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.

9 thoughts on “The new Apple TV remote sucks”

  1. Thank you for the reassurance that it isn’t just me. I’m 62, but rather tech savvy. This thing is a nightmare and you noted all my complaints. I have a big paper “arrow” taped on the lower half of mine to indicate the orientation. The old Apple TV remote was small, but at least it wasn’t “touchy”. I stumbled on your article because I was looking online to see if I could use a different remote — other than my iPhone or iPad. And just to add insult to injury, the HBO app design sucks too!

    1. Make sure you update your system, they fixed the “touchy” issue, and it’s behaving way better now. Unfortunately, there is no way to fix the orientation problem, that’s just very bad Apple design.

      As for HBO, there’s probably little Apple can do about that. Their own iTunes is fairly well designed, and so is Netflix. I guess HBO have their own (bad) ideas on usability…

      Good luck friend!

      1. Thanks! And that orientation issue… shades of the ROUND mouse on the “bondi blue” PowerMac G3 Tower. 🙂

        1. It is comments like yours that make writing this blog worth the effort. We love Apple, and it’s probably among the best companies on this planet right now. This is why we hold it to such high standards, and it’s our duty to point out when they make a mistake.

  2. Remember the earlier Apple products? They used the charging cord with the wide plug. Since it would only go in in one direction, you had a 50-50 chance of getting it right. One would have thought that Apple would have been smart enough to place a dimple or a physical characteristic on the front or rear surface. This would have helped the user determine orientation before hand, (even in the dark). This is pretty basic. Why didn’t they take that approach on the new remote? Wake up, Apple.

    Yes I hate the new remote!

    1. It’s even worst than this. They add dimples where dimples are catastrophic. For example 2010 iMacs needed a special cable that won’t go into the port without a dimple. See this question asked on Apple’s support site back then:

      Of course, nobody responded to this poor fella. People get that cable with the iMac, but what happens when that cable breaks? What happens when it breaks and 5 years have passed? You’d be out of luck, unless you can scrounge for that special adapter on eBay…

      This is just one more example of how Apple makes horrible mistakes sometimes, and it seems like there’s no guiding hand within Apple that will look at it and say “Nope! Don’t do this! This is absolutely stupid and you are NOT adding a dimple to a USB port that millions of people are already used to”.

  3. This thing is a total disaster! After getting a younger tech-savvy person to help me get this up and running (I use my iMac desktop to locate Britbox and Acorn and then mirror it over) I found I had to simply ignore the remote and all the garbage on the screen and do all my modifying on the computer. The new remote is just garbage. I find the old remote still works and I use it when I can. After two weeks of use, my screen went black and told me it had never heard of me by showing a “No signal” sign. No amount of coaxing will make it come back, so I’ve given up and will watch my favourite programmes on my desktop. This thing is now an expensive doorstop. My former Apple TV cost half the price and lasted for 8 years. It may be time to break out from Apple, take my lumps and move on. Apple has peaked I think. Poor Steve Jobs must be turning in his grave.
    John, Ontario, Canada.

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