Home The Apple TV’s Supposed New Touchpad Is A Terrible Idea

The Apple TV’s Supposed New Touchpad Is A Terrible Idea

Apple’s rumored touchpad in its upcoming Apple TV remote control sounds like a horrendous idea. And yet, citing an anonymous source, the New York Times contends that the touch-friendly hardware will join the new streaming set-top box this summer. 

The Times noted that the original version’s minimalistic design exemplified the company’s approach to easy usability. But with the new addition, Apple will bring the remote in line with other accessories that support touch, including its wireless Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad. 

See also: Apple TV Will Reportedly Get Siri And Apps—But There’s More In Store

On paper, it makes some sense. In real life? Maybe not so much.

Force Touching In The Dark

We tend to think of remote controls as dispensable and trivial, and they can be, if you replace them with a universal remote. The current generation Apple TV supports third-party remotes, for instance. But if Apple’s planning to slap specialized hardware in its new version, it’s not at all clear if the updated gizmo will follow suit.

That forces a reexamination of that humble device. If we’re stuck with it, the candy bar-style accessory isn’t so inconsequential after all. It’s the primary conduit between TVs and users, and how well it works will inform a large part of the experience. 

Unlike the Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad, the Apple TV remote won’t head for desktop use. We grip remote controls with one hand, sometimes in the dark. Adding a touchpad or trackpad into that equation sounds like a recipe for frustration. 

When we binge-watch The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt or tune into Transparent, we often reach for our remotes quickly and grab without looking. A trackpad on a device that people fumble around with just begs for accidental finger flubs. Then whammo, you’re suddenly and inexplicably watching Love, Actually.  

People who use their iPhones as touch-friendly TV remote controls already know this irritation, and gingerly handle their mobiles accordingly. Apple’s new remote might account for that by, say, activating the trackpad via a button trigger. But that would introduce complication, and might even require two-handed use—on a device people prefer to manage with one hand.

See also: Here Are The Best Ways To Watch HBO—Ahem, “Game Of Thrones”—Online

There’s also no word on what people are supposed to use that touch pad for. Does Apple want us to “Force Touch” our way through TV apps?

The Horror Of Remotes

For Apple, whose push into the living room (and possibly the whole smart home) seems to hinge on its Apple TV, the stakes can get pretty high for that single accessory. It can’t afford to clutter that up. 

Not that remotes aren’t in sore need of changes. Companies have tried for years. The simple devices our parents used have morphed into monstrosities riddled with dozens and dozens of keys and complex features that require programming.

But even Logitech, maker of some of the most advanced remote controls on the market, largely bypasses touchpads. Instead, most of its products come with a touchscreen, which can sleep when not in use. The only trackpad Logitech offers, in fact, is in the massive QWERTY Harmony Smart Keyboard, whose expansive control over computers, smart home appliances and televisions somewhat justifies its beastliness. 

Talk To Me Instead

When it comes to remote controls, the smarter conversation may revolve around voice support. 

People are growing accustomed to talking to their gadgets, thanks to Siri, Google Now and Cortana infiltrating our phones, smartwatches, computers, homes and cars. Even Logitech, with its penchant for keys and touch, just joined the chorus. In March, the company linked up with smart home companies Ubi and Ivee to give its Harmony remotes the ability to understand your spoken smart home commands.

Nuance, a leader in voice technology, may be known commercially for its Dragon Dictation software, but it also powers Apple’s Siri, voice for Intel PCs and other systems. Now, thanks to the juice it has gotten in recent years, it’s turning its eye toward security with voice biometrics. Imagine a smart home that unlocks your door for you because it recognizes your voice, or someday, a television that can switch parental profiles on or off depending on who’s talking to it. 

For basic functions, like search, speech has become a popular trend in TV technology. Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Xbox One, Samsung Smart TVs and Android TV’s latest Nexus Player are all training customers to chat up their televisions. The reason: the dreaded remote control search. 

Standard remotes were built for channel surfing, not pecking out search terms one character at a time. It’s no coincidence that voice’s rise among TV and set-top makers follows the fast growth of streaming OTT (or “over-the-top”) services. 

TV apps have been hitting the scene in big waves, with even traditional cable providers, broadcasters and premium channels, like HBO, invading the space that has been dominated by Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and others. With so many choices, navigating the options more easily isn’t just a feature; it has become a fundamental necessity.

It’s Not Remotely Easy

Not that voice is perfect. Even when systems can understand what you’re saying, they tend to have limitations preventing you from searching every title or fully commanding your TV or set-top box. But the technology is improving. And when it works, it makes couch surfing feel positively futuristic. Compared to that, a trackpad would come off like a relic. 

Apple may not have to choose. Rumors run high that its TV product, too, will get Siri integration. Given that the NYT report mentions a possibly fatter remote, it’s not hard to imagine the bigger device housing both a trackpad and a microphone. The source didn’t mention that at all, but it’s very unlikely that the iPhone maker, which has trumpeted Siri since its inception, will ignore voice features. 

However, we’d wind up with a single gadget that foists no less than three different ways of interacting with the set-top box—via microphone, trackpad and the physical keys. Apple may find a way to make its new variation work, but it won’t be as elementary as its current three-button metal remote. And it probably won’t be as much fun as commanding your television by talking to it. 

So much for simplicity. 

Photos by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite

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