Earlier this week, Apple took the wraps off its new TV app that will be used to support the Apple Channels and Apple TV+ services launching later this year. While it was a given that the new app will be coming out for iOS and tvOS devices, Apple had one more surprise up its sleeve: It’s bringing the new TV interface, and possibly at least some of its services, to its nine-year-old third-generation set-top box as well.
The new TV app will be coming in iOS 12.3 and tvOS 12.3, and users with access to the betas released yesterday can try the new app now, but Apple has also added a new beta Apple TV Software Update 7.3 for its almost-forgotten third-generation Apple TV to bring the TV app to the older set-top box.
For those who may not remember life before tvOS, before Apple released the fourth-generation Apple TV in 2015 — the device now known as Apple TV HD — the set-top box was a much different device. Rather than an open, app-based operating system, the first three generations of Apple TV were monolithic devices with more limited user interfaces that only gained new channels when Apple pushed out “Apple TV Software Updates.”
Most of these older Apple TV models have been abandoned completely by Apple — the second-generation Apple TV was declared “obsolete” two years ago, and the third-generation Apple TV received its last minor software update — version 7.2.2 — in January 2016, back when iOS 10 and the iPhone 6s were considered bleeding edge. So needless to say, it’s quite a surprise to see Apple releasing another update for the legacy set-top box over three years later.
In fact, even with the new Apple TV Software Update, the third-generation Apple TV remains so old that even the feature to automatically set it up using an iPhone or iPad no longer works with iOS 12 — you’ll instead need to pair a Bluetooth keyboard or peck out your Wi-Fi password with the old-school Apple Remote.
Despite the availability of the older TV app in other countries, the new third-generation Apple TV version requires that the region of the box be set to United States, making us wonder if Apple’s initial rollout of Channels and Apple TV+ will in fact be U.S. only, or if this is simply a limitation in the beta version right now. The TV app also hasn’t yet replaced the separate Movies and TV Shows apps on the home screen, although the tighter integration with iTunes suggests that this should eventually happen as well.
Otherwise, however, the TV app follows the same basic layout as its new tvOS counterpart, morphed into the older Apple TV UI. A menu bar at the top begins with the new Watch Now section, with separate entries to browse Movies, TV Shows, the users’ own cloud Library, or search for content.
The Watch Now page includes options to “Explore Channels on Apple TV,” which basically takes the user to a page for subscribing to third-party content, indicating that Apple Channels will be fully supported on older Apple TV as well.
The Library section allows users to sign into their iTunes Store account to access any content they’ve purchased from the iTunes Store, although this is basically laid out in the same way as in the standalone Movies and TV Shows apps, merely centralized in one place. Users looking to access a home iTunes library will still need to turn to the legacy (and unchanged) Computers app.
For the most part, however, it’s a very positive step to see Apple embracing users of its older set-top box for its new services, and further evidence that the company realizes that it’s going to have to provide as many options as possible to attract users to Apple TV+ when it launches later this year. While Apple no longer sells the third-generation Apple TV, it was such a low-cost device that even users who upgraded to the newer Apple TV or moved onto other platforms such as Roku are likely to still have one sitting around, and may be encouraged to dust it off and hook it back up to watch Apple’s fall lineup.