What Apple TV means for app designers and developers

Apple's changed the game with its latest Apple TV platform.

"I feel like a kid in the candy store." That was my first thought when I started playing with the new Apple TV. As both a designer and developer, I was over the moon when I heard about Apple TV and tvOS. This was the first time we had access to develop apps for the Apple TV.

Also read: Designing apps for all of Apple's screen sizes

A brief history

The first generation Apple TVs hit the market in late March 2007. Since then, there have been three more generations, including the most current, fourth generation. However, it wasn't until the fourth generation that Apple released – alongside its shiny new equipment – a new operating system: tvOS. Previous versions ran a modified Mac OS (first generation) and a modified iOS (second and third generations).

Apple TV 4th generation

Another huge difference was the inclusion of the App Store. Prior to this, developers were not permitted to make apps, so why have an App Store. Right? You get what you got, and that was it.

Thankfully, that is not longer the case.

A brave new word

I think the last time I checked, the iTunes App Store had over one million apps. Many developers, myself included, feel like there's limited room for 'something new'. Here's how it goes.

You have an idea? You check the app store. You find multiple variations of the same idea already exist. Sure, yours might be slightly different, have more options or be miles ahead of the rest, but still... it'll likely get lost in the app sea with the rest of the million+ apps that are floating around.

Enter tvOS and Apple TV and a new opportunity.

At the moment, while there are still a good number of Apple TV apps available, that number isn't (yet) close to the number of iOS apps available. That means there are opportunities for new ideas and new apps.

Unfortunately, that also means a resurgence in 'fart apps' and flashlight apps, albeit in a somewhat different form.

Fireplace apps. Are they the new fart apps?

For designers

The Apple TV gives designers a screen resolution of 1920x1080 pixels (1080p) on which to play. Of course, TV screens come in various sizes, so when you're designing your app, you need to keep this in mind. That means, keep important content away from the sides; Apple recommends margins of 60 pixels top and bottom, and 90 pixels left and right.

Having such a large stage, you might be tempted to cram a lot onto it, thus making your text and other elements somewhat smaller than they should be. While it's true you can 'fit' more, you also need to consider 'how' the device will be used.

For instance, with our phones and tablets, we typically hold these close – usually within arms-length. The Apple TV, on the other hand, will likely be a decent distance from its user; mine is about four metres away.

iPhone screens are kept in close proximity

That having been said, try to minimize the amount of text you use. And, if you must use text, make sure you use a properly sized font; meaning, make sure it's legible from a distance.

Apple TV uses San Fransisco for its system font; San Francisco Text (for text that is 39 points or smaller) and San Francisco Display (for text that is 40 points or larger). Although you may use custom fonts or other built-in fonts within your app, Apple provides some built-in styles to make designing your app easier. Some styles include: Title1, Title2, Headline, Footnote, etc.

Television screens need to be legible from a distance

For more information about designing apps for Apple TV, please refer to the Apple TV Human Interface Guidelines.

For developers

One of the most exciting things for developers is the ability to develop both traditional apps (think iOS for the big screen) and TVML apps (Apple's Television Markup Language).

TVML is Apple's television markup language

TVML gives developers the power to create powerful client-server apps. Using TVML along side TVJS (JavaScript APIs) and TVMLKit (framework for integrating JavaScript and TVML files), you're able to leverage existing web-based apps and bring them to the Apple TV.

For example, perhaps you have a website that hosts a number of videos. Using TVML templates, you can host those templates and have your tvOS apps access them. Apple makes this easy by providing some useful pre-made templates.

With regard to traditional apps, since tvOS is a derivative of iOS, most of your iOS apps will port to tvOS with minimal work. Many of the same frameworks, like SpriteKit, UIKit and GameCenter (to name a few), work with tvOS. Of course, tvOS includes new frameworks too!

So what are you waiting for?

Apple TV and tvOS just opened a whole new game. Grab yourself a ball, put on your designer/developer ball cap and get out there onto the playing field.

Words: Tammy Coron

Tammy Coron is an iOS developer, backend developer, web developer, writer, and illustrator. She blogs at Just Write Code.

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