Picture-in-Picture Video is Coming to Apple TV

Apple TV Channels On Stage at March 25 Event Credit: Apple
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Yesterday’s release of the second beta of iOS 13 mostly just added or enhanced features that Apple has already talked about, so while there was some interesting new stuff, there weren’t any huge surprises. On the other hand, a new beta of tvOS 13 accompanied it as well, and the second beta adds something to the Apple TV that we didn’t see coming: Picture-in-Picture support.

The new feature will allow users to continue watching shows from the Apple TV app while navigating around the rest of the Apple TV UI. It works almost identically to the iPad implementation of the feature, which made its debut in 2015 with iOS 9.

How It Works

To enable Picture-in-Picture, users start by playing a video in full screen. There appears to be no special action required to make the Picture-in-Picture thumbnail appear on the Apple TV — simply switching to another app will move the video down into the bottom right corner where it will continue playing.

Controls overlaid on the video will allow you to jump directly back to the app, end playback of the video directly, or move the thumbnail window to another corner of the screen. It’s not entirely clear how these controls will be accessed from the Siri Remote, which will otherwise be used to navigate around the main tvOS user interface, but it looks like this will be done by either pressing or holding down the play/pause button.

It also appears the feature is limited to Apple’s own TV app, at least for now. Since Apple hasn’t said anything about the feature at all, it’s hard to say whether that’s going to be the case in the final release, or whether Apple will expand it to other apps. Regardless, however, it seems most likely that it will only work with apps that use the built-in media player on tvOS, so that may automatically disqualify a lot of apps that roll their own media players, like YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, just to name a few.

In fact, it’s not entirely clear right now whether Apple has specifically restricted it to only working with its own TV app — something that’s not out of the realm of possibility considering its strong push for its new Apple TV+ service — or whether that just appears to be the case because so many other popular video apps are using media players that aren’t compatible with the new picture-in-picture feature.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that this may not be quite the same as the picture-in-picture feature that many televisions support, where you can actually watch two programs at a time. Rather, as with the feature on the iPad, starting a new video will override the picture-in-picture window in favour of the new one — although again it’s completely unclear from the glimpse we’ve had of the feature how this is going to work with apps that use third-party media players like YouTube and Netflix.

Like iOS 13, tvOS 13 is expected to be released to the public this fall, and since Apple hasn’t even mentioned the picture-in-picture feature, it’s difficult to say whether this will even make it to the final release — Apple could just be testing the waters here. A public beta of tvOS 13 will likely arrive early next month, so more users will be able to get their hands on it soon and put it through its paces.

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