Once in a while, Apple will do something so silly with its hardware, it’s almost as if they went to some obscure Chinese manufacturer, found some remote that mimics their “style” and just bought 10 million units for 20 cents each. Sometimes the mistakes are “part of the plan” (for example the iPhone 4’s glass back), but I have to admit that with the new remote, I can’t help but wonder what that plan was exactly…
The new Apple TV remote is one of those products that are so badly conceived, it boggles the mind that a company like Apple would release such a product.
UPDATE: Today (March 31st, 2016) Apple held an event, in which a new TVOS release was announced. Apple CEO Tim Cook even said, and I quote: “Users love the Apple TV remote”. I wonder who they asked?
1. The hardware sucks
When you hold the remote in your hand, it is absolutely symmetrical, and while this may be considered “aesthetically pleasing”, there is no way to tell which side is up. I checked if the remote balances in the middle, and it does! You can literally put this remote on your finger and it balances perfectly. This is NOT a throwing knife, why does this need to be perfectly balanced? It would make it more usable if the bottom was heavier. Even better, if Apple could mimic their own design from their new Bluetooth Keyboard it would naturally be heavier on one side (the keyboards and trackpads taper towards the back).
Let’s see what happens if we completely remove the icons from the buttons of popular remotes (to simulate a dark room):
Now you tell me, which of those remotes could you absolutely figure out in a dark room, without looking at the icons?
So as you can see, with the previous remote you could be in a completely dark room, and you could easily re-orient the remote in your hand and use it, all without ever looking at the buttons:
Finally, because the new remote has a highly sensitive touch pad surface, we experience frequent accidental touches which cause an annoying backward/forward scrub within the movie. You then have to find the location you were at, scrub to that, and hit Play again.
2. Usability sucks
The previous Apple TV remote was very simple, and my 2 year old daughter could use it. The middle button was play/pause, left & right were previous / next, and up/down helped you navigate the menus, or show the on-screen controls during movie playback.
The new remote: My daughter can’t use it, and neither can my 60 year old mom. My wife took a while to figure it out, and it’s still difficult to use. It’s a learning curve to learn to control the new remote. The top 40% of the remote is a touch pad, and it’s also the clicker. This means that while clicking, you are also swiping on the touch pad. Difficult much?
Missing: Previous/Next buttons. There is no way to easily jump between videos in YouTube or between Netflix episodes.
UPDATE: They fixed the accidental swipe issue. The left & right sides of the trackpad will now let you go 10 seconds forward or backward, and to go further than that you just keep pressing.
3. Siri sucks
The only thing worse than using this touch pad for navigating the menus, is having to type with this hyper-sensitive touch pad. The experience is absolutely awful.
And you would think Apple would leverage their speech recognition to allow you to speak into any field, but No… (And I actually tried it, thinking it should work – while in a search field I hit the Siri button, and tried to speak the letters. I’m so naive sometimes!).
UPDATE 1: The Gods of Apple have heard me, and today Apple released an update to TVOS which enables dictation in Siri. It’s not the best, but it kinda works.
Search: Using Siri to search for something yanks you out of the context you’re in, and takes you to their iTunes store instead. Yes, even within Netflix, if you ask Siri for a movie with Leonardo Dicaprio in it, it will take you to iTunes’ catalog. That’s what I call “Rotten” behavior.
UPDATE 2: Apparently this is another thing today’s update has fixed. I will give it a try and report here if it works.
UPDATE 3: I take it back, Siri dictation totally sucks. Also, the $13 Remote Loop is helpful with figuring out the orientation of the remote when fumbling in the dark.