The Apple TV is already popular in schools that have adopted the iPad as a learning tool. Its support for AirPlay makes it possible for teachers to show apps on their iPads to the entire class, and it allows learners to show their work to their peers right from their seat. The release of the fourth generation device with access to an App Store promises to expand the possibilities for Apple TV in the classroom.
While at launch the app selection is limited, if the iOS and Mac app stores are any indication, this situation will quickly change. For now, the primary challenge is finding apps. Discovery would be greatly enhanced by an option to browse the store by categories, including one devoted specifically to education (as I was writing this, Apple a new Categories section showed up on my Apple TV so it looks like this issue should be improved soon). For now, we have to wade through the many fireplace apps. Another issue is that it is not possible to easily share apps since there is no version of Safari for the Apple TV. Thus, I can only provide a list with some brief descriptions and my experience with each app, but no links to help you quickly add the apps to your device.
A quick tip: make sure to look under Purchased when you go into the App Store on your Apple TV. It turns out that some apps are universal. This means the developer can create one version that is available on both iOS and Apple TV (the device is running a version of iOS after all). I was able to find and quickly install a couple of apps this way.
Another quick tip: Make sure you have your iOS device or computer nearby as you navigate the App Store and install apps. As an alternative to entering your login information on the Apple TV, some apps will ask you to go to a special web page on another device, where you enter a code displayed on the Apple TV.
Remember that with many of the video apps, you can use Siri to turn on the captions. Just say “turn on the captions.” You can also just flick down with one finger to display an overlay with additional information about the current program and options for captions and subtitles (as well as AirPlay).
In Settings, the captions can be customized to make them easier for all in the classroom to follow along with them. Captions are usually available for content from TED and PBS, whereas it varies on YouTube (most of the content there still relies on automatic captions which are not always accurate, unfortunately).
Without further delay, here is my list of my most useful apps so far:
- YouTube: My first source for learning about a new topic. If you used this app on the old Apple TV, you will not see much of a difference with this version. Once you complete the login process, which requires you to enter a code on another device as per quick tip 2 above, you will see your subscriptions, watch history and the like.
- TED: Again, there is not much difference between this offering and the other TED apps. As with YouTube, you will need to log in on a different device and enter a code in order to save talks that you want to watch later.
- PBS Video: With access to a deep library of PBS video content from shows such as Nature, Frontline, NOVA and more, the PBS Video app can be helpful in a variety of subjects, from social studies and science to language arts.
- PBS Kids: The Kids app features popular shows such as Sesame Street, Curious George, Arthur and more.
- Coursera: This app provides access to the videos that make up most of the content for courses offered on the Coursera platform. You are not able to display the PDF documents and other resources. Even with that limitation, I have been able to find a couple of good courses that look like they will be interesting: Design Thinking from UVA and Ignite Your Every Day Creativity from SUNY). For most of these courses, you can watch for free or choose to get credit by paying a fee. I did not go through the process of enrolling for credit with the courses I am exploring, so I can’t speak to how that works.
- Storehouse: This is one of my favorite story telling apps on iOS, but the Apple TV version is quite limited in my opinion. It only allows you to show the photos you have added to a story, not the quotes or captions. Even so, students can use it to create short five-frame stories that use imagery to convery a message or tell a story in a different way.
- Montessory Spelling: As the name implies, this app allows young leanrers to practice their spelling. After being shown a photo that represents the word and hearing it spoken aloud, the learner sees blank lines representing the number of letters needed. Using the Apple TV remote, the learner then selects the letters in the correct order to get auditory feedback (the word is repeated and stars are shown on the screen). The Settings include options for selecting the level of difficulty, the letter placement (right space or next space) and the keyboard (capital letters, script or cursive). English, spanish, french and italian are the supported languages. Not a complicated or highly interactive app, but then again few of the learning apps I have seen so far on the new Apple TV are.
- Dictionary: This is one of those things that should just be built into Siri, but it’s not, so there’s an app for that. The one thing I like is the display of photos from Flickr with each definition. That can definitely help some learners who prefer or need visuals for understanding. There is a word of the day feature, but each time I tried it I got booted to the Home Screen. Unfortunately, the text is very small even on a reaonsably sized TV, and there are no options to increase it within the app.
- MyTalk Tools: For those of you who work with students with communication difficulties (or parents of kids who have such difficulties) there is at least one Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) app on the Apple TV app store. I am still not sure how helpful this kind of app will be on this platform but hey, it’s available as an option. Maybe it will allow for quick communication while a child is watching a program or interacting with an app on the Apple TV (by double-tapping the Home button to switch back and forth between the AAC app and the other content or app). MyTalk is a $99 app for iOS (though a lite version is available if you want to try it as I did). It is on the iOS device that you will configure the communication boards available on the Apple TV after syncing through a MyTalk account. For each cell in the communication board, you can record your own voice and change the photo to either one you have saved to the Camera Roll or one you take with the camera of your iOS device. It looks like the free version will only allow you to replace existing cells, not create new ones.
- White Noise: I didn’t really go out looking for this app. It was shown to me when I looked in my Purchased category in the App Store (because I already own it on iOS and it is a universal app). I’m thinking this would be a good app to help learners simmer down and focus if they get too rowdy. It plays soothing sounds from ocean waves, to forest sounds, to rain drops and more. Since the app will continue playing in the background even after you exit it, you can combine it with the amazing screen savers Apple has provided for the ultimate chill out experience.
You will notice I have not included any math apps. Overall, I was not too pleased with the three I tried (each was only $.99): Math Champions, Math for Kids, and Math Drills. Each of these has some drills limited to basic operations. Beyond selecting the correct answer from a list and getting the typical auditory feedback (“Correct!”) there was not much in the way of interactivty or an immersive game experience. This is an area where I hope a few developers will look to creating something that is unique to the platform and incorporates more engaging gamification elements (a story, a mission, etc.). I did find some calculator and unit conversion apps, but again I feel this is something that should be easy for Siri to perform rather than require a separate app (in fact, it can already do all this on iOS devices).
That’s it for my initial tour of the Apple TV App Store after just a couple of days of owning the device. Have you found some useful apps I have left off the list? Let me know in the comments or tweet them at me (@_luisfperez).