Apple iPhone 16 is getting a unique feature upgrade in the coming weeks

Updated July 6 with details on other upcoming Apple TV news, more features coming to tvOS 18 this fall, and news about home devices.

That’s how you know Apple is doing it right: when it introduces a feature you’d never thought of before but find brilliant upon seeing it. Such is a new iPhone feature, and it’s coming to Apple TV too: a subtle but clever update to how the mute button works. Even better news: It’s just one of many video playback features coming to Apple TV this fall in the next major software release, tvOS 18.

One of them is a gift for anyone who sometimes struggles to hear dialogue. Enhance Dialogue is designed to make vocals stand out against music, special effects, and background noise. The feature exists now, but it’s getting a boost thanks to machine learning in tvOS 18, and will work with AirPods, HDMI-connected speakers, and Bluetooth speakers, rather than just HomePod as it is now. The settings are expanding to four options: off, enhance, boost, and isolate.

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Another change to video playback coming to Apple TV is support for full widescreen with a 21:9 aspect ratio, which wasn’t there before. What’s more, along with the closed captioning feature tied to the mute button, described below, Live Captions for FaceTime, currently available on iPhone, is also coming to tvOS.

You can already use an iPhone as an Apple TV camera for apps like FaceTime. Starting this fall, “with tvOS 18, users will have the ability to set a specific iPhone as the dedicated Apple TV camera, always ready to use,” 9to5Mac reports.

And then there’s InSight, which lets you pull up details about the actors in a scene, or the songs playing in a show. Amazon’s Prime Video has had something like this for years, so it’s a welcome addition here. Other updates include a redesigned Fitness+ app for Apple TV and new screensavers.

There’s also just been a leak that shows the Apple TV lineup is changing in other ways too.

MacRumors has identified code “discovered on Apple’s backend” that indicates Apple is working on a new home accessory to be used alongside the HomePod and Apple TV.

The report says: “The code refers to a device with the identifier ‘HomeAccessory17,1’, which is a new identifier category. The name is similar to the ‘AudioAccessory’ identifier of the ‌HomePod‌.”

That identifier is particularly intriguing because, by its 17.1, it suggests that it could feature the same processor expected in Apple’s iPhone 16, the A18 chip. That means the new device will have advanced features, perhaps related to AI.

Additionally, the code points to two yet-to-be-released models that are Apple TV devices. This fuels previous rumors that a new Apple TV (or two) could be released this year, perhaps in September when the iPhone 16 series is expected to debut.

But the big news here is the suggestion that a new device will be so powerful that it will need the A18 chip, whatever it ends up being. Could it be the rumored Apple TV-display hybrid? That would be innovative.

Apple has a history of intriguing innovations with Apple TV. Years ago, it improved video playback in a way that no other company has done before or since.

If you miss what someone said on TV, you can grab your Siri remote and say, “What did he/she/they say?” No matter what pronoun you use, the result is the same. The video would rewind 10 seconds and then replay the part you didn’t hear, with subtitles front and center, and only for those few seconds. If you haven’t tried it yet, it’s awesome.

Now, with the next generation of software for iPhone and Apple TV, iOS 18 and tvOS 18 respectively, there’s another major innovation.

It will work on the upcoming iPhone 16 series, as well as iPhones all the way back to the iPhone XS, once the software is installed. The software is currently in its second developer beta. It will enter public beta later this month, and reach general release in September.

So how could anyone improve on the mute button? It just works, right? Apple’s change is brilliant: when you mute video playback, either on iPhone or by pressing the mute button on the Apple TV remote, subtitles automatically appear on-screen as the silence fades. Tap the button again, and as the audio fades in, the subtitles fade away. How cool is that?

The feature will also be available, with a satisfying sense of completeness, on iPad and Mac when watching videos with the default video player.

I do see some downsides: if you have the TV, your iPhone or whatever on silent so you can have a phone conversation or listen to your partner across the living room, for example, and you keep concentrating on the screen because you can still see the words instead of listening to your conversation partner, then things can go wrong, but be warned.

But overall, this is one of the coolest upgrades to video viewing in a long time. Only Apple.

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