Behind the scenes look at Apple TV app development w/ the new Bloomberg channel


Unlike its developer program and vast ecosystem of apps on iOS and Mac, there’s not much we know about Apple’s strategy for content on the Apple TV. There’s been a lot of talk that a much rumored refreshed Apple TV set top box— or perhaps even the rumored full-fledged TV set— might also come alongside a more open developer platform with app distribution.

For now, however, Apple is slowly and quietly behind closed doors making deals with select content partners that are building apps for the platform. How is Apple working with developers to build and approve these apps? Does it have an Apple TV SDK that could in theory be released to all developers? With Bloomberg TV today becoming the latest app to launch on the platform, we’ve talked with the people that built the app to get some insight into the Apple TV development process.

Apple has already streamlined the process of building its current lineup of Apple TV apps— which mostly consist of streaming video content— to the point where developers can quickly and easy build apps through an easy-to-use SDK, much like on iOS. The team behind the development of the Bloomberg app, which consisted of two developers under Bloomberg’s head of mobile and connected devices Oke Okaro, told me that Apple’s toolkit, an SDK of sorts, has “made it quite easy to build the apps.” The team of two developers along with Okaro built the app in just five weeks. Most of that time was spent testing and optimizing the video experience. It’s something that a small team of developers can accomplish for relatively inexpensively in a short timeframe, and something that existing video and TV services could quickly build for the platform.

While Apple’s SDK allowed them to build the app and interface and does include general guidelines and suggestions for video, the backend powering the video experience is completely built and maintained by Bloomberg. Apple actually has very little input in the development process after handing over the SDK, which is a good indication the development process could be transitioned into a more open tool for all developers. You might have noticed that the recently released apps on Apple TV all seem to have a similar design, although slightly different when it comes to certain features and layouts. That’s because Apple provides several templates that XML developers can choose from and customize in a variety of ways. Apple has also been working on improving the templates for Apple TV apps in recent months. Its newer Apple TV apps use navigation with tabs along the top of the screen, rather than the older apps that use a list on the right of the screen when first launching the app. Using Apple’s XML templates and guidelines, Bloomberg built the app using its own server side (Java, Tomcat).

Apple provided input along the way in terms of optimizing the experience, but Bloomberg told us that didn’t extend to deciding what features were included in the app. Apple’s input in building the app ranged from comments on improving imagery to optimizing video playback to start at an ideal resolution. Bloomberg also had control over how it would implement its advertisements, which include video ads on some of the on-demand and live content. Apple currently gives developers the ability to serve whatever ads they want to users, but it does have similar guidelines to iOS that caution devs not to create ads that clutter the experience or take up large portions of the screen as soon as the app is opened.

Bloomberg also has plans to integrate new features into the experience that will be first of their kind on the Apple TV. Most notably, the company is planning integration with the existing push notifications it delivers as “tune-in alerts” through its iOS apps. Users will eventually be able to select preferences for notifications right within the Apple TV app that will be displayed on both the TV and mobile devices connected to the same Bloomberg account. The company didn’t say how exactly notifications would work on the TV, or if Apple is involved with the development of the feature. It’s also considering interactive ads. As an example, Okaro described a user pressing a button when viewing an interactive ad to pull up more in-depth product information. Before those features, the company will roll out an update in coming weeks that will enable playlists that sync between Apple TV and its iOS apps.

With a refreshed Apple TV platform rumored for release as early as the first half of next year (last month depending on who you ask), it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine Apple’s current SDK provided only to partners will at the very least be the basis for a potential public release.

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  1. drtyrell969 - 9 years ago

    Bloomberg! MMMmmmm…yummy propaganda.

    • Tallest Skil - 9 years ago

      For whom?

      • drtyrell969 - 9 years ago

        The articles of BS are too vast to pollute this blog, but you can find one article for every tyrannical act of the NY police for one. I especially love the article from Mayor Bloomberg, repeated on Bloomberg about the safety of tuna sushi. The EPA’s website calculator had a single serving as 380% of your daily allowance of mercury. They eventually took down the calculator to coincide with the Bloomberg article. Eat up!

      • Tallest Skil - 9 years ago

        Ah, I see. Certainly makes sense to avoid it, then. Even plagues should avoid it.

  2. Jim - 9 years ago

    Why is it not called “Girls Code” .. great job AMEX! I’m glad I canceled both my AMEX cards

  3. At the moment one is stuck the Apple TV “channels” Apple cares to provide. What would be great is for any Apple TV user to configure the the device with the channels of their choice — and option that would come very close to a la cart TV. I think that’s where Apple TV is going and where TV is going in general.

    An SDK that would allow development of Apple TV channels the way anyone can develop iPhone apps today would be a true revolution in video distribution. The question is whether or not big players like Netflix or PBS or Bloomburg will allow their content to presented alongside smaller channels

  4. Janny Garrets - 9 years ago

    Apple TV is an incredible entertainment gift provided by Apple to people through that they can do the entertainment. I am also one of them to entertain the features of Apple TV.

  5. I have a feeling when Apple throws it’s cards down on this TV stuff, it’s going to land like a ton of bricks on the rest of the industry. There’s a reason ATV is just a “hobby”. It’s just laying down the tracks for the freight train to come through. Probably only Google sees it too, but as usual they’ll just copy whatever Apple does. Samsung & club will be completely blindsided. I’m not claiming to know exactly what they have up their sleeves, but it’s probably going to be hard to beat.

    On a side note, where do all these bizarro left-field comments come from?

  6. Inaba-kun (@Inaba_kun) - 9 years ago

    The Apple TV is such an odd product. A walled garden of the most extreme kind, and one so focussed on the US market as to be little more than a paperweight in other countries. Here in the UK it lacks virtually all UK streaming services, including the biggest and most essential of them all – BBC iPlayer. Without that, a streamer is utterly useless here, but it’s nowhere to be seen on the ATV.

    All Apple need do is release an SDK and open up an app store for it. It would be transformed within weeks. Changed from a curiosity, to an essential item. It’s as if the success of the app store on the iPhone and iPad is completely unknown to those who work on the ATV.

    They should also spend some time on the UI, which has never been all that useful or all that pretty. It needs the iOS7 treatment.


Avatar for Jordan Kahn Jordan Kahn

Jordan writes about all things Apple as Senior Editor of 9to5Mac, & contributes to 9to5Google, 9to5Toys, & He also co-authors 9to5Mac’s Logic Pros series.