Apple Releases tvOS 11; Bringing New Features and Enhancements for Blind Users of the Fourth-Generation Apple TV

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

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.



Submitted by Roxann Pollard on Tuesday, September 19, 2017

I successfully updated to TVOS11 but I do not see the new News and Sports on the TV app. I see the same four tabs as I had prior to this update. Am I missing something?

Submitted by slj on Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Voiceover also reads subtitles on the Apple tv, which is going to be an awesome experience. However, in some apps, VOiceover loos focus, won't scroll through menus, lists, switch tabs etc. which worked before upgrading. I'll wait a few days to see if those apps I'm having issues with is going to be updated, which hopefully will fix those issues.

Submitted by Voracious P. Brain on Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Although I was initially extatic that Apple finally fixed the volume so that the level is retained after restarting VO, I can't use Hulu or Sling at all. The swipe order is messed up, I can't click things, and the focus flies around even with a very light touch. At least the first two of these would be app update issues, which may be slow in coming. Restarting the device didn't help.
Are others not experiencing this?

Submitted by Roxann Pollard on Wednesday, September 20, 2017

I have noticed that the remote seems to be overly responsive with this update. When I first set up the fourth generation TV, I change the remote track speed to fast because I couldn't seem to make the remote respond at all. The remote then seemed to be basically like handling the iPhone. With TVOS11 update, I have changed the track speed to medium. I am still working with it to see whether or not the problems such as jumping over multiple categories, with the lightest touch, while using Netflix may be better. So far, I'm not certain if this will resolve the issues. I haven't check my Hulu account for accessibility yet.

Oh, heck. I had to set mine to slow right after I got the 4 two years ago, mainly because of my sighted partner's frustrations with it, but it always worked better for me as well. No effect on the flying around thing, though.

Submitted by Troy on Thursday, September 21, 2017

Yes, not very easy to navigate here as well. It's like the layout of ios instead.

Submitted by chad on Thursday, September 21, 2017

hi just updated to tv os11 and its a disaster for me.
First i have directvnow, and can't flick up and down on the guide.
it was fine in tv os10.
Secondly can't close apps.
If you have any suggestions for me i would appreciate it.

Submitted by Voracious P. Brain on Thursday, September 21, 2017

Oddly, when I went back to the Apple TV yesterday, I could use Hulu and Sling. The jitterbug issue persists a little bit, and I haven't tried to close apps yet. But it may be that restarting VO (not the device itself as is usually the case) is needed after the upgrade. Or else it just needed a good night's sleep.

Submitted by hllf on Sunday, September 24, 2017

For those of you experiencing problems with the new OS and DirecTV Now, do not worry. At first you may think accessibility is totally broken, but a little patience and playing around will result in you realizing that it's still completely accessible, but the way you have to interact has changed significantly.

Getting to the guide is the same as before; you hit the Menu button, flick left/right to get to Guide, then click. Once in the guide, this is where everything is different.

First thing you need to do is change the rotor to direct touch. Once you have selected direct touch, you now tap instead of flick to move between elements. Flicking works too, but you need to practice with it, as how hard and far you flick impacts how fast you move. I recommend starting out with tapping, which is how you move from one element to another. So here is how it works:

Move up one element: tap once top center
Move down one element: tap once bottom center
Move left one element: tap once left center
Move right one element: tap once right center

I have not played with it extensively yet, but my initial impressions is that I like this better than the flicking from the previous version. While flicking, I often tended to accidentally go left or right an element, which was quite annoying. Now I just lightly tap over and over where I want, and it moves exactly as it should.

I hope this helps those of you using DirecTV Now!

Submitted by That Blind Canuck on Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Hello, I've recently updated my Apple TV 4 to iOS 11 and all seems fine, although there are some differences when navigating with the remote. The only thing that really annoys me is that I can't seem to successfully move apps on the home screen or within folders. Before, you would simply press and hold the touch pad on the remote to go into edit mode, then swipe left and right or up and down to move the app, all while hearing VoiceOver telling you where the app was moving in relation to the other apps on the screen. I am able to press and hold the touch pad on the remote to go into edit mode but am unable to even move apps and even worse, VoiceOver is no longer telling me where the app is moving to. Now I've already listened to David Woodbridge's podcast telling you how to return the home button back to it's default action of actually bringing you back to the home screen instead of opening the TV app, but this seems to be the only glitch left over that kind of bugs me. Any help from others on what I may be doing wrong would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Submitted by James O'Dell on Sunday, October 15, 2017

I have had a lot of issues with the remote appearing not to respond to swipe gestures e.g. up and down. AT times I have also been unable to select items by pressing down on the remote touch surface. I get an error sound like the sound that is played when you have reached the edge or bottom of the screen, and nothing happens. One place where this happens consistently is in the Radio tab of the music app when trying to activate the sub-tabs under radio ("Beats 1", "Featured" and "Stations". Resetting the apple TV has improved some of the issues with general responsiveness and reliability of selecting items with the remote, but this has not fixed the issue in the "Radio" tab of the music app.

Submitted by Will on Thursday, December 21, 2017

hi all, on our 4? generation apple tv running the latest os my wife and I are wondering firstly, how do you set the bbc iplayer app to auto-play another episode when one has finished? secondly, half-way through episodes we receive the irritating, are you still watching? why is this and can we prevent it?
lastly, when we are listening to music or watching shows we keep having what is going to play up-next, which sometimes cuts off the start of a track in the case of music. again, can this be turned off? i know it flashes up for sighted users but i feel for voiceover users it is an irritant which my old apple tv did not exhibit. Hoping people can assist me.Will

Submitted by Roxann Pollard on Thursday, December 21, 2017

To answer one of your questions... To stop Voiceover from interrupting your music listening pleasure, start playing what you want to hear and then shut down Voiceover until it is needed again. To do this, you can use SIRI or you can use the uppermost lefthand button and toggle it three times for on/off. It works well for me.