Apple tvOS Versions Guide: Everything You Need to Know

All the features that have come to Apple's streaming box

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.

tvOS 16

Released: September 12, 2022

2022's update introduced more connectivity with iPhone and iPad, including the ability to use Fitness+ without an Apple Watch. Arcade also got support for more input devices, including Nintendo's Joy-Cons and Pro Controllers.

The Photos app gained compatibility with iCloud Shared Photo Library in iOS, iPadOS, and macOS. Shared folders you make on other devices show up in the Apple TV's Photos app, so you can put on a slideshow with both your and others' pictures.

On the audio front, tvOS 16 lets you use the mic on your iPhone to set up a "Personalized Spatial Audio" profile based on your viewing environment. This feature gives you better sound from AirPods 3, Pro, or Max earphones.

tvOS 15

Released: September 20, 2021
Final version: tvOS 15.6

This version of tvOS brought SharePlay to Apple TV. On iOS and iPad, the feature lets you watch movies, listen to music, and share your screen with people during FaceTime calls. The Apple TV version lets you move viewing to the larger screen while still keeping playback synced for everyone.

Onscreen controls also got an update, with better access to features like picture-in-picture, info, and audio/subtitle settings. On the topic of audio, tvOS also introduced the ability to pair multiple HomePod speakers with the device for stereo sound. You can also connect AirPods to hear your shows and movies with spatial sound.

tvOS 14

Released: September 16, 2020
Final version: tvOS 14.7

The tvOS 14 update brought a bunch of new features including sharing audio, picture-in-picture mode, new screensavers, and the ability to stream photos and videos from your iPhone to the Apple TV 4K.

For the first time, you could connect two sets of AirPods or Beats products to an Apple TV and take in a movie or show with a friend. Plus, each person had separate volume controls. Picture-in-picture improvements also let you multitask, such as checking the weather while watching a movie or playing a video game while watching gaming videos.

Gamers also got multiuser support and more compatible game controllers, including Xbox Adaptive Controllers.

Finally, if you had smart home products, you could get a notification when your doorbell rings and see who's there from your Apple TV.

tvOS 13

Released: September 24, 2019

Final version: tvOS 13.4.8

Apple TV tvOS13 screen of Oceanhorn 2
 Apple Inc

Apple's tvOS 13 brought some cool new features for your Apple TV. It introduced a new home screen with full-screen video from apps, along with a new Control Center to show you the time, date, Now Playing and AirPlay controls. Multi-User support provided a way to carve out your own Apple TV space (with personal Apple Music capabilities, too).

This update also introduced Apple Arcade, the company's premium subscription gaming service, along with support for Xbox and PlayStation controllers. Another feature, wireless audio sync, helps make that annoying lag between your TV and speakers easier to fix. Apple TV also gained new picture-in-picture support and new screensavers.

tvOS 12

Current tvOS logo
Apple Inc

First version: September 17, 2018
Final version: tvOS 12..4.1

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 the 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 built-in 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:

  • Built-in SDK
  • tvOS App Store
  • Siri search across apps
  • Support for new Siri Remote

A Brief Apple TV History

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.

Current versions of the hardware support 4K resolutions and improved sound systems, including Dolby Digital.

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