Review: Apple Aluminum Remote Control for iPhone and iPod Dock, Apple TV, and iTunes

Apple quietly introduced a new Apple Remote [$19.00 - Apple Online Store link] along with the updated iMac, Mac Mini, Magic Mouse, and Apple TV 3.0 last month. Not to be confused with the Apple-produced Remote app [Free - iTunes link], which allows an iPhone or iPod touch to control an Apple TV or iTunes, the Apple Remote is a hardware accessory that not only controls the aforementioned Apple TV or iTunes (and Front Row!) all on its own, but can also control an iPhone or iPod touch when they're placed in the -- sold-separately -- Apple Universal Dock [$49.00 - Apple Online Store link]

So, how new is it, why would an iPhone or iPod touch need a hardware remote anyway, and most importantly, how does it perform? Read on after the break!

New as in Ish

If we define new as revolutionary, like some of the leaks suggested, than this is hardly a "new" remote. Indeed, the Remote app for iPhone and iPod touch already fulfills that revolutionary roll, and does so well. If we define new as in it's aluminum and black, matching Apple's new design motif, and has an extra button, then, okay, it's new-ish.

But that still leaves us with -- why would any iPhone or iPod touch user with that free app even want a separate, physical, uni-tasker, hardware remote in the first place?

Think Apple TV on the Go

No, seriously, with the Apple Universal Dock (which really doesn't still come with the old white remote, does it Apple?!) and its built in IR receiver, combined with an Apple Composite AV Cable [$49.00 - Apple Online Store link] or Apple Component AV Cable [$49.00 - Apple Online Store link], your iPhone or iPod touch becomes an Apple TV. Only portable.

Total Cost of Pwnership

Now it won't take the Wolfram Alpha app to tell you that each piece of the above equation costs, well, as much as the Wolfram Alpha app. We're talking fifty bucks for the dock and fifty for one of the cables -- so that's $100 to start. Add in an Apple USB Power Adapter [$29.00 - Apple Online Store link] so you don't drain your battery while you play, and we're talking $130. That's more than half the price of an Apple TV -- and that doesn't count the cost of the iPhone or iPod touch.

But lugging an Apple TV around would, pointedly, suck, and portability and convergence have their price, don't they? (Even if portability in this case means lugging an extra dock, cable, and remote).

Oh, Yes. The Remote

Back to business. Assuming you want to rent or buy iTunes movies and take it over to your friends' and/or family's to watch, and you have the dock and cable, and you don't like the idea of jumping up and running over every time you want to play, pause, or change media, then how good is the Apple Remote at keeping you on the couch?

Pretty good.

It's essentially the same as the previous old, white Apple Remote, though it's longer, sharper edged, made out of sturdier aluminum, and has an easier battery access door on the bottom. It's major change, cosmetics aside, is that the play/pause button has been separated from the select button and placed down below, off-centering the menu bottom and taking a place to the right of it on the side.

That's an... odd choice coming from Apple. And for iPhone users it likely adds little functionality, since unlike the Apple TV, there's no iPhone interface for selecting media on your TV while continuing to watch/listen to something else. (Or selecting it at all, even on the iPhone/iPod touch as you can press the remote arrows on a menu screen to your heart's content and it just. won't. scroll!)

Let me explain that better (would that Apple had actually implemented it better so I wouldn't have to). On the Apple TV, with the old Apple Remote, you could start a song, but if you wanted to look for another song in a another playlist, you had to hit the select button to choose that playlist, and since the select button was the same as the play/pause button, how would it know if you actually wanted to pause the music, or just keep browsing while the music kept playing. With the new Apple Remote, those buttons and hence behaviors are distinct, and you can use menu to drill up and select to drill down, without having to simultaneously end the current track while still browsing for the next. (But it's actually worse than that, since while browsing the play/pause button can pause the music, but not play it again, so much for better...)

iPhone and iPod touch via the IR dock enjoy none of this functionality (such as it is), so the new button is pretty much the same as the old from a usage point of view. (Exactly the same, play/pause and select both play/pause!). Perhaps that still-in-limbo iPhone 3.2 update can add that to it's to-do list?

Also, with the sharper angles on the new Apple Remote, that tired old cliche about "feeling great in the hand" reminds me why it's not so tired. Depending on your hand size, the new version may not feel anywhere as great as the old.

Enough. Bottom-line This.

More curious than compelling, the new Apple Remote certainly better meshes with the latest Apple aesthetics, even if it's functionality remains decidedly last gen.

If you already have an old plastic Apple Remote, and you're not a fashionista with $15 in-pocket, determined to have something to match your latest iPhone and Mac, there's no need to get the new Apple Remote.

If you are said fashionista, or you have an Apple TV or use Front Row a lot on your Mac, and think that little button tweak will save you a lot of musical frustration, then go for it. $15 is less than you'd spend at some fast-food joints these days.

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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.