In 2014, the World Surf League reached out to us to build their website, and ahead of the 2015 season we added native apps to their digital product offering. Approaching the 2016 season, their ambitions turned to connected devices and we partnered to build their first offerings on Apple TV and the Samsung Tizen platform.

Screen mockup The WSL Apple TV Home Screen featuring live event and VOD content

Breath of Fresh Air

Developing for Apple TV has one great advantage over developing for regular iOS and Android. And it's something I could get used to. You are essentially developing for one piece of hardware and one screen resolution. This makes the whole process so much easier. You aren't wrangling multiple versions of assets. You aren't worrying about whether some piece of functionality that you have written will work on an ancient piece of hardware that someone is using to run your app. You do have to worry about how some tv's may have overscan turned on and how that affects the outside margins of your app. Once you understand the "safe-zone" though, it's usually full speed ahead.

TvML or Native?

When we first started out with this project we needed to decide whether to use TvML or go completely native with app development. We did a quick prototype using TvML. Using TvML has many things going for it. It's relatively quick to develop and it uses a language that most of us already develop in on a regular basis (javascript). It also allows you to drive most of the app server side. Wanna make a huge change to the app or fix a small bug? You can do that and no need to wait a week for the app to go into review. The downside of using TvML, though, is that you are bound by whatever layouts and functionality that it provides. This doesn't seem like it will ever be as comprehensive as going native with development. We also found the docs for TvML to be less than stellar. Because of these issues, we decided we would go native and also do it in Swift (This was new to us as, in all our previous apps, we only used Objective-C). Development might take a little bit longer but it gives us the ability to do what we want to do functionally and also allows us to share a codebase with the iOS WSL App at some point.

UI/UX

We definitely think of the Apple TV app as a different beast from our mobile apps. We have been developing the mobile apps for a while now and there is a fair amount of information and content available to users. Not only can users see content written by editors but they can also set their fantasy lineup, view slideshows, see individual judge wave scores, AND watch live events and video on demand. With the Apple TV app, we were definitely concentrating on the video experience and opening up as much of our video content to our users as possible. We also made sure that the live event experience was familiar to our current mobile app users but also fit within the Apple TV design guidelines. Lists of videos for an event use the familiar Apple TV carousels while colors and iconography for event status follow what we've done on mobile.

WSL Apple TV App Store Love Getting some App Store love, featured as a Best New App

What the Future Holds

We are hoping our users are happy with the experience. It's going to be interesting to see what they like and use the most. In future releases, we are hoping to make the experience as immersive and easy as possible. We realize that people aren't always able to tune in to live events so we are hoping to make it easier to play back an event on the users time and without spoilers. We also hope to include heat and wave scores for those people who are following along live.