Oct 16

The beautifully annoying Siri Remote


This is an article one year in the making.

It’s not that I’m such a slow writer. (Well, maybe a little of that.) It’s because I’ve been patient and forgiving. I’ve tried to adapt, learn new tricks and think positive. But at some point I have to face the fact—

I will never love the Siri Remote for Apple TV.

In fact, I think it’s earned a place in the Apple Hall of Infamy, right alongside one of the company’s classic aberrations: the hockey puck mouse that shipped with the original iMac.

In one sense, the two are actually birds of a feather.

Like the hockey puck, you can’t tell what direction the Siri Remote is facing when you pick it up. You have a 50-50 chance of getting it right, and therefore a 50-50 chance of hitting the wrong button.

At least with the hockey puck mouse, you could rely on your eyeballs. The cord stuck out of the top. No such luck with the Siri Remote, even in a decently lit room. There is only a subtle difference in the two shades of black, matte and shiny, and the buttons are perfectly centered, top to bottom. (Or is it bottom to top?)

The orientation issue was the hockey puck mouse’s only crime. The problems with the Siri Remote run deeper.

Like the ill-fated touch-sensitive iPod, the Siri Remote’s touchpad makes it way too easy to screw up your viewing by accident. All it takes is the slightest brush of a finger when handling it.

And, though the touchpad is a cool thing, it is oftentimes not nearly as quick and accurate as physical directional buttons would be.

The Siri Remote is a gorgeously designed object — it’s just a terribly designed remote.

It’s a thin slab that feels like, well, a thin slab. Its shape doesn’t contribute one iota to ease of use. There are a number of remotes out there that fit the human hand nicely, and put the most-used buttons at one’s fingertips. The Tivo remote is a good example, as are a few presentation clickers.

Lapses of this type make it difficult to defend Apple when it is accused of favoring design over function. It’s hard to think of the Siri Remote as anything but design run amok. It’s beautifully annoying.

Unfortunately, this isn’t something we can blame on a Steve-less Apple, given that Steve himself was smitten by the hockey puck mouse until it was met with universal scorn.

One could put a positive spin on it and say that greatness only results when a company shoots for the stars — and failures are inevitable along the way.

That’s when the ability to correct one’s mistakes becomes even more important. Steve Jobs was pretty good at that. He not only fixed that dastardly mouse, but he delivered a replacement that exceeded customer expectations. This is how Apple’s first laser mouse was born.

The mouse replacement took two years. The Siri Remote is a mere youngster at half that age. So I’ll cling to the hope that Apple will once again learn from its mistake and deliver something that is lustworthy in both design and function.

In the meantime, I’ll keep trying to refine my Siri Remote skills — or cheat by using the iPhone or Watch remote apps instead.




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  • I have owned every Apple TV version (excluding the 3rd generation) and the Siri remote is so bad that I switched to Roku. I always seem to miss my target, whether under- or over-shooting, which only leads to a frustrating experience. While the Roku interface may not be as beautiful, the remote is comfortable and reliable, and the apps are more plentiful.

  • Jeffsters

    You can also use the previous generation remote.

  • puggsly

    Although true before the first update to AppleTV software that accidental brushes with the Siri remote could screwup TV viewing that was solved. Also, by taping on the edges you can use this more like a button remote.

    It takes a little time to get use to it but I’ve come to really like it. I’m looking forward to using this same interface on my phone and watch after the next update.

  • jim8151

    I agree with you, but I think I hated the earlier generation remote even more. And I really like the 4th-gen Apple TV, a lot. I’m starting to use Siri more, which increasingly makes the buttons and the orientation of the remote less important. Regarding the TiVo remote, yeah, it fits the hand better, but its contours almost guarantee that it will roll of the arm of my easy chair at least once an evening.

  • karma__police

    The siri remote is one of the best UI inventions to come out of Cupertino IMO. It allows the user to control the TV like any iOS device, but from 10 feet away.

    No other remote offers that kind of “connectedness” to TV UI nor do they offer the speed, precision, simplicity, flexibility and power of the Siri remote….

    – With one swipe, I can quickly go from one end of the interface to the other
    – It can be used as a traditional d-pad by tapping the edges for more precision
    – Siri can be used for dictation, search, launching apps/channels, precise scrubbing, getting information, turning captions on/off, etc.
    – double-click the home button to multitask or kill programs
    – drag icons around and create folders
    – when watching a video, click right/left edges to move forward/back by 10 seconds at a time
    – while wathcing a video, swipe down to get info and toggle audio controls

    Those are just a few examples of its capabilities packed into a tiny device with just a handful of buttons.

    The accidental brushes were addressed with a software update a while ago. You now have to click the button first, then swipe to move forward/back. As for which side is up/down confusion, that can be improved, perhaps with buttons that light up, but there are a million cheap ways to address that… wrap to a rubber band on the bottom, for example. I don’t think the shape will change though, since symmetry is classic Apple.

    I suggest you give it another try. Once you get it, traditional remotes will feel frustratingly slow and archaic by comparison.

    BTW, I loved your book, Insanely Simple. Great work.

  • jeremygould

    I’d recommend getting the lanyard that plugs into the lightning port. I got one of these (and a cheap rubber surround cover) to mitigate any accidents caused by children dropping it during gameplay. Consequence of these additions is that I always know which way up the remote is. I also agree with other commenters. The updates to the Apple TV software have moved the Siri remote from PITA to essential for me. My kids rarely watch broadcast TV now because the Siri remote is just so easy to use.

  • There is one thing worst about Siri Remote, the swipe from top gesture to change viewing options.
    For me the gesture has two defect, first it is hard to make it work, since most of the time you swipe without success.
    Second is that the gesture is not replicable by my logitech harmony remote, so that even if I have a remote that should be able to control all my devices (tv, audio amplifier, apple tv), like it did with previous apple tv generation, now with Siri Remote I am bound to use harmony only most of the times and I have to keep Siri Remote at hand for occasional swipes.
    I think that the main interface should be bound to simple commands and complex gestures should be needed only for unusual and less used commands.

  • Thank you Ken. I can not tell you how many times I or my wife have accidentialy pushed this **** remote and stopped what we were watching.

    Horrible. Apples worst product.

    Now, what do you think about that Surface Studio ad? ;)

  • djr12

    I feel exactly the same way about it. Apple apparently doesn’t realize that small, slippery, and slim aren’t desirable traits in a remote. Fortunately, unlike with the hockey puck mouse, third party vendors can save the day.

    I got this case for the Siri remote soon after I bought Apple TV, and it’s totally changed everything:


    For 13 bucks, you can turn the Siri remote into something you can grip, something that’s harder to lose, and something you can orient by touch. Pure win. (No relationship to the vendor.)

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  • Lee Bennett

    People who so lament UI navigation with Siri remote all seem to not realize tapping (not clicking) the four edge sides of the trackpad works like arrow keys.

  • David

    I hate the thing. Too slippery, too black (there’s a reason newspapers and books use black print on a white background—readability). Yes, too symmetric, poor feedback. I can’t find a single good thing to say about this.

  • JohnMisty

    totally agreed. It took me few hours to mark it as a rare EPIC FAIL from apple. I hate it so much that I prefer to use old remote, a lot faster and easy to pick and keep in your hand without omnipresent fear of send any control and wait for disaster (when you stream a video with infuse or plex and hit something wrong you could wait up to 20/30 seconds to restart your video e find your previous position!). Of course any parents cannot use it, gestures are for a niche of owners and my mother scream for help everytime she would like to show subtitles or change audio language! What a fail my friend…I was waiting for this kind on confirmation from your words…and of course Siri works only in english, good luck with search and input text without a phone near you :(

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  • Arif Ahnan

    I have owned every version of Apple TV (not including 3rd generation) and remote Siri is so bad that I switched to Roku. This should be no updates
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