Making a Better Apple TV Remote.
Apple recently announced a big update to the Apple TV, bringing apps and games to the video-streaming product that has basically remained unchanged since it's conception. Along with improvements to the device's software, the bundled remote has also been upgraded to give users better control over over what they see on their TV. In addition to the standard buttons on the face of the remote, developers are now being encouraged to introduce touch controls and accelerometer data in their apps and games.
This is very exciting news for anyone who has ever played a game on their phone (that's a lot of people). Imagine being able to play a beautiful game like Bastion, or Monument Valley on the subway home from work, sit down on your couch with a pint of ice cream and bring up that same game, right where you left it, except 10 times larger and with surround sound. That is Apple's unique position in the gaming market, and they are almost posed to fall right into that scenerio. There is one hurdle that is going to make it difficult to transition over easily, and is the new remote.
The first issue that will make the remote confusing whether the user is in a game or not, is there is no distinction between the "soft" buttons and "hard" buttons. That is, the buttons whose functions change depending on the application being used, and the buttons always erform the same functions. In the image below, I've highlighted where those buttons are, and their intended function.
As you can see, picking up the remote for the first time, you would have a hard time guessing which buttons might change when you are in an app or playing a game.
The second issue is that as a game controller, the remote has very limited options for controls. Developers have access to touch controls, acceleromerter and gyroscope data, and two oddly placed hardware buttons. Although many current games can be altered to work with the touch gestures on the new remote, it would be difficult to play a simple Mario-style game, which requires directional controls, and two buttons located near each other.
Roku has had the right idea for a while. They decided to include two colored buttons at the bottom of the remote, making it easy to adapt for most simple games. Little inginuity is required by the developers to make this work.
To fix these issues with the Apple TV, and to make it esier for more developers to port their apps and games over to the new device, I'm proposing a few simple fixes to the remote that makes it easier to use, and develop for.
First, let's remove the "dangerous" buttons (the one's that let you quit the app) from the trackpad, and replace them with the app-centric soft buttons.
Now we have all of the soft buttons that are likely to change between apps located together at the top of the device. There is a clear distinction between "app" and "system" buttons.
Where else can we go? Let's bring it more inline with what we see in iOS.
Alright, so now we have the Apple remote better configured to handle games. The user is less likey to accidentally hit the "home" button, and the remote should be easier for someone not familiar with the Apple TV to pick up and play a game. No fumbling for the rihgt button to press because they are all in the same place.
Now, how about a completely different remote?
Let's look back to the original design and see how we can make that more functional. I'm going to start with the simple rearrangmenet I made early on.
This layout isn't terrible, but the icons on the soft keys can be confusing when their function change in an app. Let's make that more clear. Putting LED lights under the buttons allow developers to change the icons based on their need.
The app-specific buttons are still always found in the same area, so the user knows where to expect change, and which buttons will always be familar.
There are obviously dozens of alternate directions that Apple could have taken their new remote, but they could have done more for their users, and developers. A more traditional "controller mode" for the remote would have made it easier for developers to port their games over from the iPhone. It will be interesting to see how this plays out for the Apple TV app store. Maybe it will encourage more unique, memorable games, or maybe it will just get flooded with a bunch of "runner" games with very simple mechanics.