What Is the Apple TV App?

How it's different from Apple TV and Apple TV+

The Apple TV app showing Into the Spiderverse.

Apple Inc.

Confused about what Apple TV is? You're not alone. That's probably because there are three different products all called Apple TV. There's the Apple TV app, the Apple TV+ service, and a hardware device called the Apple TV. Let's get this all sorted out.

What Is the Apple TV App?

The free Apple TV app comes pre-installed on Apple devices and helps you find movies and TV shows to watch. It can also be used on some other devices.

The Apple TV is a one-stop shop for all of the TV and movies you already like, plus a place to find new things. The app combines content from the streaming video apps you have on your devices, suggests new shows and movies, and keeps you up to date on live sports and news.

Rather than making you go to HBO Now to watch that, and then to Hulu to see what new episodes are available, and to Amazon Prime to check out its latest shows and movies, the Apple TV app collects content from all of those apps in one place.

The Apple TV app learns what you like to watch. It presents the latest episodes of shows you already watch and recommends movies and TV shows based on that. You can also search for TV and movies across all of your apps from the app.

For a more in-depth look at the Apple TV app, check out Apple's TV App: What You Need to Know.

What Channels Does the Apple TV App Offer?

That's a reasonable question, but it's the wrong idea. The Apple TV app isn't a streaming TV service like Sling TV or DirecTV Now. It doesn't have cable or local TV channels. The Apple TV app doesn't offer much of its own content. Instead, it collects content from dozens and dozens other streaming apps (except for Netflix; it doesn't work with the Apple TV app).

For example, if you subscribe to HBO Now, HBO content appears in the Apple TV app. Hulu and Amazon Prime shows appear here, too. Watch shows in the Comedy Central or Bravo apps, or subscribe to a streaming TV platform? The Apple TV app features their content, too.

The only content that doesn't come from a third-party app is from Apple itself. The Apple TV app lets you rent or buy movies, and buy TV shows, from iTunes. It's also were you can find your library of iTunes purchases.

But What Is Apple TV Channels?

Good question! The Apple TV app doesn't offer channels in the traditional sense, but there is an option called Apple TV Channels (coming in May 2019). With Apple TV Channels, you subscribe to streaming video services as you normally would, except you use the Apple TV app and pay using the card on file with your Apple ID. You also use the Apple TV app to watch that content.

Streaming services offered in Apple TV Channels will include HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, CBS All Access, Shudder, and more.

OK, Then What's Apple TV+?

Apple TV+ is Apple's answer to Netflix. Apple TV+ is a streaming service of original content offered only by Apple (it will debut in Fall 2019). Like with Netflix or HBO, users subscribe to the Apple TV+ service for a monthly fee to access it library of content. That content is watched using the Apple TV app.

Oprah Winfrey on stage at the Apple TV+ event
Apple Inc.

Details about Apple TV+ are a little sketchy right now (though Apple did have a media event to unveil some of its plans in March 2019). The monthly cost for Apple TV+ hasn't been announced, nor has the full library of content. Some of the movies and shows announced include work by and starring Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Octavia Spencer, and J.J. Abrams.

What Platforms Does the Apple TV App Work On?

The Apple TV app — and therefore Apple TV Channels and Apple TV+ (when they are released) — works on the following devices and platforms:

  • iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch).
  • Apple TV (more on this in the next section).
  • Macs (coming Fall 2019).
  • Amazon Fire TV devices.
  • Roku devices.
  • Smart TVs from LG, Samsung, Sony, and Vizio.

Right now, the Apple TV app is available on iOS devices and the Apple TV hardware. The app will be available in over 100 countries on the other devices in May 2019.

Curious about getting new apps on your TV? Learn how in How to Add Apps to a Smart TV.

Isn't Apple TV A Hardware Box?

It is! This is where Apple using the name "Apple TV" to refer to so many things gets confusing. In addition to being an app, the Apple TV is also a hardware device used for entertainment.

4th Generation Apple TV
The 4th Generation Apple TV. image credit Apple Inc.

Apple has sold devices called Apple TV since 2007. While it's evolved over the years, the latest version — the Apple TV 4K, released in 2017 — is a powerful entertainment device. It runs all kinds of apps, including streaming video apps, games designed specifically for the Apple TV, Apple Music, and more. The Apple TV also controls smart-home devices as a Homekit hub.

Want to install new apps on your Apple TV? Learn how in How to Install Apps on the Apple TV.

The Apple TV app comes pre-installed on the Apple TV hardware. Since the Apple TV app runs on multiple devices, you don't need the Apple TV 4K to use the Apple TV app, Apple TV Channels, or Apple TV+.