The new Apple TV has been out for only about two weeks, but there are already hundreds of apps available for downloading to the set-top box. The apps have the potential to make your television truly “smart”, so it’s time to experiment with the best gaming, shopping, video and utility apps and see how they transform the set in your living room.
One of my favourite iPhone games, Alto’s Adventure, is a great example of how big gaming will be on Apple TV. The Apple TV version of the game puts you in control of a number of characters, each with the tasks of snowboarding down a mountain, herding runaway llamas, picking up coins and leaping over difficult obstacles. The mountain never ends and its features never repeat, so each time you play, you get a slightly different experience.
The controls are simple: You press a button on the Apple TV remote control to jump and you hold it down to back flip. The game presents challenges on each level, like completing two back flips in one run. The graphics in Alto’s Adventure are beautiful and simple, and if you play in the dark, the sound effects and lightning flashes racing across your TV are atmospheric. Alto’s Adventure costs $3 for Apple TV, but it’s free if you have already bought it for your iPhone.
Apple TV is also capable of console-quality games. A case in point is Asphalt 8: Airborne, a classic car game in which you race rivals around tracks or through city streets.
Asphalt’s Apple TV app is no simplified version of a racing game. There are the usual features like multiple tracks, championships and different cars with modifications (and with so many options to choose from, it’s easy to get lost in the many menus before you actually get to racing the cars.) When you’re turning the Apple TV remote control in the air to steer your speeding vehicle, the action is genuinely fast and furious.
Asphalt 8 is satisfying to play, with enough special tricks like jumps to keep it interesting. The game, which is free to download, offers a hint of the more complex games yet to come to Apple TV.
For a more family-friendly gaming experience, try the Sing! Karaoke app for Apple TV. This free app is popular on the iPhone but works better on a television. The app highlights the lyrics to a popular song on the screen as an instrumental version plays in the background. You can sing by yourself, perform a duet with a partner elsewhere in the world or sing with friends in the same room if they use the Sing! Karaoke mobile app, which will transform their phones into microphones.
It’s silly, simple, rewarding fun—so much so that I got distracted singing pop songs while writing this column. The app is free, as is the catalogue of tens of thousands of songs.
Gilt, the shopping site, has a free Apple TV app that hints at the future of the smart TV user experience. The app essentially creates an on-screen catalogue for discounted clothes, accessories and household items offered by the digital store. The app is easy to navigate, with photos filling the screen to showcase products. With a few swipes and clicks of the remote, it’s easy to find things you may be interested in buying. If you have already signed up for a Gilt account online, you can buy what you see on the screen directly through the app.
Airbnb, the room rental website, also has a free app that has made a smooth transition to Apple TV. The promotional images for each property in the company’s catalogue look especially good on a big screen. But there is a catch: You can’t book a vacation property through the app. You can find rentals you like and bookmark them on the Apple TV app, but you must complete the booking on your phone, tablet or computer.
Carrot Weather is another popular iPhone app that is now available for Apple TV. The weather app, which costs $4, comes with cartoonish graphics, eerie voice-overs and sarcastic forecasts. It’s a fun alternative to Apple TV’s built-in weather app.
Lastly, the Netflix, TED and Coursera apps are fabulous examples of how Apple TV offers a different experience from traditional TV channels, with more specific content.
The TED app, which lets you watch talks from the well-known TED gatherings on a TV, has high production values and is a good way to see the presentations on a bigger screen. Coursera, an online education company, also has an Apple TV app that shows instructional videos on subjects such as deep physics. Netflix, the online streaming company, is changing how the world thinks about on-demand movies and TV series, and its graphics-heavy interface works well on Apple TV and with the gestural controls of the Apple TV remote control.