Why Is the Apple TV Remote So Bad?

At least it’s not the butterfly keyboard

Key Takeaways

  • The next Apple TV will come with a redesigned remote.
  • The Siri Remote might be one of Apple’s worst products.
  • A new remote could include a game controller.
An Apple TV device sitting n the corner of a cabinet.
Nicolas J Leclercq / Unsplash

Apple makes some of the best products on the planet. It also makes the Apple TV Remote, which is widely regarded as the worst remote ever. 

Apple is expected to announce a new remote to go alongside a new Apple TV later this year, reports 9to5Mac. It could be as simple as a new version of the existing Siri remote, only designed so you can tell which way up it’s supposed to go.

Or it could be as radical as a full-on gamepad for playing games on the Apple TV. But why do people hate the Apple TV remote so much? And why did Apple ever think it could get away with it?

"Forget the shape or the appearance, the Apple TV remote is, simply put, an ergonomic disaster," Alina Clark, co-founder of the Cocodoc PDF editor, told Lifewire via email.

"Its shape doesn’t even fit in the fold of your hands, and that’s already aggravating. Also, one can’t tell the difference between the top and bottom unless you are really looking at it. I was once watching a movie with lights off and pressed stop when I wanted to increase the volume."

User Interface Matters

Apple built its reputation, in large part, on its user interface design. It brought the mouse to computers, along with a windowed interface. It invented the clamshell-with-trackpad design that all laptops use today. And, it created the touch-screen phone and the amazing iPod click-wheel. 

But recently, Apple has gone off the rails. The Siri Remote for the Apple TV is just one example. Others are the touch-sensitive top for the HomePod and the infamous butterfly keyboard. So, what is wrong with the Siri Remote? Quite a lot. 

The Apple TV Siri Remote

"The Menu button should not be anywhere near the Voice command button; it’s too easy to mistakenly press the wrong button," voice actor Rio Rocket told Lifewire via email.

"In fact, all the buttons are arranged in a non-intuitive layout. Finally, the touchpad surface is far too sensitive. If something even as light as a bedsheet brushes the surface, it will activate it."

Most TV remotes are far too complicated. They’re full of buttons, and many people don’t know how to use half of them.

But they have two significant advantages over the Siri Remote: you know which end to point at the TV, without having to check every time you pick it up, and once you learn where a button is, you can just press without really looking. On the other hand, the Siri Remote uses a touch surface to navigate and has one less button. 

Everything is better. Everything

The Siri Remote, on the other hand, is more or less symmetrical and doesn’t have enough dedicated buttons. Even Apple’s previous aluminum and plastic remotes are better designed.

They have a four-way ring around a central button; both dished to make them easy to find without looking. Below that is a menu and a play/pause button. That’s it.

The Salt alternative remote for Apple TV.

They're equally likely to slip between sofa cushions as the slippery little Siri Remote, but show me a remote that doesn’t. 

The Siri Remote is so bad that Swiss mobile company Salt actually worked with Apple to develop an alternative remote. Salt uses Apple TVs for its internet TV streaming service, and it created the alternative after customer complaints about poor usability

The Salt remote, available to buy for €30 ($35), adds direction arrows, program change buttons, and plenty more, all without being confusing or bloated. Apple often rethinks UI conventions in clever ways, but the Siri Remote is oversimplified for no other purpose than to appear simpler. 

Future Apple TV Remotes

We have no idea what Apple might build into the next Apple TV remote. Maybe it’ll just be a revamp of the existing terrible design. But perhaps version 2.0 will mix things up in classic Apple style.

How about making it into a gaming pad? iOS is the ruler of casual games, and you can already play some games on Apple TV. Many iOS games already support game controllers as an alternative to touchscreen play.

Imagine playing iOS games on the big screen with a proper gamepad controller. Done right, this could seriously rival the Nintendo Switch for casual gaming needs. You won’t have access to a masterpiece like Nintendo’s Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but then again, maybe Nintendo could make a brisk business porting older games over to the Apple TV?

The simple Apple TV remote.

A new remote also should include more buttons. The touch-sensitive panel on the current model is cute, but harder to use than directional buttons and easier to trigger by mistake. It also should be grippy.

"The sleekness looks nice, but we end up digging through our couch to retrieve it at least once a week," Shefali Shah of daycare search service Upfront told Lifewire via email. "I wish it had some gripping material to prevent it from slipping. This never happens with our other remotes."

In some ways, Apple has it easy. Pretty much anything at all would be better than the current Siri Remote. Even a filthy, germ-ridden hotel TV remote with an Apple label slapped on the back would be an improvement. So come on, Apple. You can do it.

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