Apple TV Remote app inspired Steve Jobs' concept of Apple TV Siri Remote

Posted:
in iPod + iTunes + AppleTV edited October 2020
In a tweet thread following the discontinuation of the standalone "Remote" app for Apple TV, the former Apple engineer explains how his creation evolved and helped with the design and development of the current Siri Remote.

The Siri Remote for the Apple TV.
The Siri Remote for the Apple TV.


On October 21, Apple removed the App Store listing for its first-party "Remote" app, a tool that was first introduced as the iTunes Remote before being turned into a controller for the Apple TV. Apple's removal of the app leaves users with the option of using the bundled Siri Remote for the Apple TV, or the software-based version for their iOS devices, integrated into Control Center.

A series of tweets posted following Apple's delisting of the app by Alan Cannistraro, a former Apple engineer who originally worked on the app, explains the history of the tool within Apple from its first code written in 2006. According to Cannistraro, he started to write code before he was able to see the iPhone user interface, by using UI elements of his own creation.

Cannistraro was encouraged to go further with his initial efforts as Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs was "nervous the App Store wouldn't be a hit, so he wanted Apple to have apps," which Jobs explained to the developer on seeing his work. It was also the first production app to be used by the App Store team to trial the "upload flow" to the App Store, earning its place as the first app on it.

6) In 2010, I sat down with with Steve to show him how Remote controlled Apple TV with swipes, and he said, "our next Apple TV Remote should be this without a screen". It took five years (lots of stuff paused when Steve died), but eventually Siri Remote came out and was just that

-- Alan Cannistraro (@accannis)


The shipped version was also a stripped-down variant of Cannistraro's work, as the prototype also enabled the control to turn lights, televisions, and receivers on and off via an IR adaptor, as well as to save and resume a room's state as a "Scene." This may have been a precursor to HomeKit, Apple's smarthome platform which also uses Scenes as a concept, but Cannistraro admits his pitch was a "larger idea around device communication that never got off the ground."

A later prototype in 2009 was able to use the touchscreen of the iPhone to be a computer mouse, as well as a way to "interact with photos, applications (the original TouchBar) and screensavers" on a Mac, Cannistraro claims.

By 2010, Cannistraro once again sat with Jobs about a version of the Remote app, one that allowed for the control of the Apple TV using swipes. He claims Jobs said at the time "Our next Apple TV Remote should be this without a screen."

Five years later, which Cannistraro attributed to Jobs' death pausing "lots of stuff," the Siri Remote was released, one that almost all Apple TV users are familiar with using, and employs the same control mechanic.

Despite the removal of the Remote for Apple TV from the App Store, Apple still maintains the iTunes Remote app, which is used to manage the playback of media in Apple Music, iTunes, and the Apple TV app on a Mac or a PC.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 28
    The Siri remote is absolutely the worst remote control I have ever used. One half of it is a touch surface that does undefined things when you touch it. There are no lights. It feels the same when you pick it up from either end in the dark. It is super small so it likes to slip down between the seats. The buttons are almost flush with the surface and arranged in a way that makes it hard to tell what you are pressing in the dark. It seems to have been designed by someone that does not have a home theater.
    elijahggregoriusmaderutterviclauyycMplsPjust cruisinllamacrowleyscreenscriber
  • Reply 2 of 28
    The Siri remote is absolutely the worst remote control I have ever used. One half of it is a touch surface that does undefined things when you touch it. There are no lights. It feels the same when you pick it up from either end in the dark. It is super small so it likes to slip down between the seats. The buttons are almost flush with the surface and arranged in a way that makes it hard to tell what you are pressing in the dark. It seems to have been designed by someone that does not have a home theater.
    I agree it is not a great remote but note that the new remote now has a raised button so you know its orientation by feel (including in the dark).  I simply glued a small furniture bumper on ours to do the same on an old one.
    steve_jobs
  • Reply 3 of 28
    JinTechJinTech Posts: 742member
    But but but but Steve Jobs had no bad ideas! /s
  • Reply 4 of 28
    The Siri remote is absolutely the worst remote control I have ever used. One half of it is a touch surface that does undefined things when you touch it. There are no lights. It feels the same when you pick it up from either end in the dark. It is super small so it likes to slip down between the seats. The buttons are almost flush with the surface and arranged in a way that makes it hard to tell what you are pressing in the dark. It seems to have been designed by someone that does not have a home theater.
    I agree. I hate it. Also, it has no mute button.
    gregoriusmllamayoyo2222
  • Reply 5 of 28
    I realize I’m in the apparent minority but I like the Siri Remote. I like that it’s small and doesn’t have a lot of buttons and I can use it without looking at it. My Control4 remote, by comparison, demands I look at it (the keys are backlit) because if I don’t I’m likely to push the wrong button. I don’t use the Control4 very much because of that.

    My only issue with it is when I first turn on the TV the remote doesn’t immediately connect and requires I click one of the buttons. The problem is that that click connects the remote but also performs whatever function would normally be associated with that click. For instance, if an app is selected on the screen but the remote hasn’t connected, clicking with connect the remote AND open the app. In most cases the function that is performed isn’t what I wanted to do and just adds some additional steps.
    mobirdaderuttertobiancornchipnoraa1138pscooter63StrangeDays
  • Reply 6 of 28
    tobiantobian Posts: 106member
    The Siri remote is absolutely the worst remote control I have ever used. One half of it is a touch surface that does undefined things when you touch it. There are no lights. It feels the same when you pick it up from either end in the dark. It is super small so it likes to slip down between the seats. The buttons are almost flush with the surface and arranged in a way that makes it hard to tell what you are pressing in the dark. It seems to have been designed by someone that does not have a home theater.
    One half of it is a touch surface, that does things when you touch it.. obviously. “Undefined” is definition of you not willing to learn how to use it.
    When you pick it up in the dark, you know it’s orientation by raised ring around menu button, which is just right where you rest your thumb. You can also feel rougher-than-glass surface on top.
    And it is super small.. so it likes to slip down between the seats, or you can eat it by mistake. It also means that it has super small battery, and most importnantly, you can’t beat your dog with it.
    edited October 2020 cornchipStrangeDays
  • Reply 7 of 28
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 2,944member
    Another vote of hate for the apple remote. It's a classic example of worrying more about the design and appearance than the actual function and usability. It's so thin and slippery that it's constantly sliding down between the cushions. We've already destroyed one that fell down and got crushed by the reclining mechansm. Unlike the TV remote, it's too small to comfortably hold in your hand, either.

    The trackpad section is a pain, too. It's better for scrolling quickly, but when you reach to grab the remote in the dark you invariably end to skipping forward or backward. What the trackpad does is also dependent on what you're watching - it does one thing with Disney Plus, but another thing with Netflix and something else with iTunes. 

    It may have a raised button on it, but that means fiddling around and trying to find the raised button to figure out which way it's supposed to go. It's such a pain that I virtually always use my phone as a remote.



    edited October 2020 elijahgflydogjust cruisin
  • Reply 8 of 28
    chasmchasm Posts: 2,340member
    I'm with ihatescreennames -- the "hate" for the Apple TV remote (fourth gen) is waaaaay overblown. I agree that the original design was not tactile enough, but they long ago fixed that (and it is easy to fix yourself), and I truly do appreciate the paucity of buttons (my cable remote has several dozen, and you can see over time that most of them are very rarely used except when accidentally pressed). Since I use my Apple TV remote frequently, I know where the buttons are in orientation, and what they do.

    Yes, I suppose they could have added a dedicated mute button (it already exists, just press and hold down volume -- or press the pause button, which instantly stops sound), but when I'm watching my Apple TV I am not watching any commercial channels, so the issue of "blaring commercials" never comes up, thus a greatly-reduced need to fiddle with the volume once the program starts.

    But for those who "hate" the Apple TV remote, chances are that you also "hate" all your other remotes -- so buy a universal remote, program everything into it, and quitcher bitchin.
    ihatescreennamespscooter63GeorgeBMacStrangeDaysllama
  • Reply 9 of 28
    dewmedewme Posts: 3,533member
    I’ve learned to tolerate the Apple TV remote since I found a silicone case for it. The case is grippy enough to keep it from burrowing into the couch cushions and secure it on an armrest. My only complaint now is that typing on the on-screen keyboard is still tedious, but ... I have to concede that the Siri voice control actually works quite well. It took me a while to come around to accepting it, but the Apple TV remote is now my primary interaction device on my family room TV because I can drive the Spectrum app with it. Between Spectrum, Apple TV+, Netflix, Prime Video, PBS Passport, Apple Music, and a wide collection of Apple TV apps, my little Apple TV remote in its silicone slipper is the only remote control I need most of the time. 
    pscooter63DogpersontobianStrangeDaysllama
  • Reply 10 of 28
    noraa1138noraa1138 Posts: 28unconfirmed, member
    I realize I’m in the apparent minority but I like the Siri Remote. I like that it’s small and doesn’t have a lot of buttons and I can use it without looking at it. My Control4 remote, by comparison, demands I look at it (the keys are backlit) because if I don’t I’m likely to push the wrong button. I don’t use the Control4 very much because of that.

    My only issue with it is when I first turn on the TV the remote doesn’t immediately connect and requires I click one of the buttons. The problem is that that click connects the remote but also performs whatever function would normally be associated with that click. For instance, if an app is selected on the screen but the remote hasn’t connected, clicking with connect the remote AND open the app. In most cases the function that is performed isn’t what I wanted to do and just adds some additional steps.
    I actually kind of like it too. Part of that may be because I attached a Tile to the bottom of the remote (since I have a tendency to misplace the remote), so I can easily tell which side is up and down. I also actually really like the trackpad part of the remote - I find it far faster and more effective than normal directional arrows.

    With that being said, it's far from a perfect remote, as it lacks certain basic functions such as a mute button, and is only useable for the Apple TV and not the TV itself. As such, I often find myself using the TV remote by default as it works with both the TV and the Apple TV. As such, if (and hopefully when) Apple redesigns the Apple TV remote they reenvision it as more of a universal remote.
  • Reply 11 of 28
    flydogflydog Posts: 926member
    chasm said:
    I'm with ihatescreennames -- the "hate" for the Apple TV remote (fourth gen) is waaaaay overblown.
    It’s a complete piece of crap. 
    just cruisin
  • Reply 12 of 28
    Another vote of love for Apple TV Remote. What I like about it is it’s simplicity. It makes traditional remote feels old. I can operate it without looking at it, and I never look at it apart from when lift it up (to see which way is which). From just a touch of my hand I can feel it’s functions, top left Back, top right Home, bottom right volume up and down, middle left Siri and bottom left Play/Pause (which I rarely use for that. I mostly use it to set audio to HomePod instead of my TV speakers). This is purely from my memory since I’m typing this at my office and my remote is at my home so you can tell every buttons already are ingrained into my muscle memory. 
    Grant my hand is small so it fits me perfectly.

    edited October 2020 tobian
  • Reply 13 of 28
    flydog said:
    chasm said:
    I'm with ihatescreennames -- the "hate" for the Apple TV remote (fourth gen) is waaaaay overblown.
    It’s a complete piece of crap. 
    It is what happens when form has precedence over functionality.
    elijahgGeorgeBMac
  • Reply 14 of 28
    I’m a minimalist...... but this is the worst remote ever
    edited October 2020 elijahgchristopher126
  • Reply 15 of 28
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 9,269member
    chasm said:
    I'm with ihatescreennames -- the "hate" for the Apple TV remote (fourth gen) is waaaaay overblown. I agree that the original design was not tactile enough, but they long ago fixed that (and it is easy to fix yourself), and I truly do appreciate the paucity of buttons (my cable remote has several dozen, and you can see over time that most of them are very rarely used except when accidentally pressed). Since I use my Apple TV remote frequently, I know where the buttons are in orientation, and what they do.

    Yes, I suppose they could have added a dedicated mute button (it already exists, just press and hold down volume -- or press the pause button, which instantly stops sound), but when I'm watching my Apple TV I am not watching any commercial channels, so the issue of "blaring commercials" never comes up, thus a greatly-reduced need to fiddle with the volume once the program starts.

    But for those who "hate" the Apple TV remote, chances are that you also "hate" all your other remotes -- so buy a universal remote, program everything into it, and quitcher bitchin.

    I think those deficiencies (or whatever you want to call them) are common to most Apple / Ive designed products -- as well as many modern products.
    Specifically, they achieve "simplicity" by eliminating buttons.   But then they give each button multiple, mostly hidden functions -- which to me, makes it even more complicated!   That is especially true in Apple's case since they don't publish a lot of manuals with their products to explain the function exists and how to use it.   Instead, you have to discover it (often by accident) and figure it out on your own.   And discovering it gets even more tricky when they make the function context sensitive -- sometimes it's there, and sometimes it's not.
  • Reply 16 of 28
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 11,157member
    I love the touch swipe surface of the remote, and it's leagues better than D-pad, click-based remotes. scrubbing video content via the touch surface is just that much better than toggling buttons and clicks. Siri commands such as "What did he say?" and "subtitles on" and "Find move XXXX" are awesome, and much faster than clicking around menus. My Harmony One is no longer used.

    Do I love the slippery symmetrical design that you can't orient with in the dark when first picking up? No. But I stopped whining, bought a $10 silicon case, and moved on with my life. Not I get the great functionality without the problems. 
    edited October 2020 christopher126
  • Reply 17 of 28
    dewmedewme Posts: 3,533member
    Mute function = long press on the “-“ button. 🙂
    llamachristopher126fastasleep
  • Reply 18 of 28
    jcs2305jcs2305 Posts: 1,173member
    I realize I’m in the apparent minority but I like the Siri Remote. I like that it’s small and doesn’t have a lot of buttons and I can use it without looking at it. My Control4 remote, by comparison, demands I look at it (the keys are backlit) because if I don’t I’m likely to push the wrong button. I don’t use the Control4 very much because of that.

    My only issue with it is when I first turn on the TV the remote doesn’t immediately connect and requires I click one of the buttons. The problem is that that click connects the remote but also performs whatever function would normally be associated with that click. For instance, if an app is selected on the screen but the remote hasn’t connected, clicking with connect the remote AND open the app. In most cases the function that is performed isn’t what I wanted to do and just adds some additional steps.
    In settings change what the TV button does. Instead of opening the TV app it can take you to the Home Screen instead. So now you can tap the TV button to wake the remote and there are no other inputs to worry about



  • Reply 19 of 28
    I realize I’m in the apparent minority but I like the Siri Remote. I like that it’s small and doesn’t have a lot of buttons and I can use it without looking at it. My Control4 remote, by comparison, demands I look at it (the keys are backlit) because if I don’t I’m likely to push the wrong button. I don’t use the Control4 very much because of that.

    My only issue with it is when I first turn on the TV the remote doesn’t immediately connect and requires I click one of the buttons. The problem is that that click connects the remote but also performs whatever function would normally be associated with that click. For instance, if an app is selected on the screen but the remote hasn’t connected, clicking with connect the remote AND open the app. In most cases the function that is performed isn’t what I wanted to do and just adds some additional steps.
    You are my TV remote spirit animal. I like most things about the remote, but the need to click a button to connect the remote only to have it trigger that action is fairly annoying. As is the lack of a mute button. Otherwise (for me) I feel like a few minor updates to improve some of these (and maybe a few other) minor usability issues would make the remote almost perfect (again for me).
  • Reply 20 of 28
    maestro64maestro64 Posts: 4,910member
    The Siri remote is absolutely the worst remote control I have ever used. One half of it is a touch surface that does undefined things when you touch it. There are no lights. It feels the same when you pick it up from either end in the dark. It is super small so it likes to slip down between the seats. The buttons are almost flush with the surface and arranged in a way that makes it hard to tell what you are pressing in the dark. It seems to have been designed by someone that does not have a home theater.
    I have to agree, at first I thought it would be great being a simple remote considering all the remotes with lots of buttons and how complicated they have gotten. But as you pointed out the fundamental failure of the Apple remote it has a poor tactile reference point, when you pick it up you can not immediately know if you are holding it correctly. You have to look at it closely to know you have the right side up. During the day this is less of an issue, but at knight when the lights are off and the only light source is the TV you can not tell which button is which easily this also makes it hard to develop rote memory with the remote. I can not tell you how many time I hit the touch pad point and caused a movie to pause, not move ahead of backwards. I allows for actions which you did not attend to happen.

    I use a Harmony remote today, and it simple enough to use and it controls all my electronics with one remote and I can easily use the remote in a dark room without every having to put an eye on the remove since I know where each key is just by touch.
    mobird
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