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Why iOS devs should build a tvOS app now, not later

by Matt Szaro on Dec 18, 2015

We all know how overwhelming it can be to take on yet another project that you weren’t quite planning for. But make no mistake: developers who take just a little extra time now to build a tvOS app now will be very glad they did. 

Here’s why:

1. The introduction of the new Apple TV heralds a new land rush.

Apple is saying apps are the future of TV, and given how Apple more than anyone ushered in the “Post-PC era” with innovations like the iPod, iPhone and iPad, we should all pay attention when they talk about the future. Big things are about to happen, and it’s in your best interest to get in early, when the field isn’t hugely crowded — you have a better chance of standing out in a metaphorical small pond. Just how small is the tvOS App Store compared to the iOS App Store? tvOS counts a little over 2,600 apps, while the iOS App Store has north of 1.6 million.  

But it’s also important to get in now because of who you will reach. You’ll have immediate access to dedicated Apple enthusiasts — the early adopters of the Apple TV. iOS users are by far the most valuable in the mobile ecosystem, so it stands to reason that tvOS users — especially the early adopters — will be a great audience to reach and build loyalty with as you iterate on your app. Your tvOS app might also be what introduces these users to your existing iOS app/app portfolio.

2. If you already have an iOS app, building a tvOS app is surprisingly straightforward.

No need to start from scratch/reinvent the wheel. tvOS is a fork of iOS, so your apps can share much of the same codebase. This means that not only is it relatively easy to port your iOS app to tvOS, but going forward it will be fairly simple to maintain because much of the the non-UI code of the two apps will be the same.

tvOS is also built with the same developing tools (Xcode and many of the same frameworks you might be used to – UIKit, for instance), which makes starting your app less daunting. All that you have to do is add a tvOS target to your project, add all relevant files to the target, and make a few edits where necessary in cases where the platforms diverge.

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 12.04.59 PM

Adding a tvOS target to an existing iOS app on Xcode 7.2.

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 12.01.16 PM

Make sure you add tvOS target membership in the inspector (outlined in blue) for any existing files you want to compile in for TV.

For many developers, much of the work will already be done – it’s primarily storyboard / UI work. For the few places where the platforms differ, it’s easy to set-up a macro to compile sub-sections of your file for one platform or the other — but that’s a topic we’ll explore in an upcoming post.  

It’s also worth noting that you only need to design for one screen size (1080p).

3. You don’t want to miss out on what could be one of the most popular holiday gifts.

Just a week out of the gate — way back in November — Apple TV had a bigger share of the set-top box market than Amazon, Roku, and Google — which probably means that the new Apple TV is going to be a very popular Christmas gift (particularly among Apple devotees, as noted above.) Getting an app out as soon as possible (likely January 2016 at this point), will allow you to take advantage of all the new users that are coming to the platform. Remember, you aren’t just building for what the platform is, but for what it will become.

Apple is also pushing the new Apple TV big time — they have a huge media blitz with billboards plastered everywhere and awesome commercials running during national broadcasts.

So don’t waste another minute: roll up your sleeves and build your tvOS app. Getting ahead of the game might take a few days of work, but doing so will get you in on the ground floor of a platform that is primed to explode in popularity. 

And of course, make sure to integrate our SDK in your app! Download here.

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Matt Szaro is a senior software engineer at AppLovin.

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