We need to rethink smart TV remotes
Like most stories, this one starts on Twitter. A few days ago I was reading through my Twitter feed when I stumbled across a thread started by Rick Klau (Xoogler), in which, he mentions that he recently had purchased a Chromecast with Google TV. One "HUGE improvement" he states is the remote. I added the emphasis on the word remote because I feel like with all the progress we've made in the Smart TV space, the remote hasn't kept up. In fact, I feel like most smart TV remotes suck.
But it's not just the cheap Roku remotes you get with TCL TVs that are awful, I'm also not a fan of Apple's remote for the Apple TV either. Come to think of it, I've never truly liked any remote made by Apple. Why? Because remotes always seem like an after thought. And for the love of all that is Holy please don't tell me to use an app. I'd rather claw my eyes out than use my iPhone as a remote for my TV.
Let's rethink the remote
I want to start off by saying I don't know what the ideal remote looks like, but I'm hoping that by starting the conversation we will be able to get there. Here's how I'm thinking about it:
Perhaps the most important feature that we need to see is that the remote of the future can seamlessly control all my devices. I don't want to have program anything. The last thing I should have to do is look up the correct equipment codes. Any remote that doesn't control my TV, live TV, apps, sound bar/volume, and any other connected device is a non-starter. This is a must have feature and from what I understand is something the new Chromecast with Google TV remote offers. I have yet to test it myself to confirm though.
While we're dreaming up ideas, it would be really neat if Apple could figure out a way to sense when my AirPods Max were near to the remote, the same way my iPhone, iPad, and Mac notice when they're nearby and popup an option to connect them to the TV.
I think we're looking at smart TV remotes that have touch support, psychical buttons, and voice control, but honestly, no (or limited) touch support wouldn't be a deal breaker for me.
I'm sure Apple would love a button-less remote but I'm not sure it's feasible unless it was essentially similar to an iPhone in the sense that you could program the screen to show the buttons you wanted at all times and depending on what you were doing the screen would reconfigure itself accordingly. To be clear, this type of remote should have its own design – it shouldn't look or feel like an iPhone. If that could be a product Apple is working on, the question becomes: do they offer it as part of the Apple TV (or a special line of it) or do they just sell it as an add-on product? If they were sell it as an add-on, it likely wouldn't be cheap. I could see Apple charging between $150 and $250 for a product like that.
If we're looking to accomplish the same thing for a more moderate price, we definitely need physical buttons.
What's the ideal execution here look like? While I do like the touch support on the current generation of Apple TV remotes, I often find myself wishing the Apple TV remote was bigger. Meanwhile, the remote included in the Chromecast with Google TV appears to have a touch wheel and the rest of it appears to be physical buttons – it doesn't look nearly as sleek at Apple's remote though.
I know this may sound crazy, especially to Apple, which always wants to make things slimmer, but a bigger remote could actually be beneficial. Hear me out: I have a big movie collection and whenever I'm scrolling through it on my Apple TV, I find my fingers sliding off the edge of the remote with big swipes. Not just that but there's just not enough space between the buttons and the touch surface to make it easy to do big swipes.
Whether this problem would exist with the Chromecast remote remains to be seen (as I haven't tried it myself) but the circular touch wheel could be a potential solution. If you have any thoughts or experience with the new Chromecast remote, please let me know!
Aside from that, a bigger remote has other perks too. What's the thing everyone loses the most? No, not your phone – the TV remote. If we had a truly universal smart TV remote, would you really want it to be tiny? Think about it. Of course not, it would be such a hassle. So in the case of remotes, bigger is better.
With that, I pass it to you: what would you like to see on future remotes? Do you agree with my thoughts or nah? Let me know in the comments!