Judy Dixon

In November 2019, Apple launched a streaming service called Apple TV+. This name proved to be a bit confusing because Apple already offered a product called, Apple TV, which is a little box that can access a wide variety of audio and video content.

But Apple TV+ is not a box, it's an ad-free subscription service. You don't even need to have an Apple TV to use the Apple TV+ service. When it launched, Apple TV+ offered only original content. The service began with nine original productions, eight series and one documentary. These included The Morning Show, a behind-the-scenes look at a morning television show; For All Mankind, a show about the space race with the premise that Russia was first to land a man on the moon; See, a sci-fi series about a future world where everyone is blind?then twins are born who can see; Dickinson, a stylized look at the life of a young Emily Dickinson; and Oprah's Book Club, a talk show featuring authors and their books.

Most of the TV+ series premiered with their first three episodes, with an additional episode rolling out each week. Full seasons of some series, however, were available all at once. New original series and films have been released in subsequent months. All Apple Original productions have audio description tracks in nine languages (English, French, Canadian French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, and Spanish Latin).

In mid-2020 Apple began efforts to license older television and film content from other content providers. Little older content has appeared yet but more is expected in the coming months.

Currently, several award-winning shows are now on the service including Ted Lasso, about an American football coach who is hired to manage a British soccer team. This series has won numerous awards (AFI, Critic's Choice, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, Writers Guild,), and Stillwater, about siblings who develop a friendship with a wise panda. This series was nominated for a Peabody. There's also lots of other good children's programming as well.

At debut, Apple TV+ was available in about 100 countries. Now, as of June 2021, the service is still not available in many high-population countries such as South Korea, Romania, Turkey, and others. It is now estimated to have more than 40 million subscribers, and offers nearly 100 original series and movies as well as other content.

What Devices Can Access Apple TV+?

Apple TV+ content is viewable through the Apple website, and through the Apple TV app, which has gradually become available for many devices. On earlier versions of Apple devices, the app for accessing movies and so forth was called Videos. But in 2016, the name was changed to TV. On an iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV, the TV app comes with the operating system. On a Mac, the TV app arrived with macOS Catalina.

The app is also available on other devices including Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Fire TV Stick, and Fire TV Cube; Samsung, LG, Vizio and Sony televisions; and Chromecast with Google TV. On these devices, the app is called Apple TV and must be downloaded and installed. The Apple TV+ service is also available through an app for PlayStation and Xbox.

Accessing Apple TV+ Content

On Apple devices, the TV app is designed to be a central hub for movie and TV show content. There are three categories of content you can watch through the app: Apple TV+ original programming, Channels (which you subscribe to through the Apple TV app and add on just like you used to add movie channels to your cable package), and programming from other services (which you subscribe to separately and which have their own apps used to watch them, but can be searched and launched from within the Apple TV app).

This can all be more than a little daunting. In the TV app, you can subscribe to channels. If a streaming service is an Apple channel, then you can play its content without downloading an app for that service. You can watch content included with your subscription inside the TV app, and across all of your devices.

You can search for a channel in the Apple TV app to see movies, shows, and other content that you can watch with a subscription. Pricing varies by channel. You can see details about the trial, monthly price, and renewal terms before confirming your subscription. Showtime and Paramount+ are examples of channels.

But on Apple devices, the app will also tell you about content that is on other streaming services whose apps are on your device. In this case, it will automatically open the other app to play that content. Examples of this type of content are Disney+ and Prime Video.

The TV app aggregates content from many different sources. At the time of this writing, in the United States, the TV app supports 36 services including ABC, Amazon Prime Video, BBC America, CNN, Comedy Central, Cooking Channel, Disney+, ESPN, Food Network, Hallmark Channel Everywhere, HBO Max, HGTV, Hulu, MLB at Bat, NBC, PBS Video, Peacock, Smithsonian, Spectrum TV, Starz, TBS, TNT, The Travel Channel, and VH1. If the app whose content you wish to play is not a "channel," then the app must be installed on your device, and you must have access to the service independently of Apple.

Notably absent from this list is Netflix. The apps of other services have been programmed to integrate with the Apple app but Netflix has chosen not to do this. This makes it a bit inconvenient for those who subscribe to Netflix in addition to other services because they must search in both apps when looking for specific content.

Apple TV+ on the iPhone and iPad

On an iPhone and iPad, the TV app is pre-installed. The structure of this app is quite complex.

There are four tabs at the bottom of the TV app's Home screen. The Watch Now tab gathers the shows you recently watched and the ones that are placed in Up Next. At the very top of the Watch Now tab is Account Settings where you can control the connected apps, manage subscriptions, Clear Play History, and more.

The sections of this tab are separated by headings, which makes it easy to navigate. But these headings change from time to time depending on what is being featured. The What to Watch section contains content that the app thinks you'll like. My Channels is a list of the services to which you have subscribed and More Channels is a list of ones that are available. There is also a list of Streaming Apps that gathers many of the apps on your device and presents them in one place. Other headings may include: New Shows and Movies, Popular Shows, Sports, What We're Watching, Trending, and New Movies to Rent or Buy.

The Originals tab contains the programming from Apple TV+, along with sections on Coming Soon, Meet the Stars of Apple TV+, and More to Explore.

The Library tab contains all of your previously purchased content. You may have acquired some of this content in iTunes but now everything is available through the TV or Apple TV app.

The Search tab lets you look for content in all the supported apps on your phone. You can also search the thousands of movies and TV shows available from Apple. More than 1,500 of these movies are available with audio description with more being added all the time. You can also browse titles that appear in trending categories.

Let's have a look at the options that can be set for the TV app in the iPhone's Settings. These are the settings found under TV in the main Settings app on the phone.

At the top of the page are sections for Streaming Options and Download Options. Each of these sections has these same three items: use cellular data, cellular, and Wi-Fi.

Use cellular data: on or off. Here you can choose to stream or download your movies and TV shows over the cellular network.

Cellular: For streaming, the options are high quality or automatic. Automatic will optimize the streaming quality based on your data plan. For downloads, the options are high quality or fast downloads. High quality uses more storage because it caches the content until it can be downloaded. Both options can play high dynamic range and Dolby Atmos videos.

Wi-Fi: For streaming, the options are high quality or data saver. Data saver streams up to 1 gigabyte per hour. For downloads, the options are high quality or fast downloads.

The remainder of the page contains the following:

Languages: This setting is for adding audio languages. Your original audio language will be here. If enabled in Accessibility, audio descriptions will be downloaded automatically. Each added audio language will increase the download size.

Subtitle languages: Your download will include subtitles for each of your languages. This is on by default so you can reduce your download size by turning this off.

Allow TV to access Siri and Search.

Notifications: Set how you want to be notified by the TV app. It can tell you about new episodes of series you are watching and that sort of thing.

Device Preferences:

Show sports scores: on or off.

Use Play history: on or off. This allows TV shows and movies played on this device to influence your recommendations and update your Continue Watching content across your devices.

Purchases and rentals: High definition or standard definition. If you select standard definition, only videos in standard definition will be shown as options when your purchase or rent videos.

Home sharing: This is where you can enter your Apple ID to set up home sharing for the TV app.

Apple TV+ on an Apple TV

To access Apple TV+ content on your Apple TV, select TV, which, by default, is the very first item on the interface (row 1, column 1). Before pressing this button, you will also hear the Apple TV say "Top shelf content available." This means that there are items in the row above row 1 related to the currently selected app. In the case of the TV app, these are promotional items for movies and TV shows being featured by Apple TV+. If you prefer, in Settings, you can change this so it shows your Up Next items.

On the Apple TV, you can access additional content in the Movies and TV Shows menu items on the device's Home screen. You are able to access your purchased items (including those purchased through iTunes) as well as search for new content, see recommendations, browse by genre, and so forth.

The TV app on the Apple TV has seven tabs: The Watch Now tab is similar to the tab on the iPhone. It includes Up Next, What to Watch, and lists channels and other streaming services. The Apple TV+ tab presents Apple TV+ content sliced and diced in many ways. The Movies tab lists current movies and Apple originals. The TV shows tab lists new offerings and entire seasons. The Sports tab lists sports events on other apps on your device. If you don't have the app, the TV app will show you how to get it. The Library tab includes your purchased movies and TV shows. The Search tab lets you search for content across your device and also presents content in many categories. The Apple TV also has a voice search feature which works extremely well. It is built into the remote and is called the Siri button.

In the Apple TV Settings, under Apps, the TV app has options for:

Use play history: on or off.

Show sports scores: on or off.

Home screen, top shelf: What to Watch or Up Next.

Notifications: Games and Up Next.

Audio, autoplay video sound: on or off.

Then each of the video streaming apps on your device is listed with the option of on or off where you can choose if you want that app connected to the TV app.

If you enabled the Audio Descriptions feature in Settings, Apple TV+ content and other items are played with their audio description. If you wish, you can turn audio description on for a single program, or you can turn on audio description in a language other than your device's default language.

Apple TV+ on an Android Phone

At the present time, the Apple TV app is not available for Android phones, although it is rumored to be coming soon. It's possible to play Apple TV+ content, however, by opening a web browser and going to tv.apple.com. The Sign In button is in the upper right corner.

Apple TV+ on Other Streaming Devices

On many smart televisions as well as Fire TV, Roku, Chromecast, and other devices, you can access Apple TV+ content with an app called Apple TV. This app must be downloaded and installed on each device. This app has seven tabs: Watch Now, Apple TV+, Movies, TV Shows, Library, Search, and Settings.

The Apple TV app on third-party devices gives you access to content from your subscribed channels but it does not give you access to the content from the dozens of other streaming services in the way that the TV app running on Apple devices does.

You can turn on audio description from within the Apple TV app by going to Settings > Accessibility > Audio Descriptions and turn it on there. When you do this, it is turned on for all the Apple content that includes it.

To play your purchased iTunes movies and TV shows, open the Apple TV app and press the Right Arrow until you reach Library. The first item is Recent Purchases. Even though this says "Recent," every purchase I have ever made is listed. You can also search for new content, see recommendations, browse by genre, and so forth.

Apple TV+ Pricing Options

Apple TV+ costs $4.99 per month. It includes family sharing with up to six family members who can share one Apple TV+ subscription, and watch using their own Apple ID and password. You can renew your subscription for one year for $49.99.

As of October 2020, Apple TV+ access is included as part of Apple's new Apple One subscription bundle. This bundle includes Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, Apple News+, and Fitness+. This means you can now subscribe to Apple TV+ through one of three different Apple One bundle tiers: Individual, Family, and Premier. Here is what is included in each of the tiers:

  • Individual: You get Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, and 50GB of iCloud storage for $14.95 per month.
  • Family: Up to six members of your family get Apple Music, Apple TV+, and Apple Arcade, and 200GB of iCloud for $19.95 per month.
  • Premier: Includes all the other benefits, but ups the iCloud storage to 2TB per month and adds subscriptions to the News+ magazine and newspaper service and the newly announced Fitness+ service for $29.95 per month.

If you buy any new iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, iPod touch or Mac, you get one year of Apple TV+ free if you activate it within 90 days of your purchase.

For More Information

Apple maintains a webpage that lets you Check if movies and TV shows have accessibility features in the Apple TV app. It gives instructions for many Apple and other devices on how to check if movies and TV shows have accessibility features such as audio description and closed captioning.

This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.

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Judy Dixon
Article Topic
Product Evaluations and Guides