Apple TV’s Watch Now tab is now a mess

A redesign for Apple’s TV app, which first surfaced in November, is now available to everyone, and users aren’t happy. The new design for the TV app overhauls the Watch Now tab with a massive new banner at the top with automatic video and audio playback with no customization options…

This new design for the TV app’s Watch Now feature was first previewed in November during the tvOS 16.2 beta test and was heavily criticized at the time. Interestingly, Apple has listened to this feedback and made a notable change.

The first version of the new Watch Now theme in the TV app added a new Featured line at the top of the theme. This meant the more useful “Up Next” line was moved down, requiring you to scroll down to see your queue.

In the version of the TV app now rolling out to Apple TV users, this “Recommended” line is gone. Instead, the “Up Next” queue maintains its top-level position for easy access. Unfortunately, Apple’s compromise for this is an aggressive, monstrous banner at the top, circling through so-called “recommended” content.

This “recommended” content appears to have been editorially selected. That means you’ll see content from apps built into the TV app, like HBO Max and Hulu… and, of course, Apple TV+. To make matters worse, you even see massive banners for content you’ve already watched. There’s no system for hiding previews of things you’ve already seen.

This banner not only plays video previews of the featured TV shows and movies, but also audio. Resting your tvOS cursor in this banner area for just a second will automatically activate the preview video and audio.

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Leading image via Reddit user GnarlsD

9to5Mac’s take

The previous design for the Watch Now tab, which highlighted your Up Next queue without banner ads or featured content.

This is a very disappointing change for Apple. While it’s encouraging that the company has listened to feedback and hasn’t moved the “Up Next” queue all the way down the page, this new design is still a huge step backwards.

In the new design, the Up Next queue is essentially sandwiched between the massive banner previews at the top and a dedicated Apple TV+ content section at the bottom. This makes it easy to miss what Apple certainly intended with this redesign.

The worst thing about this new design is the total lack of customization options. You cannot rearrange the content rows, disable “Recommended” content, or even customize the type of content displayed in this banner area.

In an ideal world, you could check a box and revert to the previous design, but that’s not an option. Instead, you’ll be greeted with automatic audio and video playback every time you open the TV app on your Apple TV.

I’m not the only one frustrated by these changes either. A thread on Reddit is full of complaints from Apple TV users, calling this new design “positive, absolutely, decidedly awful.”

You can turn off audio autoplay by going to Settings > Apps > TV Autoplay Video Sound. Unfortunately, this doesn’t solve the general design issues, nor does it prevent video previews from playing automatically.

Most users won’t know that they need to go to the Settings app to turn off auto-play audio. Therefore, most Apple TV users will be forced to use the new Watch Now tab with a cluttered design that autoplays not only video but also audio.

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It’s disappointing, but perhaps not surprising, to see Apple mimicking the UI tricks of other streaming apps from companies like Netflix and Hulu.

There is clearly data and user studies showing an increase in engagement with these types of designs. The question is whether it’s legitimate engagement or if people are being forced to “engage” by swiping a few more times to find the content they actually want to see. My guess is it’s the latter.

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