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How to watch free TV on an iPhone

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Readers of a certain age will remember when TV was a sociable activity: the whole family would gather round the only set in the house to watch something together, and because there were only three, or later four, channels, you were guaranteed that the evening’s highlights would be discussed in the playground the next morning. Those days are long gone.

What has replaced it is a world of many devices and many sources of content. Because almost everyone – at least in the UK and US – has a smartphone, almost everyone is carrying around their very own TV in their pocket. In this article we show how to switch it on, without paying a penny: in other words, how to watch free TV on your iPhone.

For more apps that will enhance your viewing pleasure, see Best TV apps. And on a related note, here’s how to watch free movies on your iPhone.

Set up Freeview

The app we’re going to be using is Freeview, which launched on iOS in January 2019. (As is often the case with high-profile apps, the Android version is slated for a later release.)

You can download the Freeview app from the App Store. It’s free, of course.

Open the app. It will first ask for your location, so that it can set up the correct TV region: you can either fill in your postcode or allow the app to detect the location itself.

How to watch free TV on iPhone: Select region

On the next screen, Freeview will present a list of available TV player apps, together with labels indicating which of them you’ve installed already and links to the App Store for those which you haven’t. Install as many of the apps as you want, then tap ‘I have all the players I need’.

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How to watch free TV on iPhone: Install players

Finally, you’ll see a few tips on using the app, and a button labelled ‘Start browsing’. Tap that.

How to use Freeview

The app’s main screen defaults to the What’s On tab, which shows all the programmes currently playing in your installed apps (the red bar under the thumbnail indicates how far through it is). To watch one, tap one of the thumbnails, then tap the play button in the picture at the top.

For programmes that have played earlier, tap the On Demand tab. This page is filterable by category, but the default page is Top Picks. And the Guide tab lets you look at programmes that will showing later.

The counterintuitive thing about Freeview is that it doesn’t play the programmes itself. Instead, when you choose to play something, it will switch to that app (after getting your permission, if this is the first time you’ve chosen to play something from that provider).

How to watch free TV on iPhone: Permission to open player app

You may then need to negotiate further permissions or logins with that player app: the Channel 4 app, for instance, requires us to sign in. And getting back to Freeview isn’t as simple as tapping a Done button – some player apps will show a back button in the top left, but we’ve found that some don’t, and you have to manually go back to the app picker screen.

So Freeview isn’t quite the all-powerful umbrella TV app we’d like (and many hope will be provided by Apple’s streaming service). But the simple fact that it presents a full schedule of what’s on now, what’s on later, and what’s been on and is still available to view, together with links to that programme on the appropriate player, is very handy.

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