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