Apple has today released tvOS 11 for the fourth-generation Apple TV. It is perhaps unsurprising that the platform which received the least attention during Apple's WWDC keynote earlier this year, is also the one which sees the fewest new features and significant changes in today's round of OS releases. However, the good news is that there are some notable enhancements for blind and low vision users.
The New Features That We Think You Will Like
Home Screen Sync
You can now sync your apps and Home Screen across any Apple TV connected to the same iCloud account and running tvOS 11.
Other Changes in tvOS 11
- Apple AirPods can now auto-pair with an Apple TV.
- You can now set your Apple TV to automatically switch between light and dark user interfaces depending on local sunrise and sunset times.
- Apple's TV app will be rolling our to 7 new countries
- tvOS adds support for Apple's new AirPlay 2 protocol.
- tvOS 11 adds support for background app refresh.
- Right-to-left language support.
- Although not technically an tvOS 11 feature, an Amazon Prime Video app is set to launch on the Apple TV some time this Fall.
And What About Accessibility?
tvOS 11 brings a number of substantive new features and enhancements for blind and low vision users:
- Support for Braille Displays: Connected Braille displays deliver text of what’s on screen (button labels, movie titles, etc.) that you are currently hovering over. As you move focus, VoiceOver speaks and Braille displays print the text. In addition, Braille display buttons map to VoiceOver commands and support basic navigation around the Apple TV UI. However, contracted braille input is not an option.
- Support for VoiceOver keyboard commands: Bluetooth connected keyboards will allow you to issue VoiceOver commands for more efficient browsing/navigation.
- Switch Control Menu for Media Playback: Switch Control users now have access to a playback control panel to pause, play, fast forward, rewind, and skip while media is playing.
- Additional closed captioning style: Video captions now include the option of a new larger, outlined style for subtitles and captions.
- VoiceOver users can now choose from Samantha, Alex, Victoria, and Fred as speech options. We do not know if new voice options will be available for languages other than English.
We have only been able to carry out extremely limited testing of tvOS 11 prior to today’s release, so have not yet been able to explore these new features or fully check for any further changes which will effect blind or low vision users.
What we have found, however, is that tvOS appears to be moving closer to iOS in regard to navigation.
For instance, on tvOS 10, the default VoiceOver rotor setting for navigating the screen is "Navigation". This option allows you to move your finger on the touch surface of the Apple TV's remote control in all four directions to move VoiceOver focus.
In tvOS 11, the VoiceOver rotor has some significant changes. " Navigation" and “Explore” are now gone. In their place, we have two new options, and one that has been revamped. "Landmarks" and "Vertical Navigation" are the 2 new options, and “direct Touch” has under gone some major behavioral modification. The “Direct Touch” rotor option allows you to utilize TVOS 11 in much the same way the “navigation” rotor option functioned under TVOS 9 and 10. In “direct Touch” mode, you still have some behavior to get used to. With TVOS 11, the harder you swipe, the further you will be taken in that direction. For example, if you know something you wish to use is further down in a list, you can swipe harder and further in any direction to move by a larger amount of items. A light swipe will take you from one item to the next. This permits you to move in all four directions as before on your Home screen and through lists.
We will update this post with anything else that we learn. To help with this, please add a comment below to let us know of any changes, improvements or regressions that you find during your own use of tvOS 11.
How to Update to tvOS 11
To install tvOS 11 on a fourth-generation Apple TV, go to the Settings channel, then look for the System section near the bottom. From here, look for Software Updates under Maintenance, then select Update Software and Download and Install.
More information on how to update the software on your Apple TV is available on this Apple Support page.
As always, we look forward to hearing your thoughts on this update.