Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Joe Rosensteel

Apple TV needs a unified home screen

Apple TV homescreen mock-up
Just imagine. (Mock-up by Joe Rosensteel.)

In my previous column I wrote about the disappointment over the current state of tvOS and the lack of any significant forward movement with the platform. Now I want to focus on one area where I think Apple could substantially revamp and improve the Apple TV interface: a new home screen that unifies the existing home screen and the Apple TV app.

Revising and unifying navigation on tvOS has gone from being sorely needed to being absolutely critical to the platform. Even Amazon, which has had a pretty bad home screen experience for Fire TV users, just heavily refreshed its home screen.

(I wrote most of this this piece just before Amazon announced its revamp… and here it is basically doing what I what I had outlined. You’d think it would be frustrating, but it’s strangely validating. I wish Apple would follow Amazon down this path.)

Over the years, the demands we place on computers connected to our TV have shifted. Here’s what we need today:

  1. The ability to resume the last item watched.
  2. A collection of other items that are in progress, including shows that have new episodes, or media that was partially played on other devices.
  3. A collection of recently used apps or services, including favorite apps that do not directly integrate with Apple’s connected experience, as well as any subscribed Apple TV Channels.
  4. A collection of personalized recommendations based on subscriptions and watch history.
  5. The ability to access watch history.
  6. The ability to view purchased or rented Movies and TV from your library.
  7. The ability to browse live programming, and personalized notifications about live programming.
  8. Quick access to settings.

I know, it seems like I’m asking a lot. But that’s the whole point of the home screen: It needs to be the home where you can do everything you need to do, or get to the place where you can do it quickly. Splitting up these functions between the app-based home screen and the TV app isn’t solving problems for anyone. I know that the current bifurcated approach is familiar, and change is hard, but switching between a content screen (the TV app) and a bunch of app-based silos (the traditional home screen) doesn’t make sense.

The TV app itself presents a lot of information, but very little of it it is tailored to the person holding the remote, so there’s row after row of stuff that isn’t relevant to your interests, or even your subscriptions. Even if you brave the swamps of self-promotional material, and channels for apps that you already have subscriptions for, to finally get to the personalized content you’ll see that it’s not all that personal, or all that relevant. You liked Star Trek: Strange New Worlds? Well here’s Star Wars shows and movies instead of any Star Trek recommendations. You want more like Obi Wan (I don’t, but you do you), well then… here’s The Orville, for some reason?

The functions and contents of any new home screen should also not be set in stone. They should be able to adapt over time as needs change and evolve. The current TV app changes what it shows you frequently, but it’s largely unchanged since its introduction.

Even Apple recognizes this. That’s why it will sometimes turn a row that could all be tiles for different shows or films into a triptych of images for the same thing. The building blocks of design certainly haven’t evolved beyond “grid of three things with some more things hanging off screen right.” It’s time to break out of the tiled-thumbnail list rut.

But let’s start with small steps. Maybe Apple can make a new set of grids that’s a little more relevant and prevents toggling between apps and content. Once that’s done, maybe Apple can start to play catch-up with Amazon on live TV and sports.

[Joe Rosensteel is a VFX artist, writer, and co-host of the Defocused and Unhelpful Suggestions podcasts.]

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