Apple TV is getting a Picture-in-Picture mode so you can watch two shows at once

Apple TV is getting a Picture-in-Picture mode that will allow users to stream two shows at the same time, TechCrunch has confirmed. The feature’s forthcoming launch was first reported by Apple news site 9to5Mac earlier today, following today’s release of new beta software for all of Apple’s operating systems, including tvOS.

After installing tvOS beta 2, Twitter user Nikolaj Hansen-Turton noticed a new option — the ability to play content in a smaller window in the bottom-right of the screen, overlaid on top of the main Apple TV interface. Or, simply put, it’s a Picture-in-Picture mode. (See tweets below).

Several publications soon ran the news.

But what wasn’t clear at the time was whether this was just a minimized video player window or a true Picture-in-Picture experience. The tweeted photo and video, after all, seemed to show a static background on the main screen — not two programs playing simultaneously. However, we understand that Apple TV will support the ability to stream two shows at once.

There are some caveats, though.

Picture-in-Picture support will only be available for content provided by Apple in the Apple TV app. That includes content purchased through iTunes, TV shows and movies streamed the Apple TV+ subscription service launching later this year, and videos streamed through Apple TV Channels.

Channels, which arrived with the updated TV app in May, lets users subscribe to premium add-ons including HBO, Starz, Showtime, EPIX, Tastemade, Smithsonian Channel and others. The idea is similar to the premium subscriptions available through Amazon’s Prime Video Channels or the more recently added subscriptions offered through Roku’s streaming hub, The Roku Channel.

To be clear, that means if you subscribe to HBO through Apple’s Channels, you will be able to watch HBO in Picture-in-Picture mode when the new version of tvOS ships to the public later this fall. But if you subscribe to HBO through the website and then watch via the third-party HBO NOW app, you won’t be able to use Picture-in-Picture mode.

Apple intends to expand its catalog of premium subscriptions in time, which will make it possible to view more programming in the Picture-in-Picture mode in the future.

Apple hasn’t yet announced plans for third-party developer tools that would allow them to customize their own apps to support Picture-in-Picture mode. If those aren’t immediately available, it gives Apple TV owners a compelling reason to subscribe to premium programming through Apple TV Channels, instead of through a third-party website or app. (Which would be a nice perk for Apple’s TV platform revenue, as well.)

Support for Picture-in-Picture mode wasn’t announced earlier this month at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference where the company previews its upcoming software releases, which made today’s reveal a pleasant surprise for Apple TV fans.

Picture-in-Picture mode will be supported on both Apple TV 4K and Apple TV HD, we understand.