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What the Apple Remote says about Apple

Christopher Phin | July 29, 2015
Thinking different is really just choosing different compromises.

As is so often the case, if you would just do everything the way Apple wants you to, Apple's solutions are perfect. (As my friend Chris says, it might be a walled garden, but walled gardens are lovely places.) But lots of us want a bit more customization and complexity, so Apple's solutions can break down.

For example, I have the HDMI cable from my Apple TV going not directly to my TV, but to an Onkyo HTX22HDX speaker system (since I want fuller sound than my TV can produce), and so I want to control the volume using the Onkyo amp, not the Apple TV or my actual TV. What's more, my Apple TV isn't the only thing plugged into my TV; I have a PS3, a Wii, and an Amazon Fire TV Stick too.

I could, then, juggle a few of these dedicated, focused remote controls depending on the task--switching inputs using the TV's remote, adjusting volume with the speaker remote, controlling playback with the Apple TV remote--but the Logitech system is nicer. With it, the complexity is front-loaded--setting up your devices and activities remains a fiddly, frustrating task despite revisions by Logitech--but once you're configured, tapping a single button can switch your devices on, switch them to the right inputs, and make sure commands such as "turn up the volume" or "pause" are sent to the correct device for the activity you're doing.

The Logitech Harmony system, then, is orders of magnitude more complicated than that pure, considered remote that Apple introduced fully a decade ago, but the effect is that it is actually much simpler to use, with less cognitive overhead.

It's nothing more than just another, different set of compromises, to be sure, but every once in a while it's worth us Apple users reminding ourselves that Apple's way isn't always necessarily the best way. We'd do well to greet different approaches with curiosity and humility rather than sneering arrogance. Yes, Steve, I can't think of a slide that captures what Apple's about as much as that one either, but that's not, perhaps, as unreservedly a positive thing as you thought.


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