance in the 4th generation of the Apple TV, tvOS is an iOS-inspired operating system optimized for the large screen. Thanks to tvOS, you can now create dedicated apps for Apple TV for the first time and establish a presence on a fresh and exciting digital platform. If you’re thinking about creating an Apple tvOS app, this is a good time to bring it to life, as tvOS is generating a lot of attention without being, however, as crowded as iOS. Before you hire a tvOS app developer to bring your Apple TV app vision to life, there are a few things you should know.

Keeping the Large Screen Interface Simple

The process of developing a tvOS app is similar but not identical to that of building an iOS app. tvOS is only 95% based on iOS 9 – it is a distinct operating system with its own particularities, and most importantly, it comes with a large-screen interface. The visual canvas for the interface tvOS provides is much larger than that of iOS. This doesn’t mean, though, that all that space has to be filled – a cluttered HD widescreen can be as annoying as a cluttered iPhone screen. The successful iOS apps that have been released so far have one thing in common: a clean streamlined interface that is easy to use.

It’s also important to remember that tvOS users will be viewing their Apple TV screens from a distance. Because of this, the quality and the readability of the font used for the interface and the app content are very important. Also, some design elements which on the comparatively tiny screen of iOS devices are small, including action buttons and icons, have to be scaled up on tvOS to be within easy reach.

Simplifying Navigation

Apple TV’s navigation through the Siri-enabled wireless remote control is gesture-based. It doesn’t rely on a cursor and is also quite different from the touch navigation of the iPhone or iPad. When the user makes a gesture with the remote control, tvOS uses a built-in focus engine to determine which interface element to animate. When navigating through an app, for example, a quick swipe right normally puts into focus the nearest element to the right. One way to improve the navigation of your tvOS app is to keep the menu simple and to reduce as much as possible the number of options it provides without however lowering the app’s functionality.

Dealing with Storage Limitations

Another important consideration when developing an tvOS app is how the data storage for the app will be handled. Most apps that feature dynamic content, whether it’s text, graphics, audio, or a mix of these, require that the app be connected to an online server from which it can retrieve that content. Local data storage in tvOS is very limited (<1MB), so that in most cases you will have to store that data via a cloud-based solution such as iCloud or Amazon S3 and use a tool called CloudKit to make it available for your app. What all this means is that to build a tvOS app that stores, handles, and retrieves both content and user data effectively, you have to use a good cloud storage service and make sure your app connects to it easily. Because Apple TV is essentially a visual medium, tvOS apps tend to be visually heavy by their nature, and so the speed and reliability of that cloud-storage solution will have a major impact on how fast and smooth your app runs.

TVML Templates Can Help You Lower Development Costs

Without going too much into the technicalities of building a tvOS app, it’s good to know that Apple provides a TV Markup Language (TVML) and design templates which developers can use to build tvOS apps more easily. If the app you are building is not very complicated, you may want to work with an Apple TV app developer who is familiar with TVML. Your app can then be adapted to one of the templates available. In this way, the cost and the duration of the development can be reduced compared to building an app from scratch with a custom development kit.

While TVML templates can only be used for straightforward, content-based apps, they are very easy to use and don’t require much coding. Another benefit of a TVML-based app is that once Apple approves your app and publishes it in the App Store, you can tweak the app by adjusting its TVML templates without having to resubmit it for approval.

Understanding Controller Limitations

Apple TV supports only one remote and up to two 3rd-party Bluetooth controllers at a time. If you plan to create a tvOS app that provides a multiuser experience, this is a limitation you can’t overlook. On the plus side, other users can connect to tvOS using their iPhones or iPads, which in some cases gives you the possibility to eliminate the need for a 3rd-party remote control.

One Purchase, Up to Three Apps

Last but not least, it’s good to know that although tvOS is essentially a different operating system than iOS, Apple’s App Distribution Guide allows you to bundle together the iPhone, iPad, and tvOS versions of your app under a single purchase. Not only is this convenient, but it can help you unify your app development and marketing efforts into one app name and logo that can be used across Apple platforms.


In the end, tvOS is a very exciting platform full of possibilities and with a massive audience eager to embrace it. If you want to develop an Apple tvOS app, you want to make sure the tvOS app development company you choose understands this platform and how it differs from iOS, and has the resources necessary to build dedicated tvOS apps, as opposed to unpolished iOS ports. While converting your iOS app into a tvOS app may work for very basic apps, tvOS is ultimately a unique platform that requires adherence to specific development guidelines. For this reason, building a great Apple TV app is easier if you work with a development company that has already embraced the tvOS platform.

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