When revealing the revamped Apple TV, Apple CEO Tim Cook bullishly claimed the “future of television is apps”. Which is fine, but that was also the present of television at the time, if you owned a smart TV or rival telly box.
Yet Apple has always been different. Its smartphones and tablets have far more properly good apps than rival systems. Our hope was Apple’s future for the telly would at least involve some we actually wanted to use.
As it turns out, there’s a lot of junk to fish through on the Apple TV App Store, but plenty of gems, too. Here are our favourites.
If it's specifically games you're after, check out our companion feature: the 31 best games for the new Apple TV.
(Note: all apps are universal, working across your iOS devices, unless otherwise stated.)
Not got one yet? Buy the Apple TV from Currys
Brian Eno : Reflection (£29.99, universal)
“Thirty quid!” you might yell, while choking on your drink and following up with a choice expletive. But hang on, because Reflection is something special – a version of Brian Eno’s latest album that never stops remixing itself, and that shifts and changes depending on the time of day, and even the season.
On the telly, you also get an Eno abstract evolving painting, transforming your gogglebox into a slice of living art.
CARROT Weather (£2.99, Apple TV only)
Many weather apps will give you forecasts and maps, but only CARROT gives you snark. A malevolent AI dishes out twisted animations along with rainfall predictions. Multiple locations can be stored, and secret places await discovery; but whatever you do, don’t poke CARROT’s ocular sensor!
Earthlapse TV (£2.29, Apple TV only)
There’s something magical about seeing the Earth from above, and Earthlapse offers some stunning time-lapse photography. There are 18 carefully mastered views from the ISS to choose from, and you can muck about with speed, colour filters and the soundtrack as you gawk at our little blue planet zooming through space.
Hyper (£free, universal)
Online video for the lazy, Hyper frees you from trudging through endless feeds by hand-picking some of the best uploads every day. At least, ‘best uploads’ as decided by ‘a team of award-winning filmmakers’, who are somewhat US-oriented in nature. Even so, it’s a decent starting point, and if you can’t find anything to like, it’s probably because your idea of great online video is a cat rolling about in a not very amusing fashion, forever.
Infuse/Infuse Pro (£free/£7.99)
FireCore’s gone all-in with Apple TV, releasing its latest Infuse update for Apple’s black box months before iOS. Whether you grab the free or paid version, you’ll be able to stream video from network storage, re-encoded on-the-fly. Artwork, catalogue sorting and metadata is all automatic, making for a gorgeous browsing experience. Pro users also get trakt.tv support, syncing progress across devices.
iTunes Movie Trailers (£free, universal)
This app being region-restricted to the US, Canada and UK is one of only two obvious flaws. iTunes Movie Trailers otherwise provides an efficient and usable means to feast your eyes on upcoming films.
Click a piece of cover art and you get an overview of the flick in question, along with access to any current trailers. Interesting movies can be squirrelled away into a favourites list. The other flaw: it’s very US-focused regarding ratings. Other than that, it’s a must-download, unless you hate movies (in which case, buying an Apple TV was probably a strange decision on your part).
Kitchen Stories (£free)
Our favourite cookery app, Kitchen Stories is awash with gorgeous photography and tons of video. Unsurprisingly, Apple TV concentrates on the latter, with a selection of videos covering recipes and skills. So if you’ve always wanted to know how to prepare a squid, make a hearty beef stew, or chop (rather than just eat) chocolate, this is the app for you.
Madefire Comics & Motion Books (£free + IAP, universal)
Motion comics are a bit of an oddity, not really being comics and also not quite being cartoons or films. They’ve never entirely clicked with us on an iPad, but somehow work really nicely on Apple TV. The content in Madefire Comics has all been carefully and intelligently optimised for a lean-back view, too, with booming audio, large panels, and suitably chunky speech balloons.
MeteoEarth (£free, universal)
CARROT Weather’s the best Apple TV weather app, but it doesn’t do maps – which is just as well for MeteoEarth, which is essentially one big map.
You twirl the Earth about, cooing at twinkling lights in places where the sun’s naffed off, and adding overlays for temperature and rainfall, before noting the latter always seems to plonk a massive splodge of blue across the UK. Bah.
NetNewsWire Today (£5.99)
An RSS app might strike you as an odd fit for your telly, but NetNewsWire works surprisingly well. You set up your feeds on your iPhone and can then optionally share them with the Apple TV app. A smartly designed interface ensures headlines can be seen across the room, and you can bookmark suitably intriguing articles for later perusal.
Plane Finder (£2.99)
For armchair plane geeks, Plane Finder is heaven, displaying a live(ish) map of metal tubes with wings hurtling through the sky. You can zoom, filter by company, and search for specific flights, tracking a single plane to keep tabs on when it will land. If you fancy something more conventional, try the similarly impressive (but far simpler) FlightBoard.
PLEX (£free + IAP)
Although Infuse is in our list, it would be wrong to omit another video favourite, PLEX. The app appeared in unofficial form on jailbroken second-generation Apple TVs, but this is the real deal. Despite being built in just five weeks, PLEX for Apple TV is a first-rate app for organising and streaming media collections, along with finding new things to watch.
The ‘Radio’ app on the old Apple TV was dreadful, hence why we’re relieved to find Receiver. It’s simple fare — you search for stations, which can be played and added to a favourites list. You can also listen to related podcasts, although weirdly can only browse for them rather than search. Still, that beats Apple’s app, which had no search whatsoever.
Solar Walk 2 (£0.79, universal)
On iOS, Solar Walk 2 is a gorgeous educational tool for exploring the solar system. On Apple TV, it’s somewhat simplified, having you select a planet or moon from a menu, and then fiddle around with Siri Remote’s touchpad to spin it about. However, you can still crack Saturn and co. open like eggs to peer at their insides, along with bringing up infographics to discover how insignificant Earth is compared to the giants of the solar system.
Speedtest by Ookla (free, universal)
If you work for an ISP, you might be gnashing your teeth on seeing this entry, and so, yes, we know speed-test apps aren’t entirely accurate. However, if your Apple TV is having trouble streaming your favourite shows, Speedtest by Ookla at least provides an indication of whether your broadband’s conked out or not. Naturally, it’s dead easy to use: let it rip and within a minute or so you’ll get current ping, download and uploads speed estimates.
Streaks Workout (£2.29)
The ethos behind the Streaks apps is habit-forming and simplicity. With Streaks Workout, you only need your Apple TV, a floor, and at least some desire to get fit. You choose exercises you’re happy with, how long you want to sweat for, and then get going. The app tracks your streaks, encouraging you to continue burning off excess flab that ‘somehow’ appeared due to you spending too much time parked in front of your Apple TV doing less strenuous things.
TV Maps (£1.49, universal)
The idea of using maps on your telly probably seems a bit odd. After all, you’re unlikely to have your flatscreen and Apple TV while zooming up the M1, a massive extension lead trailing from your car. But this is a decent app for just exploring, not least when using Apple’s flyover feature, which gives you a 3D view of famous landmarks — even if they sometimes look like a 15-year-old PC game has melted a bit. There’s also the means to get directions on your telly and squirt them over to the TV Maps iPhone app, which is handy.
TVPlayer (£free, universal)
Chances are your Apple TV’s plugged into an actual telly that’s capable of playing live broadcasts. But if not, TVPlayer gives you free access to all the usual suspects, along with a simple, usable TV guide. Splash out some extra cash and you can unlock premium channels that usually lurk on cable. And if nothing else, we’re happy to include this app for Brits whose lips are wobbling at the paucity of native Apple TV apps from terrestrial broadcasters. (Come on, Channel 4, ITV, Channel 5 and UKTV!)
White Noise (99p, universal)
If you can’t relax without background noise, but don’t want it to be permanently angry ‘Landahners’ in EastEnders, or whatever Spotify serves up, get White Noise on your telly.
You choose from audio loops, including gentle beach waves, a tick-tocking grandfather clock, and, er, a vacuum cleaner. Probably just clean the house if that last one’s your thing.
Wikify (£free, universal)
Wikipedia on the telly might seem an odd choice of app, but Wikify’s more a travel companion. You scoot about the map, zoom in on a section, and a load of red pins can then be fired at it, each representing something interesting. On selecting a pin, you can read the respective Wikipedia article. Which all sounds like something more suited to a phone, but Wikify’s great for a group huddled around a telly, figuring out places to visit on a day trip or night out.
Zen - Relax and Meditate (£free + IAP, universal)
This one’s mostly daily messages you find on motivational posters with beautifully photographed rocks, along with earnestly narrated videos about meditation. But we really liked Zen’s handful of chill-out videos. When you’re hyped up having watched superheroes punching each-other’s faces off for three hours, a nice video of rolling waves on a beach, or a blade of grass in a rainstorm, is just what the doctor ordered.