The Forgotten iOS Device: Why You Should Make Apps For Apple TV

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SAN FRANCISCO, CA

Brad Smith wants to encourage developers to explore the final frontier: making apps for Apple TV.

Smith, director of engineering at RadiumOne, spoke at AltWWDC about facing the challenges for this new territory.

“I like to think of it as the forgotten iOS device,” Smith said, showing a slide of Tom Dickson, who has blended every device from the Cupertino company — with the exception of the Apple TV.

For starters, Apple hasn’t opened the platform to third-party apps for the digital media receiver, which launched in 2007. In some ways, Smith says, Apple making moves to make it even more closed. Smith hopes his talk will drive more developers to make apps anyway.

“It’s moving in a scary direction, if anything there are indications that they’re moving to close down rather than open up,” Smith said. “From a hacker perspective, it offers up challenges because you can write your code in different ways, though.”

To get started, you need a jailbroken second-generation Apple TV. That’s the “sweet spot” since the third-gen has yet to be jailbroken (“We’re working on it,” an audience member interjected) and first-gen doesn’t run iOS.

Smith didn’t give a detailed how-to on cracking it open but says that “It’s become very very easy, one Google search and a download and you’re in.” (SeasOn Pass is the way to go for many, he said.) One caveat: iOS 6 on Apple TV 2 is a tethered jailbreak, so you have to plug it into a USB cable every time you reboot the device. “Definitely OK for hackers like us, but it’s not ready for real-world consumption.”

He recommends taking a look at current third-party Apple TV apps, many are open source, look at code and see how things are running, including: XMBC, NitoTV, Last.FM and AirControl.

To get you started, also check out BackRow, essentially a UI Kit that acts as a replacement for your basic iOS kit on Apple TV. Once a private framework, it’s now inside the AppleTV you can stack it or dynamically pull it into runtime, but after the iOS 6 update, Apple removed BackRow. Still, he says, the core data is there and so is most of the low-level stuff you need to get started.

“Developing even before there’s an open platform can encourage Apple to see there’s a potential there and encourage people to push the platform forward.”

You can watch the full talk with his mini-tutorial, here.

  • technochick

    Making apps FOR the Apple TV is dumb at the moment since Apple isn’t allowing apps to be loaded on the device

    Making apps that take advantage of AirPlay in cool ways, go for it

  • Adrayven

    The obvious low hanging fruit is to allow an iOS App Store for Apple TV, but I think Apple seems to have something specific in mind.. Not sure why they don’t go that direction.. A soupped up Apple TV, with the Graphics of a Tablet like the iPad 4, could be a create place for gaming and other apps. Access to social networks, etc.

    I think the question .. and the reason they are holding off, is the right ‘recipe’ that works. We’ve seen many try this path, but either cost or stability has killed it quick. First gen Google TV comes to mind from Logitech.. Same with Boxee, .. as it’s more costly to get into that say a Roku or Apple TV…

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Nicole MartinelliNicole Martinelli heads up Cult of Mac Magazine, our weekly publication available on iTunes. You can find her on Twitter and Google+. If you're doing something new, cool and Apple-related, email her.

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