Fixing the Apple TV Siri Remote

Siri Remote on Apple TV
Siri Remote on Apple TV

On The Talk Show, John Gruber and I spent some time discussing the new Siri Remote for Apple TV. The current design is useful but confusing. It's almost impossible to tell which side is up and the buttons aren't as intuitive as they could be.

So, I took I put together mock up of some of the possible changes we felt could improve it.

1. Rebrand the MENU button

MENU is the only text used on the controller, which makes it stick out. It also improperly describes the button's function. Unlike the iPod, from which its derived, clicking MENU doesn't bring up a menu. It moves the system back through the navigation hierarchy. On iOS devices, this button is labels with a back chevron. On TV controller, that might be confused with content controls for "skip back" or "rewind", so I went with an upward chevron. It feels consistent, visually matches the experience, and also hints which end of the Siri Remote is up.

("Menu" isn't what the button does, and Apple has spent years dissuading designers from using the "hamburger" glyph (☰), so it wouldn't fit in here. The "More" gylph (•••) would likewise be out of context.)

2. Rebrand and reposition the Home button

The current Home button sports a TV set glyph. It's a departure from the rounded rectangle used on generations of iPhones, iPads, and iPods touch, and not only does it fail to describe the function, it's confusingly similar to the existing AirPlay icon. So, in this version, the Home button returns to the rounded rectangle and, more importantly, moves to the bottom—and to the center. Not only is that position immediately familiar to hundreds of millions of iOS device owners, it adds some much-needed asymmetry to the controller, clearly distinguishing top from bottom.

3. Remove the Siri button

By moving the Home button to bottom center we remove the slot currently assigned to the Siri button. Luckily, generations of iOS device owners have been trained to hold down on the Home button to trigger Siri, and we still have a Home button on this controller. Not only would that keep things consistent, it wouldn't flaunt Siri in the faces of the vast majority of the world in which the service is still not provided. For them, holding down Home could launch the Search app instead.

An argument could be made for moving the volume rocker to the side, like on the iPhone, as well. The goal of this exercise was stick as closely as possible to the existing controller, and while that's consistent positioning with the phone, this isn't a phone — it's a remote control.

Your Siri Remote fixes?

I can't even imagine how hard it must have been to nail the feel and function of the touch-sensitive area on the Siri Remote, but Apple's interactivity team absolutely nailed it. I have no doubt they thought just as deeply and worked just as hard on the buttons.

Some design challenges have no clear or easy answers, though, and even the best balance is, by necessity, the best compromise. Great design is about finding what works and then iterating as time, technological advances, and wider feedback allows.

That's what this is—feedback. Let me know yours!

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • Rene... Never a day off, eh? I look forward to listening!
  • I think Apple's approach to the buttons is aimed at first-time streaming device owners. "generations of iOS device owners have been trained to hold down on the Home button to trigger Siri", but those who don't own iOS devices might not get it. Your menu button change is probably OK, but I wouldn't remove the icon for voice control. I suspect there are more functions coming that involve voice, such as traditional voice-to-text, and the simple home button wouldn't be intuitive for that. This is a platform for the long term, and for those who are newcomers to streaming. A more important change would be to better differentiate the lower, non-touchpad part of the remote with a more distinct texture. I cannot tell you how many complaints I've seen about people picking the remote up the wrong way and using the bottom half for the touchpad. Giving it a rougher texture would help with that.
  • Wow Rene! literally addressed every single complaint my family and I have had regarding the controller. And I think that demonstrate how common these frustrations are. We've had our unit for about a month now. We keep getting confused about which way (up or down) we're holding the controller in addition to confusion regarding the use of both of the buttons addressed here. The removal of the Siri button in lieu of just holding the "home" button make so much sense. I hope Apple is listening.
  • I like the remote the way it is. I haven't had any trouble using it.
  • Your suggestions are spot on, and fix all of the orientation issues I have. I'd like to see some way of reducing accidental clicks/touches, in the same way iOS has palm rejection. The number of times I scroll by accident either when knocking the remote or picking it up is annoying. Not related, but I was disappointed to see that Siri can't control HomeKit devices. I got my first Hue lights this week and was surprised to see the new TV can't control them.
  • My only issue is that when I wake up the AppleTV with my Harmony remote, then want to use the Apple remote, I press a button to wake it, then it takes some time for it to wake up and sync. This results in it remembering whatever key I pressed to wake it up, then it Passes along what key press would have done if it had been awake, but several seconds later.
    A wake up key press should not send the keystroke. Especially after such a delay.
    If I use the AppleTV remote to wake the system, I don't have this issue.
  • I for one could really make use of a lock button/slider to avoid accidental taps on the touchpad. I lie down on the couch with, more often than not, the remote next to me on the couch resulting in an infuriating amount of unwanted taps!
  • Well done. Simple and solves the 'which way is up' problem when grabbing the remote without looking at it. Sent from the iMore App
  • Think you have nailed things on the head with this one, but I would like to add that it feels cheap. As we all know there is nothing cheap about Apple products. The previous remote for the ATV 2&3 feels considerably more sturdy.
  • Please no. This is what happens when people send too much time obsessing over things. The remote is fine. One end is smooth and the other is textured. Not difficult to know which way is up.
  • It's fine if you're judging a remote by how it feels. But to me a remote is much more about how it works. And I'll be honest, Apple remotes like it's mouses don't feel good to me at all. They are not remotely ergonomic. Especially if you have normal size hands.
  • I like the mockup a lot, primarily because the "Menu" button is incredibly misleading for it's function. Odd choice of naming for that button. It's essentially a back button, or in the case of your mockup, an "up" button back to the previous hierarchy. I also agree on maintaining consistency with the "home" button glyph, but I do think it would ergonomically uncomfortable in the location you put it given the frequency of it's use and the dimension of the remote. I'd be in favor of keeping the current button layout and just replacing the glyphs for Menu and Home with what you chose.
  • Having had mine now for three days, I think these are excellent improvements. The home button idea is a no-brainier. Picking the thing up upside down has been driving me crazy. Where you used to have to check you were pointing the infrared in the right direction, now you have to check which way round the unit is. In dim lighting, at a glance, you can't tell which end is shiny/not shiny. Sent from the iMore App
  • How would you bring up "sleep"? I currently hold the home button, then select sleep, and my whole home theater turns off. If you replace that with bring up Siri, how would you access sleep?
  • Yah that is a good point. He is not accounting for that functionality in his proposed design. I would love to hear what his solution to this would be...
  • All of these are absolutely fantastic! So many basic and obvious adjustments. Remember when Apple used to do basic and obvious better than anyone? I miss that Apple so much.....
  • i always got the impression that was largely a direction from Jobs. I read he would get upset at the original ipod and wanted you to be able to do any tasks with the least amount of clicks possible. I always think of that when i look at what has become of the ipod app on iphones. Where now they've buried all the music playing stuff deep in menus, removed the "edit" function that allowed you to move icons around to get the most used ones to the front. All in favor of selling apple services. It went from being a music manager to an apple service delivery system. I'm guessing It's the same reason there's no usable usb port on apple tv. They don't want you playing your own content. They want you buying theirs. But for the music player i'd bet Jobs would have said, that's way too cluttered, wasting half the screen showing you things you did recently; in the past. Forcing you to press many more times to play your music. I like my iphone and i'm not changing anytime soon but there is very little for me now between it and android as a user experience. And part of that is Apple, I feel has lost it's way in making things less basic and more convoluted, more googlish actually.
  • For the most part, I like your changes. I don't care for the chevron, it's better than menu but I think even better than that would be for it to simply say "back", because that's what it actually does Sent from the iMore App
  • Not always. During iTunes movies, hitting menu brings you to the movie's menu, just like on a DVD player. 'Back' wouldn't be a terrible choice, but a more abstract symbol makes sense in this multi-use context.
  • I haven't used the remote since day one since it's terrible and too fragile for the kids. I stick with the Harmony smart remote. I wouldn't use Siri anyways. I have a controller for games.
  • Well its horrible for games, controller should be required.
    But siri might be its best feature, extremely useful Sent from the iMore App
  • I got a company-branded Apple TV this year. The company logo is on the bottom half of the remote. It is raised, like a sticker or something and makes it much easier to tell when it's upside down. I like all of the buttons, but I agree the MENU should be more labeled like a "back" button (dare I say like the back buttons on Android devices?), and I wish the Siri button was elsewhere. I keep accidentally hitting it while playing games which is super annoying.
  • Good ideas. I have some more: 1. Yes on the centered Home button with iOS behavior (hold to activate Siri, double tap for open apps, etc.). But no on the old (discontinued) Home icon. Instead use the same button that's on today's iPhones/iPads - complete with Touch ID. Obviously Touch ID integration requires a tvOS 2.0 style update, but it'd be a useful one (especially for families who want to prevent rogue purchases and block certain content). 2. Change your new Back icon ( ^ ) to just the word "Back" - makes its use case much less abstract. 3. Include the Remote Loop in the Apple TV box. Such a silly money grab to sell it as an accessory. Nintendo figured this out in 2006. 4. Make the remote a little larger, as to increase the touchpad surface area. A larger touch area would mean having to "reset" my finger position less, meaning less gestures to get where I need to go in the UI. 5. Headphone jack. Or I suppose enable audio-over-Lightning (as that seems to be their future solution for audio ports). Or at least let me AirPlay audio in the other direction (Apple TV -> iPhone/iPad) for private listening. I understand that Apple has a solution for this already in place (Bluetooth headphone support), but still. Wishful thinking. 6. Backlit keys? Probably requires a light sensor, though. Can't activate by motion, since the remote itself is a Wii-style motion controller.
  • You currently hold down the home button to put the Apple TV to sleep. If you use it for Siri instead, as you suggest, how would you put the device to sleep?
  • Could that functionality (hold to Sleep) be moved to the Back button?
  • RIght now, if you hold down the menu button, it takes you back to the home screen. It's an old shortcut left over from the older generations of Apple TV's. If they removed that, there would be no easy way to jump back to the home screen when you are multiple layers deep inside the menu of an app.
  • Home button would solve that?
  • Yeah, pressing the home button has the same function of holding the menu button. However, if you changed the function of the home button, then you couldn't get back home from a Nimbus controller. A Nimbus game controller has a Menu button, but no Home button. Hold Menu and jump back home from whatever game you're in.
  • Telling one end from the other is my biggest complaint with the Siri Remote. To solve that I bought a case for the remote from Griffen, at $19.95 it's a bit pricy but it does the job, and it make the remote easier to hold and a little harder to lose. Because the remote has a slick surface it can slip between the cushions on the sofa, this case prevents that. I would not remove the Siri button, other than that I think the suggestions presented are good.
  • I use a little white sticker. I put it on the bottom half of the remote. Even when not looking at it, I can feel for the little rise in surface the sticker provides.
  • The remote loop from Apple does a pretty good job of making it easy to orientate the remote :)
  • For me the MENU button can be helpful. When I see "∩NƎW" I know that I have the remote upside down.
  • It's a TV product that's often used in the dark.
  • I've had my new TV since launch day and have gotten completely used to it's layout. The oblong volume button is on the right. The Siri button is concave. Everything else flows from that. The only two issues that I still have are the accidental scrubbing and that pressing Volume changes the input, neither of which would be changed by a physical redesign. I'd like some software tweaks or additional settings options. 1) Put the trackpad to sleep after 1, 3 or 5 minutes of inactivity. Wake up again after any button press, including click of trackpad. 2) I'd like to use the Siri Remote for volume control even when I'm using another device, like my PS4. Switch TV input for every button except for Volume.
  • -physical up down left right directional button.
    I hate that touch screen thing. It's form over function. There's a good reason video game controllers went analog. It gives you better control. All the appletv remote will give is carple tunnel. problem is what i'd add Apple will never add especially post Jobs in the Tim Cook era. -larger because i have big hands.
    -customizable quick app launch buttons.
    -headphone port like Roku
    -RW/FF buttons
    -separate "home"/"Menu" (for in app menus)/back buttons. Truth is. what i want isn't happening with Apple. Plus apple tv is a real problem for me without a USB port. I've got 4 terabyte drive full of content that i want access and i'm not buying a new router with usb soon
  • So just download and use Plex....Problem solved.
  • Embossed + and - and subtle textural changes would go a long way towards "in the dark" orientation. The near symmetry of the remote when held horizontally makes me think that an additional, sometimes on, clicking trackpad at the bottom was unfortunately nixed. An included remote that could be used to explore true 3D worlds would be a real coup for both users and developers.
  • Oh, the Remote Loop solves the orientation issue entirely. I like the Loop a lot. Should absolutely come standard.
  • I would like to see it have some type of light so that I can find it in the dark and/or backlit keys. Even and indicator light for "navigational purposes" would be helpful... Sent from the iMore App
  • I agree with the Remote Loop - solves the orientation problem. Excluding it from Tv was a **** move by Apple. It probably only cost them pennies to make. What's next - charging $19.99 for the sim ejector tool? If Apple truly cares about the consumer experience, then Remote Loop should be included with Tv. I mean, they don't even include HDMI cable. Oh yeah, I can't believe their HDMI is only $7.00 more than a freaking loop! Sent from the iMore App
  • Rene, you guys nailed it!
  • One thing i have never seen anyone mention, its a clear necessity in my eyes, and something i thought would definitely be inside the remote.. - A FIND MY REMOTE FUNCTION. a simple command on the apple watch or phone with siri,' find my remote or where the remote and it pings like find my iPhone.. no brainer.. I was forever loosing the other atv2 remote and this is no different. Give me a remote ping ffs!
  • This would be wonderful. I love the mockup. It looks nicer and I'd have an easier time pointing it in the right direction.
  • The "Home" button is right where it should be, it should NOT be moved. I just looked at my remote and was thinking about your positioning, it doesn't work. Any time you need to use the home button, you'd need to stretch your thumb down to the bottom. I use the home button a lot. It makes sense to have the home button and back button right below the track pad. Easy to jump around the interface with the top of the remote. I agree to change the back button but with the word "Back". I never use the menu button to bring up the menu of an app as it also is intended to do. I wish there was a mute button, an input button would be nice but a mute button is sorely missed.
    You can move the Siri button to the bottom Center like in your diagram. I keep on hitting it when I want to go "BACK". Replace the Current Siri button with a mute button.
  • How about getting rid of that single home button on the bottom altogether, and then use press and hold to bring up a contextual menu that gives us the sleep, home, etc. options in one simple menu? The remote is way, way too symetrical. I find my self holding it upside down way too often. Give it more weight on one end, or a different shape, or thickness. Something to let us know which way is up without looking! And how about "Hey TV" for "Hey Siri" to preclude using buttons at all to invoke Siri? Well, that's probably not a workable solution without the button for silent invocation as well. Add voice anyway.
  • Well, it no longer looks balanced. That is all.
  • What you laid out makes complete sense, until you try to use the remote as a game controller. You are now short one functional button!
  • The Home button is fine where it is, and fine with that icon. The iPhone/iPad home button used to have the rounded rectangle because that's the shape of iOS' icons. Not so with the AppleTV.