Last Updated: March 3, 2014
The Apple TV is a terrific device for displaying streaming Internet content of the HDTV in your living room. Whether it's a movie rented from the iTunes Store, a song streamed from your iCloud account, or content from Netflix, Hulu, or niche interests like anime and pro wrestling, the Apple TV makes it easy to enjoy your favorite content from the comfort of your couch.
The Apple TV comes with a number of apps (or channels) pre-installed: Netflix, Hulu, PBS, HBO GO, WatchESPN, YouTube, MLB.TV, and much much more. But what if you want to add additional features or functionality to your Apple TV? Does it work like an iPhone and let you install from the App Store? And what happens if a streaming video site you love isn't pre-loaded on the Apple TV? Can you install apps on the Apple TV?
No User-Installed Apps
The short answer, I'm sorry to report, is no. Users cannot add their owns apps or channels to the Apple TV. While the Apple TV appears to run a version of the iOS (the same OS as on the iPhone and iPad), it doesn't have an App Store or apps created by third-party developers that users can install. But that doesn't mean that new apps don't get added.
Apple Adds Channels Regularly
While users can't add their own apps or channels to the Apple TV, Apple adds them regularly. When the Apple TV debuted, it had less than a dozen channels of Internet content. Now, there are dozens—and new ones appear all the time.
There's generally no warning when new channels will appear, and users can't control if they're installed or not. Often, when you turn your Apple TV on, you'll find that a new icon has appeared on the home screen and that you now have new content available. The most recent example of this is the WWE Network, a pro wrestling channel that simply appeared on Apple TV screens when it launched on Feb. 24, 2014.
Sometimes Apple bundles new apps in with updates to the Apple TV's software, but these days, new channels often debut as they're ready.
Adding Apps Via Jailbreak
Needless to say, not everyone is content with the idea that Apple is in sole control of what's available on their Apple TV. Those people often turn to jailbreaking. Jailbreaking, more commonly found on iPhones, is a technique by which users modify the core software of the Apple TV to remove Apple's restrictions and allow them to make their own changes—including installing software.
Jailbreaking is often a complex process that requires some technical understanding in order to accomplish. It can also cause problems with the device you're trying to modify, sometimes even leaving them unusable. So, if you're considering jailbreaking your Apple TV, make sure you have the right skills for the job (don't say you weren't warned!).
If you're determined to jailbreak your device, your options include:
When that's done, you can install new tools like Plex or XMBC, which give you access to streaming content that Apple doesn't. You won't be able to install any app you want—only those that are compatible with the Apple TV—but some is better than none.
The Changing Next Generation
All of this may be the situation today, but that doesn't mean things will stay this way forever. Rumor has it that Apple will be releasing a new version of the Apple TV this year (possibly as soon as April). Some rumors say that this version of the device will allow users to install games and other apps. So, if you're excited about getting to install your own apps on an Apple TV, just stay tuned and your wish may come true.