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How to use a Bluetooth keyboard with the Apple TV

Dan Frakes | May 29, 2013
The Apple TV's included remote is easy to use but limiting, while Apple's Remote app for iOS requires that you have an expensive iOS device on hand and available. Ultimately a Bluetooth keyboard, even an inexpensive third-party model, may be the best Apple TV remote of all.

Control is key
So what can you do with a Bluetooth keyboard? For starters, the arrow keys on your keyboard function just like the Up, Down, Back, and Forward buttons on the Apple TV's remote—except that the Apple TV will instantly recognize your key presses, and the response will be fluid: Quickly pressing the down-arrow key five times immediately moves the selection down exactly five items, and you can whip around the Apple TV home screen with ease.

The Return and Enter keys on your keyboard act as the remote's Select button, as you'd expect, and you emulate the remote's Menu button by pressing Escape on the keyboard. (That also makes sense, if you imagine "escaping" from the current screen or menu.)

You might think that using a keyboard, with its 80 or so other keys, as an Apple TV remote would be more confusing than using the device's own simple remote, but in my experience—perhaps because I've spent years using arrow keys to navigate interfaces on my computer—it's anything but. In fact, it feels quite intuitive to me, and I'm definitely faster and less frustrated on the keyboard than with the stock remote. That said, I suspect that people who aren't keyboard junkies in the first place might prefer to stick with the Apple remote.

Until, that is, they need to type. When you have a keyboard paired with your Apple TV, any time you need to enter text, you can simply type—to search for media, to enter passwords, you name it.

And did I mention that when you're scrolling through menus on the Apple TV, you can type the first few letters of any menu item to jump directly to it? In the past, I never listened to my Mac's iTunes library on my Apple TV because choosing, say, an artist name that starts with T meant holding the Down button and waiting. And waiting. And waiting. With a Bluetooth keyboard, I can simply navigate to the Artists list and then type TRAS to jump right to the Trash Can Sinatras. When I'm done in any menu, I can hold down the Escape key to return to the Apple TV's home screen.

Finally, if you have an Apple Wireless Keyboard, or any Mac- or iPad-focused keyboard with media-playback keys (Play/Pause, Previous, and Next), you can use them to control media playback. And if your keyboard has an iOS Home button, you can use that button to jump quickly back to the Apple TV's home screen. (Volume, screen-brightness, and other special-function keys don't perform those functions for the Apple TV.)

Typing ahead
We have a couple of Apple TVs in our house, and each now has a Bluetooth keyboard as a permanent companion. For me, the keyboard makes using the Apple TV a much more pleasant experience. But given that the current Apple TV design has included Bluetooth circuitry since its debut back in 2010, why is Apple only now adding keyboard support?

 

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