A Touchscreen Remote With a Next Gen Apple TV Would be Amazing

| Analysis

Concept via Martin Hajek.

There are many technical issues related to a next generation TV system, as conceived by Apple. It's mind boggling. But one small area where Apple could cash in on its expertise would be a touchscreen remote, a simpler, less expensive version of the iPod touch to accompany a 4th generation Apple TV.

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Over the weekend, I saw a reference to the idea of a curved display, touchscreen remote for a future Apple TV. The World of Trust plug-in didn't like the source site, so I sat on my hands for a bit. Then, Martin Hajeck sent me the link to his original renderings, and now I know where it all came from.

Mr. Hajeck wrote me: "Today I was reading an article that Steve Jobs would never release an actual 'TV' — as it so happens yesterday I uploaded a bunch of images of what could be the next possible iteration of the Apple TV ...the box that is. I worked on these images for another tech blog (www.curved.de) but the idea was basically my own."

These are awesome renderings. Be sure to scroll down and see all the various presentations.

My first response was that such a device would add considerable cost to a 4th generation Apple TV in a time when Google (Chromecast) and Roku are moving to sub-fifty-dollar HDMI plug-in sticks.

But then my second thought is that these devices are trying to appeal to cost-conscious cord-cutters, and that's not Apple's style. Apple looks for elegant solutions that may cost a little more, but make the customer light up with glee.

And a curved Gorilla Glass display, touchscreen remote, with a home button and Siri would light us up.

Big Time.

Apple could leverage its current manufacturing volumes to make the incremental cost of such a device cost far less than we might suspect. After all, it doesn't need expensive LTE radios (and licenses), cameras, sensors, lots of storage, and much of the other hardware that makes an iPhone so expensive.

Discussion

One of the problems with the TV interface, held in the hand with a remote is how the actions are performed. The old-fashioned technique is akin to the classic mouse-and-pointer interface. A grid is displayed on the TV, and we navigate that grid and make selections with a handheld remote. Sometimes we have to guess about where the cursor controls will take us on the display. Simple TV guide grids have evolved, making the old UI difficult.

For example, up-down-left-right cursors work when selecting content on a grid, but the real weakness shows up when you try to enter an Apple ID or Netflix username and password. That grid of letters is a pain to select from and construct a text string. Also, iOS has taught us that we can tap anywhere on a display and that cursor keys are obsolete.

Just as we are moving from mice and pointing to touchscreen devices, it could make sense to use a touchscreen remote that leverages all the things Apple is good at in iOS and the things we are already familiar with from our iPhone and iPod touch.

For example, everyone knows how to tap on a virtual keyboard on an iPhone to enter a password. Everyone knows how to use a second screen device for supplemental info, IMDB, trailers, Twitter and so on.

Siri

But wait. The thinking by many, to date, has been that Apple would completely solve this UI problem with Siri alone. You would just tell Siri, "Tune to channel 9 and turn the volume up a bit."

The problem here is that the TV environment is different than the personal relationship with the iPhone. We talk to Siri close up and when it's fairly quiet. Siri wouldn't do well in a living room, where the TV system is far away from the user. It might be full of noisy kids and the TV volume already way up. Plus, any next generation TV system developed by Apple will likely have advanced operations that can't be supported by a simple remote as we know it and might even be too complex for Siri to interpret 100 percent of the time.

My thought is that there may be a hybrid solution that consists of using Siri in a small, handheld remote with a touchscreen  — something that Apple already knows how to do very well. That is, Siri does what it does best, say volume control, and we touch the remote for things that require a visual list, a virtual keyboard or other advanced, complex operations. Such a bifurcation of the user interface may seem awkward, but it might be a good solution. After all, Apple's customers are already accustomed to interfacing with an iPhone in those two modes: tapping the display and occasional use of Siri.

I suspect that casual Siri users have come to expect small recognition failures on the iPhone, but average TV customers aren't so tolerant. As soon as Siri makes a mistake, the remote will be put back in the box and the comfort of real buttons will be sought. So I wouldn't be surprised if an innovative, technical solution consists of using multiple technologies to achieve a consistent, highly reliable response from the system.

Finally, some may say that why not just have an advanced app on the iPhone or iPod touch? That, however, wouldn't work when the parents are at work, and there's no iPhone laying around for the kids to use. It's possible to think of other scenarios where a dedicated remote should be included.

Next gen remote next to Gold iPhone. Concept via Martin Hajek.

Final Thoughts

In summary, I don't think the added cost of one of these advanced remotes would hurt Apple. The company never drives to the bottom, but, instead, provides us with elegant solutions that we're happy to pay for. However, the advantage has to be head and shoulders above what we had before.

This concept from Mr. Hajeck is sheer speculation, but it's inspiring and whets our appetite for something dramatic, with flair and elegance from Apple that no other company seems interested in doing. Maybe it's time for the boring TV remote to be dramatically updated and join the iPhone/iPod touch family's way of doing things. As Mr. Hajek's renderings suggest, there are new design and UI avenues still to be explored that could excite us.

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All renderings via Martin Hajek, http://www.martinhajek.com

Comments

MOSiX Man

Interesting concept, but I seriously think that the AppleTV hits a sweetspot, at $99, that it would miss if potential buyers had to cough up an additional $50, or more, to pay for a remote - even a really good remote. It seems to me that most people who would buy an AppleTV, over a cheaper Roku or Chromecast, would likely already have an iPhone and/or iPad, both of those would fill the role of ‘advanced AppleTV remote, quite nicely.

This is why I think that people who keep insisting that the AppleTV needs to gain the ability to run apps, have it backwards. The AppleTV already allows people to run apps on their TV - via Airplay. To add a capable TV remote control / game controller / media controller, as well as the other required hardware,  to the AppleTV, would also drive its price up. Why do that when most parties who might be interested in running iOS-style apps on their TV, already own one or more devices that can store and run iOS apps and provide suitable controls for those apps? Apple just needs to improve AirPlay and open up the app store to Apps that are specifically made for use on a big screen.

If Apple wants to release the above remote, as a separate add-on, then that’s not a bad idea, but don’t raise the price of the AppleTV, or it will likely die from lack of affordability.

Lee Dronick

Am Apple TV controller app on my iPhone or iPad.

I have Uverse service for TV, and internet, and they have apps in the App Store. It is handyfor controlling a receiver box from a different room. One receiver feeds the TV in the same room as well as the TV on the otherside of the wall.

Shameer Mulji 1

@MOSiX Man

What is true but that’s based on the assumption that everyone buying an Apple TV already owns an iOS device.  What if a buyer wants the benefit of Apple TV without buying an iPhone / iPad / Mac?  In that situation, a remote depicted in the concept would come in really handy.

Lee Dronick

Good point for those people who do not have an iOS device. The remote that currently comes with the Apple TV is rather simple and it can take a number of clicks to back out to the main screen so a more featured one would be very nice.

D R

Um, no.  Touchscreen remotes like this suck, because they depend on you physically looking at them to be able to use them.  you can pick up remotes and hold them in your hand and switch channels, ffwd, whatever, and you don’t have to look at the remote to be able to do it.

with touch-screen remotes, you have to look all the item, because you can’t be sure your finger is pressing the right spot.

Lee Dronick

D R, some remotes have way too many buttons.

D R

Lee, sure, but the other extreme, namely no buttons, is worse.

Terrin

Why? People can use any iOS device as a Remote currently, and the included remote is a lot cheaper than a touch remote would be to include. Further, the current remote is ultra simple whereas my 90 year grandmother can even figure it out.

JACBEC

There is already an Apple TV remote iPhone App – it’s called Roomie.

webjprgm

@D R and @Lee I was going to make the same point, touchscreen remotes force you to look at it instead of at what is happening on the screen.

@MOSiX Man I can’t play games on my iPhone / iPad by watching the AppleTV because there is too much lag. Maybe in Apple’s internal labs it works perfectly, but in my home it does not. That’s why I’d like the apps to be on the TV. But if the lag were fixed then I would not care if it were technically the iPhone running the game.  Has anyone had success with a game designed to be played on the AppleTV? I heard of a few when AirPlay was new, but they seem to have disappeared.

There’s a book, “Simple and Usable: Web, Mobile, and Interaction Design,” which includes discussion of designing a remote control as the main example. This includes mentioning the idea of replacing the whole thing with a touch screen. That mention implied it was a bad idea.  A lot of people have thought of a lot of variations.  In fact, here is a link to the exercise and gallery of solutions: http://www.simpleandusable.com/simplify-this

freediverx

This could be Apple’s next big thing, but it would need one more key feature: it would have to serve as a universal remote. Otherwise users would have to fumble with other remotes for things like volume control and switching to other devices like gaming consoles.

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