Apple TV Plus Has CODA, Ted Lasso and More -- but WTF Actually Is It?
Apple TV Plus has A-list stars, big budgets and top awards, but it's a bit different from other streaming services. Here are the main things to know.
Joan E. SolsmanFormer Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
ExpertiseStreaming video, film, television and music; virtual, augmented and mixed reality; deep fakes and synthetic media; content moderation and misinformation onlineCredentials
Three Folio Eddie award wins: 2018 science & technology writing (Cartoon bunnies are hacking your brain), 2021 analysis (Deepfakes' election threat isn't what you'd think) and 2022 culture article (Apple's CODA Takes You Into an Inner World of Sign)
Apple TV Plus lacks a deep library of licensed shows and movies to dive into. The service has original programming almost exclusively. Its lineup of high-end originals has grown to more than five dozen titles since it launched two years ago, including the ones listed above as well as See, a fantasy starring Jason Momoa; Finch, a postapocalyptic Tom Hanks movie about a man, his dog and a robot; and Invasion, a drama series about an alien... invasion; The Problem With Jon Stewart, the comedy host's return to current-affairs TV; and The Morning Show, its drama series starring A-listers Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon.
Still, most other subscription streaming services, like Netflix, HBO Max and Disney Plus, have thousands of hours of programming to watch.
Apple TV Plus also doesn't have its own dedicated app (or channel). Its shows are inside the Apple TV app. (And the Apple TV app is different from the Apple TV streaming device. Yeah, it's confusing.)
Here are the main things to know.
How much does Apple TV Plus cost?
Apple TV Plus costs $5 a month, or $50 for an annual subscription, making it among the cheapest streaming services of its kind. By comparison, Disney Plus is $8 a month, with a library of movies and shows that far outstrips Apple's. And Netflix, the world's biggest subscription streaming service, prices its most popular plan at $15.50 a month in the US; it offers other tiers at $10 and $20 a month.
And Apple TV Plus is available as part of a discount bundle of services called Apple One. Apple One ranges in price from $15 to $30 a month for different combinations of subscriptions. Apple TV Plus is included in all tiers of Apple One. Depending on the tier, Apple One bundles may also include Apple Music, Apple Arcade, Apple News Plus, storage service iCloud and the guided-workout service Apple Fitness Plus. (Disney Plus had offered something similar by packaging that service with both Hulu and ESPN Plus.)
Does Apple TV Plus offer a free trial?
Apple TV Plus offers a seven-day free trial standard for any new subscriber, but you may be able to unlock a much longer free period.
As of July 1, Apple TV Plus offers an extended, three-month free trial to people who buy an iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, iPod Touch or Mac. This extended free trial applies to both new and refurbished models, including devices from the iPhone Upgrade Program, and it's not restricted to any specific sales channel, so it applies to both Apple Store purchases and those at resellers. It's available in all countries where Apple TV Plus is operating.
Back when Apple TV Plus launched in November 2019, the company offered an extended, one-year free trial for anyone who bought a qualifying Apple gadget. Even though Apple TV Plus is among the cheapest subscription streaming services of its kind, the generous promotion compensated for its lightweight library, which had only nine total titles to watch at the beginning.
Then as Apple TV Plus slowly worked to widen its catalog of original programming, Apple kept extending those yearlong free trials past their expirations multiple times. Many subscribers had never paid for the service as long as it existed up through July 1. One analyst estimated that 62% of Apple TV Plus accounts were freeloading with some sort of promotion.
But that changed in July. Apple began charging anyone who had been on a free trial longer than a year starting July 1, and any new subscriber who wants to unlock an extended free trial with an Apple gadget purchase gets only three months free now, not an entire year.
Free trials were long the industry standard, but they are becoming more rare. Services like Netflix, Disney Plus, HBO Max and Peacock have all phased out their standard free trials for new members. And Apple's one-year free period for gadget owners was atypically long.
How do I stream Apple TV Plus?
All Apple TV Plus programing is available in the Apple TV app for the service's subscribers. Apple TV Plus is $5 a month, and a subscription unlocks the full catalog of its original programming, without any additional fees.
But unlike Netflix and other subscription streaming services, Apple TV Plus doesn't have its own dedicated app. Apple TV Plus programming resides inside Apple's TV app, which overall serves as a hub to watch programming from other video subscriptions, and to rent or buy movies and shows a la carte. That can be a little confusing, but the TV app has a tab dedicated just to Apple TV Plus originals, so you can find them all in one place without other stuff that requires separate payments.
Apple's TV app (and, by extension, Apple TV Plus) is available on:
Apple devices that can stream video including iPhone, iPad, Apple TV streaming boxes, iPod Touch and Macs
Amazon Fire TV
Samsung smart TVs
LG smart TVs
Vizio smart TVs
Sony smart TVs
Apple TV Plus is also available to watch on the web at tv.apple.com.
Take note, Android users (and anybody with anything other than an iPhone and iPad)...
If you want to watch on an Android phone, or any mobile device besides an iPhone or iPad, you'll have to watch in a web browser. Apple's TV app isn't available on any mobile devices except the ones Apple makes itself.
What other shows and movies does it have?
Apple's shows run the gamut of drama, comedy, documentary -- even undefined deals with a single big star attached. It's also spending big to get top Hollywood names: Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams and other heavy hitters are on board. Apple also struck an exclusive deal with Alfonso Cuarón for the famed director's first television projects.
Since Apple TV Plus resides in Apple's TV app, you can check out the selection there before signing up. You can also browse the catalog through third-party services like Reelgood.
Apple TV Plus is associated with Apple ID, which is the same log-in you'd use for iCloud or downloading apps from its App Store. If you don't already have an Apple ID, you can create one here.
If you already have Apple's TV app on an iPhone, iPad or Apple TV, you simply need to open the app and navigate to any of the places where Apple is prominently promoting its original shows. On newly purchased iPhones, for example, the app already knows you've purchased a new gadget to qualify for the deal. Whether you're starting Apple TV Plus with a year free or just the standard one-week trial, the shows start playing in the app after a few taps.
Apple's programming is available on all its devices with the Apple TV app.
In addition, Apple TV Plus is available on some competitors' devices. Apple's TV app is available on Roku and Fire TV, two of the most widely used streaming devices in the US, and for smart TVs from Samsung and LG. You can watch it on Sony and Vizio smart TVs via AirPlay, and the TV app should be available for those smart TVs now.
Subscribers will also be able to watch Apple TV Plus on the web at tv.apple.com.
But the Apple TV app isn't available on any mobile devices except iPhones or iPads. That means Apple TV Plus subscribers with non-Apple phones -- meaning, the huge population of people with Android phones -- need to stream to their mobiles via the web, rather than in an app.
How do I cancel Apple TV Plus?
The simplest way for you to cancel Apple TV Plus, regardless of how you signed up or what device you're using, is to sign in with your account's Apple ID at tv.apple.com. Click or tap the small circular account icon in the upper right corner and select Settings. Then scroll down to Subscriptions and, finally, tap the link to Manage. From there, you can choose to cancel your subscription.
How do I check the time left in my free trial?
You can check the remaining time of your free trial at the same Settings page described above, under the Subscriptions section. CNET also has an article explaining other ways to find the expiration date of your free trial on your iPhone or your Apple TV streaming box.
How does Apple TV Plus compare with Netflix, Disney Plus and other subscription video services?
Unlike Netflix, it doesn't have a big library of licensed shows or movies, nor will it release full seasons of its shows all at once in a binge-able bunch (for the most part). Most Apple TV Plus series premiere a small cluster of episodes, often three, followed by one new episode every week. Full seasons of some series drop all at the same time, though.
Apple TV Plus is available in more than 100 countries and is also part of Apple's family-sharing feature, which allows you to add up to five family members to share a plan. Apple originals are available in 4K, HDR and Dolby Vision, and most titles also offer Dolby Atmos sound, according to this Apple support page.
Apple is a gadget giant. Why does it want to become Netflix?
Apple is taking aim at original video because it could be a crucial enticement for people to buy more
. You can't overstate the importance of the iPhone to Apple. The phone, one of the most popular in the world, still accounts for more than half its sales and was critical to Apple's march to become the first US company worth $1 trillion.
Celebrities show off their new series on Apple TV Plus
Apple quickly established its bona fides in subscriptions businesses with Apple Music. But the content on Apple Music is essentially the same as every other music service. They all have tens of millions of songs. Apple Music has been successful largely because of its presence on the iPhone, already in the pockets of millions of people. It hasn't been nearly as successful working the other direction, acting as a lure to buy the latest Apple gadget.
Original video from big-name stars and creators you can't watch anywhere else, however, could be different.