33: Live updates to tvOS

Siri is ever-changing, often quietly getting updated behind the scenes, unbeknownst to us mere mortals. Yet the latest Siri update on tvOS got a rather public introduction, with the presentation of a splash screen on all Apple TV devices indicating "what's new". (This is where savvy users had to play spot the difference — five of these features came as part of tvOS 9.2, while Live Tune-In is the new server-side change.)

Much has been made of so-called "off-cycle" feature introductions to tvOS's big brother, iOS — for me, the most noticeable was the addition of Night Shift in iOS 9.3. Live Tune-In is another level removed, but could foreshadow bigger changes to come in tvOS 10. The feature allows for a new type of deep linking directly to a live video feed within certain apps (the sort that have "partner" access with Apple — that level of privilege which was necessary to have any presence on earlier Apple TVs, and the current minimum bar to be a candidate for inclusion in universal Siri search). Although it didn't seem like it, clearly this functionality was possible within tvOS 9.2, since no operating system update was applied at its roll-out.

At the moment, though, Live Tune-In's abilities are limited. Sure, it does what it says on the tin, even letting you choose from multiple feeds for a single app. If I know that the game I want to watch is airing on ESPN2, this saves me some tapping and swiping. But the bigger question is to what degree I or anyone else still thinks of live television as coming in channels at all. I might care a little about which conglomerate owns the broadcast rights for the basketball game I'm trying to see, but mostly I just want to see it.

Here is the shape I hope that Live Tune-In can take once it has more support than an off-off-cycle change to the Siri backend: tvOS will know what live video it has access to, not just by fixed channel name, but by program. My dream since tvOS and the Siri remote were announced is the ability to say "Hey Siri, show me college football games," and get listings across ESPN, Fox, CBS, and more (this would, of course, require Fox Sports to build a tvOS app in the first place). And for the truly undecided, a simpler command, "Hey Siri, what's on now?" could bring up a guide interface, hopefully with smart highlighting of what the device is already authenticated to, what requires in-app purchase, and what requires an app download.

Live Tune-In is a very small step towards making the Apple TV experience more TV-like, in the traditional sense. The exciting part is that, if Apple's other operating systems really are setting precedent, the bigger steps could also arrive at any moment.