Can You Install Apps on the Apple TV?

Stream TV, movies and music on your Apple TV

Apps on the Apple TV
image credit: Apple Inc.

The Apple TV is a terrific device for streaming TV, movies, and music from the Internet to your HDTV. Whether it's a movie rented from the iTunes Store, a song streamed from Apple Music, or niche interests like European soccer, anime, and pro wrestling, the Apple TV makes it easy to enjoy your favorite content from the comfort of your couch.

The Apple TV comes with a number of apps pre-installed, such as Netflix, Hulu, PBS, HBO GO, WatchESPN, and YouTube. But what if you want to add additional features or functionality to your Apple TV? What happens if a streaming video service you love isn't pre-installed on the Apple TV or you want to play a game? Does the Apple TV work like an iPhone and let you install apps from the App Store?

The answer is: it depends on which model you have.

4th and 5th Generation Apple TV: Yes

If you have the 4th generation Apple TV, which Apple introduced in Sept. 2015, or the 5th generation model, aka the Apple TV 4K, that debuted in Sept. 2017, the answer is yes. Those versions of the Apple TV are built around the idea that, as Tim Cook said, apps are the future of television.

Installing apps on the 4th or 5th gen. Apple TV is similar to, and as easy as, installing them on an iPhone or iPad. That said, since tvOS is slightly different from iOS, the steps are slightly different. For a step-by-step tutorial, check out How to Install Apps on the Apple TV.

Just like on the iPhone and iPad, you can redownload apps on the Apple TV, too. Go to the App Store app, the Purchased menu, and then select Not on This Apple TV for a list of apps available for redownload.

3rd Generation Apple TV and Earlier: No

Users cannot add their own apps to the 3rd generation Apple TV. Earlier models also do not allow users to install apps. The 3rd generation Apple TV doesn't have an App Store or third-party apps. But that doesn't mean that new apps don't get added.

While users can't add their own apps to the 3rd gen. Apple TV, Apple adds them from time to time. When the Apple TV debuted, it had less than a dozen channels of Internet content. Now, there are dozens.

There's generally no warning when new channels will appear, and users can't control if they're installed or not. Often, when you turn your Apple TV on, you'll find that a new icon has appeared on the home screen and that you now have new content available. For example, the WWE Network wrestling channel simply appeared on Apple TV screens when it launched on Feb. 24, 2014.

Sometimes Apple bundles new apps in with updates to the Apple TV's software, but new channels often debut as they're ready.

With the release of the 4th and 5th gen. Apple TVs, and the end of life for the 3rd gen. model, Apple will stop adding new apps to earlier models. If you want access to all of the latest content and apps, upgrade to the latest Apple TV.

Adding Apps Via Jailbreaking

Not everyone is content with the idea that Apple controls what's on their Apple TV. Those people often turn to jailbreaking. Jailbreaking allows users to modify the core software of the Apple TV to remove Apple's restrictions and allow them to make their own changes—including installing software.

Jailbreaking can be a complex process that requires some technical understanding to accomplish. It can also cause problems with the device you're trying to modify, sometimes even leaving it unusable. So, if you're considering jailbreaking your Apple TV, make sure you have the right skills for the job (don't say you weren't warned!).

If you're determined to jailbreak your Apple TV, your options include:

When that's done, you can install new tools like Plex or XMBC, which give you access to streaming content that Apple doesn't. You won't be able to install any app you want—only those that are compatible with the Apple TV—but some is better than none.