By Dan Moren
August 2, 2016 8:44 AM PT
Meet Apple’s new Remote app, not quite the same as the old Remote app
When Apple initially introduced the fourth-generation Apple TV last year, it did so without updating its iOS Remote app, which lets you use your iPhone or iPad to control the set-top box. That proved a frustrating omission at the time, since the fourth-generation device also lacked Bluetooth keyboard support, forcing users to fill out usernames and passwords using the slow hunt-and-peck process via the Siri Remote.
But then Apple not only updated the existing Remote app with support for the fourth-generation model, but also promised a new Remote app was on the way; that new app, Apple TV Remote, debuted earlier this week with some upsides and a few downsides.
The intent of the Apple TV Remote app is to duplicate all the functionality of the hardware remote, and in that it mostly succeeds. The majority of the screen is taken up by an area that mimics the hardware remote’s touch surface, and you can swipe or tap to control the onscreen interface. There are also dedicated buttons for Menu, Home (which you can double tap to bring up the multitasking switcher), Play/Pause1, and Siri. You can also 3D Touch on the sides of the touch area to skip forward or backward 10 seconds, as on the Siri Remote, but it’s definitely a bit…touchy, if you’ll excuse the expression. The only missing controls in the app are the volume up and down buttons. (Update: It seems that if you have HDMI-CEC enabled to control your TV’s volume via the remote, it seems the iOS device’s physical volume buttons will actually control your TV’s sound.)
Siri integration is probably the most interesting feature of the new Remote app, and again, it works just as it does on the hardware remote: press and hold the button while you speak your command, let go when you’re done; the Apple TV will receive and process it. Which is all well and good, but it would be so much cooler and more handy if you could use the Siri on your iPhone to search or control the Apple TV, including via “Hey Siri”, rather than loading up the app first. I understand that the way this works is probably easier, but it’s also not that much of an improvement over the way things are, unless you simply can’t find your Apple TV Remote–given that it’s pretty small and easy to lose, that’s hardly out of the question.
When you’re actually watching or listening to something on the TV, there are a couple extra controls that appear in the app, such as discrete skip forward or backwards 10 seconds buttons and a Details button in the top right corner. Tap that and you’ll be taken to a playback screen that looks kind of like the iOS Music app, including a timeline that you can scrub through, which is definitely a bit easier than scrubbing on the remote. (If you’re listening to music, there are Previous and Next Track buttons, as well as shuffle and repeat buttons on this screen.)
And, as with the previous Remote app, whenever a text entry field pops up on your Apple TV, a keyboard appears in the Remote app, allowing you to type in your query. However, I couldn’t find any way to trigger dictation from the app, so you’ll still have to pull out the hardware remote for that.
The Apple TV Remote app is also a little less capable than its predecessor, as it no longer serves the dual purpose of also controlling iTunes on your Macs. (Apple has renamed the previous version of the Remote app “iTunes Remote”, though it still allows you to control your Apple TV.)
For me, in the long run, none of this really makes a big difference. I’ve always considered the Remote app as a good fallback, but it’s usually far less convenient than a hardware remote2, since it requires pulling out the phone, finding the app, opening the app, and then finding the right control. (Some of the tap targets on the new Remote app seem pretty small, too.) In most circumstances, that might just be a little irritating–but if you’re, say, trying to pause the TV because your phone is ringing, well, good luck.
In the end, it’s nice that Apple brought some feature parity to the Remote app, but this is hardly a mind-blowing reinvention–it’s table stakes. When the company rolls out more in-depth integration with Siri on iOS devices, rather than simply using the Remote app as a passthrough, well, that’ll really up the ante.
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His latest novel, The Aleph Extraction, is out now and available in fine book stores everywhere, so be sure to pick up a copy.]
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