When Apple released the 4th generation Apple TV, I expected an overall improved device, but I was particularly curious if they could approach gaming in a new way, offering easy access to casual gaming in the vein of iOS devices. In my opinion, they missed that opportunity.
So close, yet so far
As I watched Apple via live stream announce the 4th generation Apple TV, they revealed the image of the remote. I saw that picture, and I thought they nailed it. I incorrectly assumed that both sides of the remote were some sort of touch surfaces, and I also misjudged the size of the remote. Based on that isolated image, I briefly imagined a controller that would be great, at least for light gaming. My assumption was incorrect.
Keep it simple
With any successful product, the “barrier to entry” should be minimized as much as possible. With a software platform, friction points can occur for both developers as well as consumers. With the Apple TV, developers face the possibility of making a game with no promise of a consistent input experience, as the Siri remote and third-party controller are both options. This is not usually an issue for iOS or most prominent gaming systems.
The first generation Nintendo Wii remote functioned as a motion-controlled "wand”, for example, it could be used to simulate swinging a sword. It could also be turned sideways and used with games that required a classic D-pad layout. Apple's remote makes an attempt at these ideas, but is compromised by trying to be too many things.
To have a compelling gaming device, at a bare minimum you need an input method that is consistent and covers the needs of a large percentage of the games that are offered.
What makes a good controller
Apple's goal is not to make an Xbox. If it was, they would ship Xbox level controllers. Rather, if we looked at iOS games as a gauge for what type of games we may see on the Apple TV, we could reasonably assume that a simplified controller could suffice for 80% of potential games offered. Finding the middle ground between a great controller and something that is accessible and shipped with the device is difficult. The current Apple TV remote is not a good input method for gameplay and has much room for improvement.
Functional OR beautiful
Because the idea of Apple making an ergonomic controller is (at this time) the stuff of fantasy, currently there is no great solution, but it would be nice to see some evolution of the remote. Expanding on the current design, I propose a few changes that could make a better controller. The goal is to have something that ships with the device that can immediately give people access to games. I have two primary wishes, but of course there are other improvements to be made, such as button layout and addition features (find my remote, anyone).
1. Increase remote size
If we took the current remote and enlarged to a more manageable size, not only would it be a better controller, it would be a better remote. Let’s consider the current remote’s length (or height), which is virtually the same as the iPhone 5 series. Using that as a starting point, we can imagine the length growing to match the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus:
The longest size option looks big, but I did a rough test by creating a cardboard scale replica and it felt like a good size. It is smaller than most TV remotes, but big enough to feel more comfortable that the current Apple remote. I didn’t spend too much time on rethinking button placement, but it could use improvement as well. Full credit to Rene Ritchie for the center button idea. Update: I added the picture below to show what the remote would like if it was the length of the iPhone 6 Plus.
2. Add input methods
Using the bottom half of the remote as a button would add input options for gaming. I could see the solution being one of two options. Either the top portion remains a clickable button and the bottom utilizes Force Touch (or 3D Touch), or both portions move to Force Touch technology. In both scenarios, the bottom half's touch-capacity would be disabled until an appropriate game is opened. At that time both sides would be activated to receive input.
A few things to consider
- The Force Touch input may require the remote to be thicker, but that's not a bad thing, especially for holding. My guess would be that increasing the thickness to match the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus would allow sufficient battery while having room for the necessary components.
- Another issue to consider is the possible cost increase. I don't know the manufacturing details on the current Apple remote, but I wouldn't think is would drastically change with an increase in size. Adding new components would increase the cost, and then it would be a matter of acceptable profit margins.
This remote design would encourage those who don't want to buy an extra controller to play a quick game or two more often. With this situation, every Apple TV would be more appealing in terms of casual gaming, and it would encourage developers to make games with the knowledge that every device has a simple controller as a starting point. Apple is great at iteration, and I hope the company can continue to improve the Apple TV.