Apple refers to the Apple TV as a "hobby"—and though the home-entertainment device has received regular updates, especially over the past couple of years, for most of its life that description has fit. Still, the updates have helped make today's Apple TV a much more capable device than the one that debuted back in 2007. It has improved enough that we regularly use it in our home.
But its remote still stinks.
That remote is essentially the same accessory that shipped with the original Apple TV, except that it looks nicer now. It has seven buttons—Left, Right, Up, Down, Select, Menu, and Play/Pause—and you navigate the Apple TV's interface by moving your selection, one line or icon step at a time, using the directional buttons. To choose an option or to delve down into the next menu, you press Select (the center button); to go up a level, you press Menu.
The process works, but it's clunky, especially when you want to move, say, five items down in a list: The Apple TV interface doesn't respond quickly enough to five fast Down presses. But if instead you hold the Down button, the selection will move slowly at first, and then accelerate, often skipping right past where you wanted to go.
And that's the user-friendly part. When you have to enter text—for example, when you're typing a username or password, or entering the name of a movie you want to search for—you face the dreaded scroll-scroll-scroll-enter-scroll-scroll-enter-scroll-scroll-scroll-scroll-scroll-enter process. For a long time, the experience of using the Apple TV's remote was frustrating enough to make me reach for my beloved TiVo remote and watch TV that way instead.
The $649 remote
That changed back in 2008 with the release of Apple's Remote app for iOS, which let you use an iTunes-like interface on your iPhone to control your Apple TV and—hallelujah!—use your iOS device's onscreen keyboard to enter text. Later updates to the Remote app added iPad support and a nice touchscreen-remote mode for navigating the Apple TV's own menus. The frequency with which my family used the Apple TV increased dramatically.
That said, the Remote app has some drawbacks, too. It obviously requires that you have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch handy; and each time you launch the app, there's a delay before it finds and reconnects to your Apple TV on your local network. Also, if you happen to be using your iOS device while watching something on the Apple TV, you end up switching back and forth between Remote and your other apps.
What I've long wanted instead was to be able to use a standard Bluetooth keyboard as a remote control and text-entry tool.
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