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How a touchscreen Apple TV remote could hit all the right buttons

Jason Snell | May 8, 2015
From the start, Apple has been proud of its simplified remote control. And rightly so--the Apple TV's simple interface is easily navigated with a directional pad and a couple of extra buttons.

I've also heard from some people who have been surprised how much they like an innovation that has appeared on Roku's recent remotes — a headphone jack. If you're someone who wants to watch TV without bothering someone else in the same room, you can plug in a set of headphones and watch along in silence. It's a pretty clever idea, though perhaps a bit too obscure for Apple to embrace.

Remote island

Then there are the compatibility issues. The current Apple remote may be unlike other remotes in many aspects, but it still relays its instructions via infrared light beam. Other remotes, such as Roku's and Amazon's, use Bluetooth instead. The advantage of a Bluetooth remote is that its radio waves don't require line-of-sight control, so you can hide a device in a closet or behind a TV, and you don't even have to point your remote. The disadvantage is that many universal remotes — including the one in my house — don't support anything but infrared.

It would be just like Apple to build a remote control that just forced you to use it, because it's unlike any other remote devised and utterly incompatible with all of them. I'd be the first to applaud Apple if it created something awesome because it ignored everything done by other remotes. But at the same time, if that new Apple TV requires me to pick up two different remotes every time I want to power on my entertainment system and then use Apple TV, I will also be a cranky consumer.

The solution is probably to support basic remote-control features on any future Apple TV devices via infrared beam, for compatibility's sake, but make all the awesome features ones that require Apple's own remote. If a device-specific remote is cool enough, I will use it — the fact that I keep our TiVo remote on our coffee table is proof of that.

In the end, while I'm excited about Apple doing something crazy with a new Apple remote, I'm far more excited about what it means for the Apple TV itself. A new remote suggests new hardware with new features and a new interface, and that's something that Apple TV sorely needs. I look forward to seeing how Apple plans on evolving the humble remote control — but it would be nice if my universal remote still worked, too.


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