Apple tvOS Versions Guide: Everything You Need to Know

From tvOS 9 to tvOS 13

A Star is Born Apple TV promotional image

Apple Inc

tvOS is the operating system Apple uses to run its popular Apple TV hardware, just like iOS runs your iPhone and iPad, macOS runs your MacBook, and watchOS runs your Apple Watch.

The original Apple TV was first unveiled in 2006; pre-orders started the following year. Initially called iTV (later changed to avoid a lawsuit from British-based ITV), this first generation Apple TV came with a 40 GB hard drive. A 160 GB model was released in 2009. The operating system, based on Mac software Front Row, got a software update in 2008 to allow Apple TV to operate on its own without the need for a computer running iTunes to stream to it. This first iteration was discontinued in 2015, with the iTunes feature removed in 2018 due to security concerns. 

The second generation Apple TV came out in 2010; it was the first to run an iOS-based operating system, paving the way for the tvOS of today. It wasn’t until 2015’s 4th generation Apple TV that tvOS 9 became the first operating system named such. The most current tvOS is at version number 12, with tvOS 13 announced by Tim Cook and Apple at the latest WWDC

tvOS 13

First version: September 24, 2019

Current version: tvOS 13, September 24, 2019

Beta release: July 2019 (expected)

Apple TV tvOS13 screen of Oceanhorn 2
 Apple Inc

Apple's tvOS 13 brings some cool new features for your Apple TV. There's a new home screen that includes full screen video from apps, a new Control Center to show you the time, date, Now Playing and AirPlay controls, Multi-User support to help you carve out your own Apple TV space (with personal Apple Music capabilities, too), Apple Arcade, the company's premium subscription gaming service (with support for Xbox and PlayStation controllers), new wireless audio sync to help make that annoying lag between your TV and speakers easier to fix, new picture-in-picture support, and (naturally) new screensavers.

tvOS 12

Current tvOS logo
Apple Inc

First version: September 17, 2018
Current version: tvOS 12.3, May 13, 2019
Beta version: tvOS 12.4 beta, May 28, 2019

In 2018, Apple released another big software update for Apple TV: tvOS 12. The new software initially added support for Dolby Atmos sound on Apple TV 4K with up to 7.1.4 surround sound channels. Apple also brought a new zero sign-on experience for TV apps that support it; no more signing in to various cable providers to use their app on the Apple TV. The OS also included password AutoFill as long as you had an iPhone or iPad running iOS 12, too, along with several new aerial screensavers. Finally, tvOS 12 brought more developer support for home control systems like Control4, Crestron, and Savant, as well as support for third-party remotes to include Siri. 

Now at version 12.3, tvOS has a redesigned TV app that includes Watch Now, Movies, TV Shows, Sports, Kids, Library, and Search sections to make navigating and finding what you want to watch that much easier. The first version of the app (first seen in 2016) only had Watch Now, Sports, Library, Store and Search areas. It will eventually integrate with Apple’s anticipated streaming service, Apple TV+, set to launch in Fall of 2019.

Key New Features:

  • Support for Dolby Atmos
  • Zero sign-in for cable apps
  • AutoFill from iOS devices
  • Space-based screensavers
  • Support for more third-party home control systems and Siri-enabled remotes
  • Redesigned TV app
  • Tell Siri where to play your videos and music
  • Find a Mac or iOS device

tvOS 11

tvOS 11 Features keynote screen
Apple Inc

First version: September 19, 2017
Final version: tvOS 11.4.1, July 9, 2018

The same 4th generation Apple TV received another software update in 2017, and though it wasn’t as hyped as the previous versions, several features were included for Apple’s television device. With tvOS 11, users were able to schedule dark mode based on the time of day, sync their Home Screen across multiple Apple TV devices (via iCloud), and set up their AirPods automatically like on iOS. The update also eventually included better support for live sports with the TV app (including Siri support), and the ability to get on-screen notifications for various games and teams. AirPlay 2 brought multi-room audio play to HomePod, while speakers connected to the Apple TV appeared in HomeKit. 

At the same time tvOS 11 came out, Apple also released a 4K Apple TV, which includes HDR support, too. This is also known as the 5th Generation Apple TV. 

Key New Features:

  • Automatic Dark Mode scheduling
  • Home Screen sync
  • Automatic AirPod pairing
  • Better Siri support for sports

tvOS 10

tvOS 10 Feature keynote screen
Apple Inc

First version: June 13, 2016
Final version: tvOS 10.2.2, July 19, 2017

The following year, Apple released the next version of its Apple TV OS, tvOS 10. It included a brand-new Remote app for iPhone and iPad, a single sign-on system for easier access to apps and media content, HomeKit support, and a dark mode. All of these features were available for the 4th generation Apple TV via a software update. 

Key New Features:

  • iOS Remote app support
  • Single sign-on for cable providers
  • HomeKit support
  • Dark mode

tvOS 9

tvOS 9 interface on Apple TV

First version: September 9, 2015
Final version: tvOS 9.2.2, July 18, 2016

Introduced in 2015 alongside the first version of iPad Pro and iPhone 6S, tvOS 9 brought new features to Apple TV’s 4th Generation device, including a native software development kit (SDK) for developers to create apps for the device and an Apple TV App Store to sell those apps to consumers. It also lets you search across apps with Siri, via the redesigned Siri Remote, which included a touchpad and a microphone.

Key New Features:

  • Native SDK
  • tvOS App Store
  • Siri search across apps
  • Support for new Siri Remote