Cory Doctorow still hates the iPad

While I do think there is a niche for the mindless iPads, I still mostly agree with the spirit of this post:

Where my opinion differs is that, after all, hundreds of thousands of developers wrote some incredible apps for the iPad. A lot of those apps teach STEM to kids who are very young (and arguably younger than the kids who played with Apple ][e / ][c). I got my Apple ][e around age 11~12, but it wasn’t until I was 13~14 that I started opening it up and playing with the internal components.

Now my daughter who is 6 can practice visual coding on an iPad, which is something I wish I could do when I was her age.

She also plays with a Raspberry Pi based computer with Linux on it, and uses Scratch from MIT, and the awesome games on but there are edge cases on the Raspberry Pi that require intervention/help from a teacher.

USB-C’s dirty (little?) secret!

It’s been a number of years since Apple stripped the Macbook Pro from its array of useful ports. This was a gradual process, it didn’t happen overnight. The first to go was the ethernet port, along with the wonderful battery indicator lights. The most painful of them all was the MagSafe port, without a doubt. Not only did we lose an incredibly useful port, but there’s no longer any kind of visual indicator for your MBP’s charge state.

All that remains is 2 USB-C ports for the 13″ model, or 4 USB-C ports for the 15″ model, and by some crazy miracle, a headphone jack.

When Apple unveiled this new scheme, they sold a vision where USB-C is this magical universal port that works with everything.

The ugly truth

The USB-C MBP model was unveiled back in 2016. However it wasn’t until recently (literally the last couple of months!) that you could find a USB-C hub that took a single USB-C port and allowed you to connect multiple USB-C devices to that port. So it took 3 years for someone to come up with a port multiplier!

Even with this new hub (sold by some no-name Chinese brand on Alibaba) only one port is for charging your laptop, the other two ports won’t provide power to your devices – they are data only.

So if you have a 13″ USB-C MBP which only has two USB-C ports, you’ll sometimes find yourself using a combination of adapters and port multipliers.

To add insult to injury, the USB-C ports on the MacBook Pro are notoriously problematic. There was too much space around the port in the first USB-C MBP model, and this meant that as USB-C cables move around, they caused the solder to break between the connector and the logic board.

This seems to have been fixed in the 2019 MBP model, you can feel the USB-C port feels really snug as it goes into the port. Unfortunately, countless users are paying the price for Apple’s poor design decisions.

Dongle Gate

Just look at this thing of beauty:

Related image

There’s really no other way to describe this other than “Dongle Gate” because even now in 2020, there are still very few native USB-C devices you can buy (other than some external SSD based storage drives, and the USB-C based Yubikey). You still need dongles for everything. In fact the most popular USB-C devices on the market are adapters/dongles. The USB-C vision is taking way too long to materialize.

I work in a workplace where Apple dominates in the hardware department. Nearly every person in the company has some type of Macbook laptop. The dongle issue is very prominent, and the collective pain is palpable throughout the organization.

Our conference rooms are littered with these adapter rings:

Liberty AV Solutions DL-AR Universal HDMI Adapter Ring

Uniquely Apple

Although the USB-C sham is not unique to Apple products, it is primarily Apple laptop users that are enduring Dongle Gate because most PC laptops kept their HDMI & Ethernet ports, as well as an SD slot. Most of them also have indicator lights to indicate charge status, network activity, etc.

TL;DR: Apple gambled on USB-C and lost. And we all lost as a result, with inferior laptops that cost more than any other laptop in the market.

Apple Developer Enrollment Clunkiness

In order to publish an app to the App Store, Apple requires developers to enroll to a developer program. This program is tied to your Apple ID, and in order to qualify for enrollment, that Apple ID has to have 2nd Factor Authentication turned on. It works fine if you’re either developing as an individual, or you’re using your main Apple ID as your corporate Apple ID, and you have a single corporation.

If however you are a member of multiple corporations and you are developing multiple apps, things got complicated. In the past this forced developers to have multiple accounts on the same computer, and they would have to switch between those accounts.

The good news is that starting with Mac OS X Mojave, you can now open System Preferences -> Internet Accounts, and add a secondary iCloud accounts.

You still have to create a second account on your computer (or use another separate machine), so you can create your Apple ID and enable 2nd factor authentication for it. However once you’re done with that process and you add this account as a secondary iCloud account as described above, you can delete that secondary account and keep a single primary account as before. This allows you to have as many iCloud / Developer accounts as you need.

Apple: From vision, innovation and idealism to pure greed

I’ve been an Apple fan for so many years. And throughout those years I owned a bunch of Apple hardware: From the Apple ][, to a bunch of Apple Newtons, to a bunch of Mac computers (servers, desktops and laptops). I even owned an iPod at some point. I also had iPhones all the way from the iPhone 3 to the iPhone 6. I’m stretching my iPhone 6 as long as I can, and later today I have an appointment to replace its battery for $29 so it can feel fast again. (Update: The battery replacement didn’t help the iPhone 6, it remained painfully slow. I ended up buying a new iPhone Xs).

The main reason I created this blog is that I care about Apple’s vision, and I felt it was important to criticize Apple, expose the various missteps, and hold Apple to a higher standard in general. I do not feel emotionally attached to any of the people currently at Apple, especially since Steve Jobs’ passing (R.I.P) and Steve Wozniak’s departure from Apple.

With those two Apple leaders gone, quality at Apple has been suffering greatly, and unfortunately with no sign of recovery. With every new generation of Apple products, I notice a trend where care and consideration are directed almost exclusively by greed, instead of care and consideration for the user. Even if care and consideration weren’t always driven by end user satisfaction, at the very least it felt like great care went into product design. It was the little things that Apple did with its products that sent the message that Apple cared, and that Apple could do it where so many other companies failed.

Results: 2 Months with a Macbook Pro Retina with Touch Bar

This is Apple’s top of the line Macbook Pro Laptop. I ordered it with max RAM (16GB), the fastest CPU available, and the 1TB SSD option.

TL;DR: It is the lowest quality Macbook Pro I’ve ever purchased. Apple is clearly in deep shit right now, which is probably why Johny Ive decided to return to Apple Design Management.

To be clear, when I say “deep shit” I don’t mean financially; Apple is sitting on a massive stash which makes this situation all the more disappointing and depressing.

I am noticing a sharp deterioration in overall product quality and even more worrisome to me, with product harmonization (this is where a group of products from the same company work well together).

Apple can only get away with the walled garden approach if everything work well (because then it’s an Utopia, which is what so many Apple fans are after, that PC people don’t seem to get). When an ecosystem is balanced and you can point users to solutions that work reasonably well, you’re in an Utopia and your users won’t have substantial complaints. Unfortunately in the last 2 years, Apple Design Management have allowed the ecosystem to slip out of that Utopia into product hell. It no longer feels like there’s a unified and harmonious ecosystem. Some products have a headphone jack, some don’t. MagSafe was dropped in some products, and yet the company still makes some laptops with MagSafe. There isn’t even an LED light to indicate whether or not your laptop is charging! And don’t even get me started with the Magic Mouse 2 which has a charging port UNDER THE BLOODY MOUSE.

Cool vs. Usable

Some features are “cool”, but are they usable? It feels like the Touch Bar is one of those products that were rushed and not fully tested in the field with real users. A simple phenomenon a good UX designer would notice while developing the Touch Bar concept, is people’s tendency to utilize predictive typing. This is where users will gently place their fingers on the keys, in anticipation of having to click that key later on in a flow, and once that flow is ready for input, they click that key. It saves time, and most of us do this instinctively.

I don’t even get to use my Touch Bar much because I plug my laptop to a screen at the office, and I use Apple’s wireless keyboard and mouse. This means the Touch Bar and Touch ID are not even available to me during the work day (the laptop stays closed the whole time). Apple does not make a wireless keyboard a Touch Bar, and if it wanted to make one it would have a significantly shorter battery life.

I left the worst for last: the accidental touches. For me, this one is taking the longest to fix, and is the most annoying. The problem with the Touch Bar is that because it’s not a physical key, if you so much as sneeze in its direction it will register touch. I keep muting my audio or triggering Siri, for example. This happens multiple times a day. It happens often enough to be annoying. It’s not helping that my external Apple keyboard does not have a Touch Bar (obviously). I only really use the Touch Bar when I’m out of the office, but most of the time while I’m at the office I’m on a keyboard without Touch Bar. This means I can never really re-educate myself to properly use a Touch Bar.

Let’s face it. Things are just awful.

Some features are plain criminally wrong. For example if your laptop is completely out of battery and you want to use it, you just plug it into the charger, right? Unfortunately with this new version of Apple’s Macbook Pro, you can’t use it for at least 10 minutes until the battery has enough of a charge, despite the laptop being connected to power! What if you have to do something really urgent with your laptop? Nope. You will have to wait, Sir.

Other than that, I am seeing tons of graphical glitches (and I found out today that I’m not the only one). They are full screen glitches (as opposed to being limited to the context of a single app). This applies to the built-in retina display, as well as to external displays connected via one of the USB-C ports. The nature of the glitch indicates a bug in either the display drivers (software), or the display chipset (hardware), or maybe some controller.

The sad part is that I’ve been there before, two Macbook Pro models ago. Apple partially admitted to it at the time, fixed my motherboard once and claimed the fix is “for good”, and then just as the warranty period ended the problem returned and I had no recourse after that. It became so bad I had to abandon that laptop entirely and buy a new one.

MagSafe: Why, Apple? WHY???

I seriously miss MagSafe. I have young children running around and they often trip my power cord. I had to buy the Griffin BreakSafe cable, but it is unfortunately defective by design. The cable is too fat and heavy which makes it super easy for the magnetic connection to break away. The slightest movement of the laptop on the table and it will disconnect. I recently found and bought an alternative that has a thinner cable and it is an improvement over Griffin’s solution, but it’s still not as secure as Apple’s original MagSafe.

And it doesn’t stop there…

Recently we’ve even seen disastrous mishaps, such as the root password scandal which Apple fixed, only to “unfix” it later on with a second software update. What does that say about Apple’s quality assurance practices? It doesn’t feel like a company worth billions; more like a small startup that makes tons of mistakes all the time because of how badly they are managed, and because they cut corners to save money. Except Apple doesn’t need to save money – It can afford all the quality assurance staff in the world. It’s such a shame, and I hope they fix this before it’s too late.

Goodbye, Harmonious Ecosystem!

To illustrate my point: Even the latest iPhone X has a lightning connector instead of a USB-C port. The iPhone has lost the headphone jack since the iPhone 7, but the laptops still have a headphone jack to this very day. If you buy a Macbook Air, it comes with MagSafe and USB 3.0, and there’s not a single USB-C port to be found.

Even if you’re buying an Apple Watch, it still comes with a Lightning to USB cable. No USB-C option. You have a recent Macbook Pro with USB-C port(s)?  You will need a dongle to convert your USB-C to a USB-A port. And yes it’s expensive as hell.

Why is all of this happening?

I hate to say this, and at this point it is almost cliché but the truth is that Steve Jobs was a benevolent dictator. Tim Cook on the other hand is only benevolent, dictatorship elements totally missing. He’s just too nice. Want proof? Read this.

Except you can’t have great quality without combining some amount of fear from a perfectionist who can terminate you in 1 microsecond, and engineers who are just as perfectionist and take extreme pride in their own work.

I think you need both of the above combined, to make truly great products, and also deliver products on time. I can only hope that Johny Ive realizes this and manages to muster some dictatorship skills.

Update: March 2019

I’m still using this laptop today. Many of the bugs have not been fixed, it’s still glitchy despite several OS updates. For perspective: I purchased this laptop around October 2017.

Issues that still exist with this laptop:

  • When you first open the laptop, the keyboard backlight is off even in an entirely dark room.
  • The touch bar is still buggy and will “hang” until you switch between different apps. Sometimes it will hang until you reboot the laptop.
  • The laptop will mysteriously slow down to a crawl, but only while charging. It magically speeds up again when disconnected from power. This had to do with spotlight, and what I suspect is a spotlight data corruption bug (see below).
  • The display will glitch up several times a day (the entire display randomly gets noisy / glitchy for a split second). This is true for both the internal display, as well as for external displays.

On my specific laptop, one of the USB-C ports only works a certain direction, and I have to flip the USB-C cable to find the right direction for it to charge. For the longest time I thought this was by design, so I did not report it to Apple until the laptop was no longer under warranty.

This clearly happened at the factory when my laptop was manufactured, but fixing it now makes no sense financially and at this point I’d rather buy a new laptop, one that does not have a touch bar (but still has touch id).

The Spotlight Corruption Bug!

This issue haunted me for at least a year. For the longest time I was too busy to look into it, and resolved to simply using my laptop only while plugged in. I tried chatting with Apple Support a couple of times about this, but they were not able to help me.

I finally got fed up with this situation, and as luck had it, I happened upon an incredibly thorough and helpful Apple support technician. He had me collect some information and send screenshots over and together, we were able to resolve this using an amazing trick he revealed to me.

Basically, you open System Preferences… >> Spotlight >> Privacy, drag your entire ‘Macintosh HD‘ to the list, wait 10 seconds, then remove ‘Macintosh HD‘).

What this does is clear the entire Spotlight database for your main drive. If your Spotlight database was corrupted, you are now starting fresh with a clean database.

Why did this only manifest while the laptop was plugged in? Because spotlight indexing is a heavy operation which gets paused when the laptop runs on battery (to preserve power). When the laptop is plugged in, spotlight indexing resumes. In my case, the database corruption bug threw the Spotlight indexer into some high CPU or I/O loop, which slowed down the laptop to a crawl.

Hopefully this helps someone else! Feel free to drop me a line if this helped you, or if you have additional insight.

Apple to MacBook users: F*ck you

TL;DR: If you own the previous version of the MacBook Pro, you should probably not upgrade to apple’s MacBook Pro 2016.

Today Apple released new MacBooks. I have to pause here for a moment of silence, that’s how shocked I am after watching the event.

Let’s start by listing all the things that went wrong:

  • No MagSafe: You now have to buy a $35 Griffin cable that implements a USB-C to MagSafe mechanism if you (or your wife, or kids) sometimes trip the power cable and you don’t want your super expensive (and easily denting) laptop to end up on the floor.
  • The GPU has two problems when you try to do 4K gaming (you do have a Retina display after all):
    1. VRAM maxes out at 4GB and you have to add $100 to jump from those standard 2GB to 4GB. This is horrible for gamers / pro 3D users.
    2. It’s an AMD GPU which with only 4GB VRAM isn’t as fast as an nVidia GPU with similar VRAM because of how the AMD driver manages memory. We’re paying so much for a laptop, yet we get this inferior AMD GPU.
  • The maximum system RAM is 16GB. If this laptop is for Pro users, it needs to support 32GB of RAM or at least 24GB. I want to run multiple virtual machines to simulate complex systems, 16GB simply isn’t enough.
  • They dropped the card reader which is really annoying for photographers who now have to carry yet another device.
  • Performance is only marginally better. It’s been 500+ days since this laptop’s last iteration, and all you get is a barely 2x speed increase.
  • No HDMI port: Gone are the days of simply hooking up your laptop to a projector. We’ve barely gotten used to switching from VGA to HDMI, and now that’s gone too. Yet another dongle business uses need to lug around for presentations. And your previous Thunderbolt -> VGA or Thunderbolt -> Ethernet dongles are now obsolete.

Here’s what I really wanted and hoped would happen:

  • Latest CPU technology
  • Latest and fastest nVidia GPU + at least 8GB NVRAM
  • Don’t bloody touch the MagSafe adapter you twats!
  • Better materials for the Unibody that won’t dent/bend/scratch!

So yeah, If you really want the beloved MagSafe functionality back, you’ll have to shell out those extra $35.

And you want to do gaming,  you say? Well, f*ck you – Go buy a gaming PC Laptop like Alienware or Razer. They have nVidia chips, and you can actually set your games to the highest quality and get decent FPS. But if you own a Mac, you’re probably not serious about gaming anyway.

My god, it’s full of USB-C!

Apple even had a slide showing all the stuff you can plug into a USB-C port, but what they neglected to say is how expensive all those dongles are, and how much they will add to the bottom line of an already super expensive laptop. It’s literally all USB-C ports and one audio jack.

They kill the Audio jack on the iPhone 7, but it’s still there on the MacBook. You can’t take your new Lightning earpods and plug them into your new MacBook. You need to buy a new USB-C to Lightning dongle (not bundled with your laptop nor with your iPhone 7).

Of course, as witnessed with the iPhone 7 which stupidly has no standard headphone jack (and is a big F*ck you to consumers around the planet), Apple simply wants us to all switch to Wireless Headphones (and hopefully to their new wireless ear pods).

But how much is it, really?

TL;DR: It’s bloody expensive!

Let’s say you want to leverage a Thunderbolt 2 device? You need this Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbold 2 adapter which will set you back $49.

You need just regular USB you say? to hook up one of your many old storage devices? You need this Thunderbolt 3 to USB adapter which will set you back $19.

How about simply charging your wireless mouse, or wireless keyboard, or your iPhone 5/6/7? You need this USB-C to Lightning cable which will set you back $25!

You want to connect to an HDMI device? You’ll need this USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter which will set you back $69!

Or maybe it’s a VGA device you need to hook up? You’ll need this USB-C VGA Multiport Adapter which will also set you back $69.

If you owned the previous version of the MacBook Pro you may have a bunch of devices that rely on those (now obsolete) port types. All together, you’ll have to shell out $231 before tax for all the dongles above.

It doesn’t end there. I sometimes need to connect to an ethernet network, and I need this Belkin USB-C to Gigabit Ethernet Adapter which costs $34.95. So for me the total cost of adapters would be $266 before tax. And of course it’s a bunch of adapters that I need to carry around, which adds more weight to my already heavy bag.


Wait: Is it really all bad?

Well, it’s a bit faster. But not that much faster if you own the previous version of the MacBook Pro. If you do own the previous version, my recommendation is to wait for the next model, or wait for a refresh that offers faster CPU and GPU.

The other stuff is “nice” but simply not enough; The previous retina display was already bright enough and sharp enough for even the most demanding graphic designers. The previous SSD storage was fast enough as well. And finally, no audiophile really listened to music with the MBP’s internal speakers.

That sweet Touch Bar though…?

Yah, The Touch Bar is kinda cool, but how much does it really help a laptop user? I don’t think it helps you much, overall, and I think a lot of people will come to realize it’s mostly a gimmick. Our standard mode of operation with a computer is to look at the screen while typing. This is what I’m doing literally right now. I don’t want to have to look down at yet another screen.

Touch Bar vs. Accessibility…? O_o

The problem: Apple opens up the event with a touching video about accessibility, and then in the same event they proceed to unveil the Touch Bar which requires you to see what you’re doing. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose entirely?

And what about those of us that elevate our laptops on a stand and use a wireless keyboard to prevent back pain? Is Apple going to unveil a wireless keyboard with a Touch Bar? Remains to be seen.


MacBook Pro Wish list

It’s no secret Apple has not updated their laptops for quite some time. A Verge article even suggests Apple should just stop selling the old tech-based laptops entirely.

I decided to make a wish list with what I’d like to see in a new laptop from Apple:

  • The body should be made of a material that doesn’t dent easily. Anything but the current Aluminium!
  • The edges should be more rounded so they don’t cut into wrists. This used to be much worse (1st gen unibody), and despite Apple’s “fix” this is still an issue which causes discomfort to a great many people (Some even made guides on how to file that sharp edge).
  • I would like to see nVidia’s latest chipset used, especially on the Pro line of Macbooks. For the price of this laptop, there is no excuse: It needs to allow us to play games that are newer than 5~6 years ago.
  • Removable back panel to allow people to perform RAM and Storage upgrades easily without having to go to an Apple Store (there are more stores than ever, but they are not everywhere yet!)
  • Switching the [fn] and [control] buttons (or giving the ability to switch the [fn] and [control] buttons in software).

I doubt Apple will any of the above, and I will be forced to purchase their next Macbook Pro regardless, despite those flaws, because no other manufacturer makes hardware for MacOS.

On Apple’s choice of materials

Let’s talk about the use of Aluminium & Unibody

I still remember when Apple first introduced the Unibody concept as new and revolutionary. I remember thinking at the time how similar the Unibody shell looks to some enclosures used for auto parts:


Looks familiar, doesn’t it? So the manufacturing techniques existed before Apple introduced the Unibody design. The novelty was in the use of this material & technique to create a laptop shell.

The advantage in terms of manufacturing was a significant reduction in the number of parts used in the enclosure assembly. But how did this all come to be?

You see, other laptop manufacturers have used plastics for years. Most of those plastic shells are manufactured using injection molding techniques. You spend a lot of money making the molds, but once you have those molds you can produce millions of shells quickly and cheaply.

Apple used to do the same thing with its earlier laptops. One of the prettier plastic laptops Apple had ever produced (in my opinion) was the black PowerBook G3:


But when Apple introduced the first Intel based MacBook Pro, they went for Aluminium. The edges were plastic (and rounded, and we will talk more about that later), and the enclosure itself was made out of a plastic skeleton which held aluminium plates in place with screws. To assemble (and disassemble) the chassis took a significant amount of time & effort (and knowledge of which screw goes where).

Hence by moving to Unibody, Apple cut a significant amount of time & logistics in their their MacBook Pro manufacturing line, as well as in their labs while repairing laptops.

The advantages were clear:

  • Faster & Cheaper to produce
  • Less parts required
  • Less time spent on assembly
  • More durable chassis
  • Some advantages in heat dissipation touted

However, two major problems started plaguing MacBook users. One was fixed (kinda), the other is still a huge problem.

Problem 1: Soft metal will scratch, dent & bend

If it’s scratched, dented or bent, it’s there forever (unless you’re willing to go to the Apple store and pay for a replacement shell). Take a look at this image for example:


How many of you have dented their MacBook Unibodies? I’ve seen so many dented MacBooks I have lost count. In fact just search on Google Images and you’ll find plenty of photos showing dented MacBooks.

And if you’ve dented your MacBook once, you’ll probably be traumatized enough to buy one of those expensive protective plastic shells. So now you have an Aluminium shell, covered in plastic. And you won’t see Apple’s new recycling chief talk about that, because well, it’s not a part that Apple manufactures (but it does sell it at the Apple Store). On top of that, your laptop which was already pretty heavy before, is now significantly heavier (and thicker).

Problem 2: Sharp edges

And they used to be even sharper, with some web sites (such as LifeHacker) posting instructions on how to fix the problem. Apple sorta fixed this in their 2nd generation unibody. The edges are slightly more rounded.

However it’s now 2016, I have the latest MacBook Pro Retina. The edges are still sharp enough to cause discomfort during extended use. In fact I just lifted my wrists from the laptop, just to check, and I have a good 4~5 deep red lines on each wrist. They are painful, too. Apple cares more about the “clean & sharp look” of their laptop, than they care about your wrist pain.

Problem 3: Grip (or lack thereof)

If you have dry hands, you probably noticed how slippery your Aluminium laptop is. Which makes it so much easier to drop your laptop (which will dent/bend your laptop, throwing us back to problem #1).

However, this problem is not exclusive to the MacBook. As many of you have already discovered, the iPhone 6 series suffer from the very same issue, and worse. Unless you have a protective cover for your phone, you’ll find it’s extremely slippery and most iPhone 6’s that are used by their brave owners without a cover, have dropped so many times they are all dented, scratched and bent. In fact, the first generation of iPhone 6’s would bend in people’s back pockets. The problem was so widespread the media called it “Bendgate” (see CNN article on the subject).

Problem 4: Oxidation / Corrosion

“Aluminum corrodes but it does not rust. Rust refers only to iron and steel corrosion. Aluminum is actually very prone to corrosion. However, aluminum corrosion is aluminum oxide, a very hard material that actually protects the aluminum from further corrosion.”

I personally experienced two issues with corrosion. The first (and weirdest) manifested itself when I started wearing my wedding band. Something to do with the gold band touching the aluminium surface, coupled with me being grounded to the floor (via my feet) would sometimes create a tiny spark between the wedding band and the laptop. After a couple of months, the aluminium surface in that area where the wedding band touches suddenly had tons of black dots that were impossible to clean. Touching them revealed they were actually holes!

The second issue with corrosion happened with my Magic Mouse. The aluminium surfaces that came in contact with my thumb, ring finger and pinky, became completely corroded and full of holes. In a warm and humid environment, your hands might sweat and excrete various salts/minerals which interact with the aluminium.

Conclusion: Using metal for a portable product is NOT a good idea. Apple, if you’re reading this, please stop doing it. How about you switch to Carbon Fiber? It’s light, strong, and will not bend or dent. And for the price of this laptop, I’m sure you can afford to use this premium material. None of the problems above would happen if the laptops were made of either plastic, or carbon fiber.


The new Apple TV remote sucks

Once in a while, Apple will do something so silly with its hardware, it’s almost as if they went to some obscure Chinese manufacturer, found some remote that mimics their “style” and just bought 10 million units for 20 cents each. Sometimes the mistakes are “part of the plan” (for example the iPhone 4’s glass back), but I have to admit that with the new remote, I can’t help but wonder what that plan was exactly…

The new Apple TV remote is one of those products that are so badly conceived, it boggles the mind that a company like Apple would release such a product.

UPDATE: Today (March 31st, 2016) Apple held an event, in which a new TVOS release was announced. Apple CEO Tim Cook even said, and I quote: “Users love the Apple TV remote”. I wonder who they asked?

1. The hardware sucks

When you hold the remote in your hand, it is absolutely symmetrical, and while this may be considered “aesthetically pleasing”, there is no way to tell which side is up. I checked if the remote balances in the middle, and it does! You can literally put this remote on your finger and it balances perfectly. This is NOT a throwing knife, why does this need to be perfectly balanced? It would make it more usable if the bottom was heavier. Even better, if Apple could mimic their own design from their new Bluetooth Keyboard it would naturally be heavier on one side (the keyboards and trackpads taper towards the back).


Let’s see what happens if we completely remove the icons from the buttons of popular remotes (to simulate a dark room):


Now you tell me, which of those remotes could you absolutely figure out in a dark room, without looking at the icons?

So as you can see, with the previous remote you could be in a completely dark room, and you could easily re-orient the remote in your hand and use it, all without ever looking at the buttons:

Apple's previous generation remotes

Finally, because the new remote has a highly sensitive touch pad surface, we experience frequent accidental touches which cause an annoying backward/forward scrub within the movie. You then have to find the location you were at, scrub to that, and hit Play again.

2. Usability sucks

The previous Apple TV remote was very simple, and my 2 year old daughter could use it. The middle button was play/pause, left & right were previous / next, and up/down helped you navigate the menus, or show the on-screen controls during movie playback.

The new remote: My daughter can’t use it, and neither can my 60 year old mom. My wife took a while to figure it out, and it’s still difficult to use. It’s a learning curve to learn to control the new remote. The top 40% of the remote is a touch pad, and it’s also the clicker. This means that while clicking, you are also swiping on the touch pad. Difficult much?

Missing: Previous/Next buttons. There is no way to easily jump between videos in YouTube or between Netflix episodes.

UPDATE: They fixed the accidental swipe issue. The left & right sides of the trackpad will now let you go 10 seconds forward or backward, and to go further than that you just keep pressing.

3. Siri sucks

The only thing worse than using this touch pad for navigating the menus, is having to type with this hyper-sensitive touch pad. The experience is absolutely awful. And you would think Apple would leverage their speech recognition to allow you to speak into any field, but No… (And I actually tried it, thinking it should work – while in a search field I hit the Siri button, and tried to speak the letters. I’m so naive sometimes!).

UPDATE 1: The Gods of Apple have heard me, and today Apple released an update to TVOS which enables dictation in Siri. It’s not the best, but it kinda works.

Search: Using Siri to search for something yanks you out of the context you’re in, and takes you to their iTunes store instead. Yes, even within Netflix, if you ask Siri for a movie with Leonardo Dicaprio in it, it will take you to iTunes’ catalog. That’s what I call “Rotten” behavior.

UPDATE 2: Apparently this is another thing today’s update has fixed. I will give it a try and report here if it works.

UPDATE 3: I take it back, Siri dictation totally sucks. Also, the $13 Remote Loop is helpful with figuring out the orientation of the remote when fumbling in the dark.