Have you ever wondered how Apple adds new content to the Apple TV without an update? For those of us with iPhones and iPads, every new application requires either a download or software update before being available. What is done differently in the Apple TV?
In the rest of the iOS world, icons on the home screen typically refer to an application – tapping the icon launches an actual app installed on the phone, whether that app is provided by Apple in the operating system (Phone, Messages, Stocks, etc.) or is installed via the app store (Angry Birds). An application in the iOS world is a complete set of all files required – the actual application executable, artwork images, data files – and is installed on the device and invoked when you tap the icon. Apple TV is very different – so different I’m going to refer to the icons on the Apple TV home screen as channels. They are NOT a full application – they are, in most cases, an icon with a link to a remote URL.
Apple’s ‘built-in’ channels are the exception to this. The iTunes store channels for Movie, TV, Music, and Podcasts have their menus dynamically defined in the storefront file, but other Apple channels appear to be special cases as well.
One of the more interesting things about the different channels on the Apple TV is that the methodology for adding content has changed over the years the device has been available. Most of the older channels are not dynamically generated, while all of the newer third-party channels are, and even some of the newer Apple-provided channels use this ‘javacript-on-a-remote-server’ approach. This would indicate that Apple has been evolving their approach to content on the Apple TV since its introduction, and are moving toward a more dynamic model to provide and update content, avoiding unnecessary software updates if possible. There have also been significant changes to how they validate and secure this content, which is necessary when so much content is dynamically generated.
The mix of static and dynamic content makes the Apple TV a very interesting device – Apple can immediately add content as they sign deals with the content providers, and nothing is required from the end user to make this content available.