Puck Remotes and Magic Remotes

I previously talked about why the current Apple TV is a stopgap for the true Apple TV. With that in mind, I want to discuss my experience with the current model and what it means for an eventual Apple-branded TV. Through the lens of the remote control.

Apple is renowned for its excellent design. But with the Apple TV remote, they’ve made a number of missteps.

  • It’s too small. Forget losing it between your couch cushions, how about between the pages of a magazine? At 6 millimeters, it’s so thin that it never fits comfortably in one’s hand, and is awkward if not painful to use for a significant length of time. There’s a limit to how small handheld devices should be, and it’s been exceeded.
  • It’s short range. The remote is infrared, meaning it requires a direct line of sight. The Apple TV can’t be tucked away, and at certain angles, the remote is unresponsive.
  • It lacks buttons. While other companies continue to make remotes overly complex, Apple goes the opposite extreme. Six buttons do the job most of the time, but not always. One of the things I miss most is a dedicated power button. If you’re in the Netflix app for instance, you have to exit out of it to the home screen with multiple “menu” clicks before you hold the select button for two seconds to power down the Apple TV. Not exactly intuitive or convenient.

Small and unergonomic. Tethered to a short range. Not enough buttons. Sound familiar? The Apple TV remote is the new puck mouse.

The so-called “hockey puck” mouse was included with the original iMac in 1998 and stubbornly thereafter for more two years. With its release came a chorus of complaints. It was too small for comfort, they said as they bought third-party plastic shells. The round shape meant that it was constantly getting turned around and losing orientation. The two-foot cable was too short for most setups. And of course there was that old chestnut about the single button.

Eventually Apple gave up on the puck mouse, though they still were never able to get the mouse quite right. Last year, they ditched the “faster horses” approach, going in a completely different direction with Magic Trackpad.

If, then, the current Apple TV remote is the puck remote, what would it take for it to become the magic remote?

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