I love my Apple TV despite its dreadful remote control. I bought a first-generation Apple TV when streaming, or more precisely Netflix, started to become an issue. When the guy at the shop showed me the remote I thought how neat and compact it was, and how simple. It reminded me of the simplicity of the first iPod.

03 Apple remote longAh. It turned out to be a great example of design trumping utility.

Using it was relatively straightforward. It was easy to memorise the three buttons and even when I got it wrong, it was easy to go back. It sure used to get lost a lot though. Small, ultra slim and slippery as a politician’s PR man it was mostly found down the back of the couch, but not always. There was the time it was left on an open magazine which was subsequently closed and put in the recycling; that took some finding.

I upgraded to a second-generation Apple TV very shortly after it was unveiled and the remote was a complete rework, it even had a touch pad. The first problem is that the layout is a design palindrome – it looks the much same (and in the dark feels much the same) upside down as it does right way up, which leads to all sorts of mayhem. The second problem is that the touchpad’s sensitivity is not adjustable and keeps over-shooting the mark, or going left or right when it should go up or down. The third is that, just like the original it’s slim, slippery and remarkably easy to lose, to the point where the New York Times once suggested owners connect a tracking device to it to make finding it easier.

Let’s address slippery first. This is a problem I’ve never struck with a remote before. It’s small, light and polished. Pick it up without thinking and it has a tendency to go spinning from your hand to wind up under the nearest couch. Slippery also means it slides down between the couch cushions very easily. Sometimes you get the impression that down there is where it really, really wants to be. The solution is to stick a bit of gaffer tape to the back which may be unsightly but trust me, you’ll put up with it.

But my major beef with it is that it has lost the CR2032 button battery of the original and replaced it with an internal rechargeable battery that’s charged through a lightning connection. Apple says a single charge provides months of use under normal conditions and this is infrequent enough for me, and maybe even you, to have forgotten completely that it needs charging and when it starts to misfire, or not fire at all, you tend to go looking for problems other than that the remote just needs to be plugged in.

This can lead to spirited conversation from a roomful of expert viewers, all of who have a different theory as to why Netflix won’t yield a menu. When someone suddenly suggests charging the remote it isn’t over – it needs a few minutes on the cord before it starts working again and you’re forced into having a happy family conversation just like those that used to happen in living rooms in the nineteenth century.

And the remote gives you no hints about its charge level. Surely that wouldn’t have been so hard for the folk at Apple to figure out. I note that the geniuses at Apple (they wear t-shirts proclaiming their status) have managed to put a white circle around the menu button on the remote for the 4K Apple TV, which helps in finding which direction is up if the light is on. Maybe the remote for the next-gen Apple TV will be an improvement. Or maybe it will be even sillier.

Posted February 2020.


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