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Apple TV update hints at iOS multi-user accounts

With iOS 6 out the door, Apple gives its set-top box a minor software update that adds new features, including one aimed at multi-user households.

Apple's third-generation Apple TV set top box.
Apple's third-generation Apple TV set top box.
Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple quietly updated software for its second- and third-generation Apple TV set-top boxes today to make it work with iOS 6 features.

The new version of the software, dubbed iOS 5.1 (though not the same 5.1 iPhone, iPod, and iPad users got earlier this year), adds things like shared Photo Streams, search, and showtimes for local theaters through the trailers app, and a way to reorder the icons on the home screen (something that leaked out a few months ago in a developer build).

However chief among the items of interest is a way to switch iTunes accounts, providing a way for multiple user households to access differing content libraries on the same box. This is something Apple has not offered on its portable devices, and its addition suggests the feature could be headed there eventually.

The Apple TV has remained what Apple considers a "hobby" device when compared with the sales and popularity of products like the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. Nonetheless, the company has pointed to increasing sales in recent earnings calls, with CEO Tim Cook dropping the notion that even though it's not a blockbuster, the company didn't keep around products it didn't like.

Apple, of course has long been rumored to be working on a TV set, a rumor that's rooted in some fact. Late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs told biographer Walter Isaacson that he wanted "to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use" and that he "finally cracked it." Since then there has been no shortage of rumors that suggest Apple is still at work on such a product.

Per the iDownloadblog, here are the full release notes of iOS 5.1 for Apple TV:

Shared Photo Streams - Accept invitations for Shared Photo Streams, browse photos and comments, and receive notifications of new content.
AirPlay - Send audio content from Apple TV to AirPlay-enabled speakers and devices (including AirPort Express and other Apple TVs). Also includes the ability to require an onscreen code to use AirPlay with your Apple TV.
iTunes account switching - Save multiple iTunes accounts and switch quickly between them.
Trailers - Search movie trailers. In the United States, see show times for local theaters.
Screen savers - New Cascade, Shrinking Tiles, and Sliding Panels screen savers.
Main menu - Reorder icons on the second page by holding down the select button on the remote.
Subtitles - SDH support for the deaf and hard-of-hearing as well as improvements to viewing and selecting subtitles.
Network configuration - Support for setting up advanced network options using configuration profiles. See for more information.
Stability and performance - Includes general performance and stability improvements.