Compared: Apple's second-generation Siri Remote versus predecessors

Posted:
in iPod + iTunes + AppleTV edited June 11
Apple has evolved its remote control over time, with each iteration introducing physical improvements and better features. After launching the second-generation Siri Remote, has Apple created its best controller?

Apple's history of remote controls
Apple's history of remote controls


As part of its "Spring Loaded" special event, Apple updated the Apple TV 4K with some new specifications, but the biggest news about it wasn't the Apple TV itself, but its controller. Apple refined the design of the Siri Remote, updating it to answer numerous complaints it had about the first generation.

The introduction of the new remote also only Apple's fourth real attempt to craft the ideal remote control for its users in 16 years. With so few examples of remote controls, it's worth taking a moment to see where Apple started with its original Apple Remote to truly understand where Apple has gone with the latest iteration.

Remote design is (apparently) hard

You may think that four remote controls in 16 years is a tiny number for a company that brings out so many new devices every year. To a point, you would be right, but Apple has quite a few reasons not to be concerned about redesigning it every year.

The main thing to bear in mind is that it's supposed to be the main point of interaction for a set-top box-style experience. Whether watching movie trailers on Front Row at a distance from a MacBook in the early years or controlling the latest Apple TV in the living room, it all centers around that one remote control.

To create the design, Apple has to consider so many factors, including what it is, how it is intended to be used, and how experienced with technology its intended audience is at the time. Since it's also a controller used by people who aren't technology-inclined, they also have to be made to be as easily understood as possible.

The first Apple Remote (First from the left), the second Apple Remote, the refreshed first-generation Siri Remote, the second-generation Siri Remote.)
The first Apple Remote (First from the left), the second Apple Remote, the refreshed first-generation Siri Remote, the second-generation Siri Remote.)


Furthermore, Apple also tries to make the controller as simple in its design as it can. Unlike the remote you use with your TV, Apple errs to using as few buttons as possible for a relatively uncluttered appearance.

Balancing those factors, especially in combining features and functionality with simplicity, is tough to pull off, yet Apple tries.

We're also talking about a remote control designed to be used by millions of people worldwide. Releasing many different designs in quick succession could confuse even existing Apple users if they visit someone else's house and see a different controller design.

This is the same experience you would find if you visited a friend or colleague's home and discover they use the same cable or satellite TV service as you do. The remote control is almost certainly going to be identical, and therefore it will be familiar to you.

Add in that people are more likely to keep their set-top boxes for far longer periods of time than some other technologies, and it makes more sense for Apple to avoid changing the design too quickly.

There's simply no need for it to do so at a rapid pace.

2005 - First-generation Apple Remote

The earliest remote Apple produced was the Apple Remote, a simple rectangular white plastic controller with a black edge at the top. It was a cheap and highly compact remote that did the job, allowing you to control media on a nearby Mac that had a built-in infrared sensor and attach it to the side of that iMac with an integrated magnet.

The first Apple Remote resembled an early iPod Shuffle.
The first Apple Remote resembled an early iPod Shuffle.


Long-time Apple users would have used it to control music playback or a movie, and it was a familiar tool back in the day when Apple typically included optical drives in its hardware. A few years after release, if you were lucky enough to have an iPod and a dock with an infrared sensor, you could even control your iPod's music from a few feet away.

For business users, it also had the more utilitarian purpose of being used to control presentations.

The design will also be very familiar to those same Apple users who bought iPods, as it had many of the design cues of the iPod Shuffle, with its rounded edges and tubular construction. The buttons from the front used the same design as early Shuffle models and even shared the same core functionality.

Though you had only six buttons, there was still a lot of functionality available, as many buttons had multiple uses. For example, a circle of buttons could handle volume and navigation through media and handle directional navigation in menus. Meanwhile, the central play and pause button could be used for confirming a selection.

The remote differed in its layout from the iPod Shuffle by having an extra round Menu button, an addition that would hang around Apple's remotes for a few more versions.

Naturally, for a remote control of the time, Apple allowed users to change the CR2032 button-cell battery, which slid out of the base on a tray after being poked by a paper clip.

2009 - Second-generation Apple Remote

For Apple's second stab at a remote, it decided to make a remote that was more remote-like to go with the living room nature of the Apple TV. Gone was the white plastic, in favor of a longer aluminum controller that borrowed from Apple's anodized metal design aesthetic.

The second Apple Remote was a major departure from the design of the first.
The second Apple Remote was a major departure from the design of the first.


Like the first version, it offered users a circular main control that responded in the four cardinal directions, though they were labeled with dots rather than with icons detailing exactly what they did. It was likely Apple thought users could easily intuit that it could be used to navigate and perform media control functions simply from the location on the circle.

While the circular element had a central button, Apple, in fact, moved the Play/Pause button over to its own dedicated button, next to the returning Menu button.

Outside of some cosmetic changes and button alterations, the remote acted pretty much like the first. An infrared transmitter on the top, this time hidden within a recess instead of using a black translucent bar, beamed instructions off to the Apple TV and other compatible devices it was pointed at.

Not all changes to the Apple Remote were necessarily positive. While the first remote used a pop-out tray for the battery to be replaced, Apple instead had a circular door on the rear accessible using a coin for CR2032 battery changes.

The first Apple Remote had a pop-out battery tray in the base. The second had a coin-unlockable door for the battery. Both Siri Remotes have fixed batteries recharged via Lightning.
The first Apple Remote had a pop-out battery tray in the base. The second had a coin-unlockable door for the battery. Both Siri Remotes have fixed batteries recharged via Lightning.


This alteration may have disturbed the sleek and minimal appearance of the new Apple Remote, but it was only a minor flaw in the controller.

The remote remained usable with the Apple TV up to the third generation of the device, but for the fourth-generation models and the introduction of tvOS, Apple wanted to go down a different direction.

2015 - First-generation Siri Remote

With the switch to a more app-centric fourth-generation Apple TV, Apple took the opportunity to overhaul the remote control. The result is its third remote design, the first to use the name "Siri Remote."

For the third iteration, Apple decided to bring touch-based interactions to the Apple TV. It does this by doing away with the circular button collection in favor of a touch-sensitive glass surface near the top.

The first release of the Siri Remote with the first fourth-generation Apple TV
The first release of the Siri Remote with the first fourth-generation Apple TV


Sensitive to swipes and taps, the touch control provided far more freedom of directional control than in previous versions. This included swipes to scroll through lists or menu options, a press-click to select, and a long hold down for certain functions, like repositioning app icons on the home screen.

While a touch-centric experience, Apple still retained a total of six distinct buttons on the remote, excluding the touch surface click. These buttons include the Menu, a dual-purpose Apple TV App and Home button, a volume rocker, Play/Pause, and a Siri button.

The Siri button enabled users to speak into the remote control, which is then transmitted to the Apple TV. As well as enabling users to ask Siri queries, such as to trigger HomeKit functions. It also allowed users to search quickly without spending long periods typing in search terms using the touch surface.

The remote was able to do this because of two other design changes, with the inclusion of a microphone at the top of the remote itself.

The other element was its communication to the Apple TV itself. While earlier remote versions relied on infrared, the Siri Remote had support for both IR and Bluetooth 4.0, with the latter able to handle audio for Siri queries.

This offers multiple benefits, including using the remote without actually pointing it at the Apple TV. The IR system also enabled the remote to control the volume of a TV by transmitting the same volume-up and volume-down commands as the TV's own remote.

There were also motion controls built into the remote, intended for some gaming apps, though developers didn't really use it. By the release of tvOS 10, Apple didn't require Apple TV games to directly support the remote and instead could use compatible game controllers.

All of these feature changes were accompanied by a major overhaul of its visuals. Somewhat matching the physical design of some iPad and iPhone models, Apple elected for a thin and flat controller, with an aluminum enclosure capped off with a black top surface.

This resulted in an extremely thin device, at a mere 0.25 inches thick, which also forced Apple into another design change relating to power. Unlike previous models, the Siri Remote includes a non-removable battery, rechargeable using the Lightning port on the base.

And, it was not well received, if for no other reason than it not being able to tell which way was "up" in the dark easily given the symmetry of the device. Apple would make a minor change shortly after release to "fix" that problem with the remote.

2017 - First-generation Siri Remote, take two

Two years after its release, coinciding with the launch of the Apple TV 4K, Apple made some tweaks to the first-generation Siri remote. While technically it's a new remote, its design alterations make it more of a refinement than the previous version, rather than a whole new generation of device.

Apple's changes were small but improved the user experience of the Siri Remote.

Visually similar, the revised version includes a tell-tale white ring around the Menu button.
Visually similar, the revised version includes a tell-tale white ring around the Menu button.


Firstly, the Menu button gained a bold white ring that extended above the button's surface. Quite simply, this was a visual and tactile way for users to know that they were holding the remote the right way.

The only other change with the remote was Apple adding more motion control support to it, allowing the remote to be more easily used with some games produced for the Apple TV. While motion was a small part of the user experience in the first iteration, Apple seemingly wanted to give developers more opportunities to use the functionality.

2021 - Second-generation Siri Remote

With the update to the Apple TV in April, Apple took the chance to update the Siri Remote once again, shaking up the design of a peripheral that had been the subject of complaints from users for various elements.

The second-generation Siri Remote brings back the clickwheel, with added touch capabilities.
The second-generation Siri Remote brings back the clickwheel, with added touch capabilities.


Unlike the 2017 refresh, Apple's alterations to the Siri Remote are much more substantial in its second generation. You could say that the design is a mash-up of the aesthetic of the second-generation Apple Remote and the capabilities of the first-generation Siri Remote.

For a start, Apple has gone for an all-aluminum enclosure, with greater contrast for the buttons and surfaces. At the top, the square touch surface has been replaced by a revival of the circular clickpad, which this time includes touch sensitivity for swipes and other fine-grain actions.

You can even use a circular gesture on the outer ring, which Apple suggests could be used for searching through video for the correct scene.

Below the clickpad are six buttons, but with a difference. The TV/Home button, Play/Pause, and volume rockers return but are accompanied by dedicated Mute and Back buttons. The front panel has one extra button at the top for power.

Though not on the front, there's still a button for summoning Siri, but this time it's on the right-hand side. This arrangement mimics how iPhone users can summon Siri by holding the side button on their mobile devices.

The button to summon Siri is now on the side.
The button to summon Siri is now on the side.


Like the previous model, it has both IR and Bluetooth, this time upgraded to Bluetooth 5.0.

Continuing from the first-generation model, the Siri Remote still uses a built-in battery and relies on a Lightning port for recharging.

Not all changes are additions for this remote. This time around, Apple has seemingly given up on game developers using the Siri Remote for gaming and has left out any and all forms of accelerometer or gyroscope components, eliminating its use for gameplay.

Given the ample support for third-party controllers in tvOS, as well as scant support for the remote in games anyway, it seems like a logical removal for Apple to perform.

Is it worth the upgrade?

Owners of the fourth-generation Apple TV and the Apple TV 4K will be pleased to hear that the newest Siri Remote is backward compatible and will work with those models without issue. This does raise the question of whether it is worth shelling out for a new remote control.

Putting the remotes side-by-side show just how long the newest version is versus its predecessors.
Putting the remotes side-by-side show just how long the newest version is versus its predecessors.


Generally speaking, it's probably not worth the move for existing users, and it comes down to cost. If you buy the updated Apple TV, you get the new remote with it automatically, but you could also buy the new Siri Remote on its own for $59.

There are certainly new features that will be welcomed, such as the mute button, the potentially easier-to-use clickwheel touchpad, and the potential remote-finding functionality. Some may even find the mere certainty of knowing which way around to hold the remote is a massive pain point to be removed from their user experience.

The overall design is certainly better in terms of accessibility, considering the move to a clickwheel and the button changes. For everyone else, it's just tough to justify paying out nigh on $60 for a few relatively minor quality of life changes, especially considering that your iPhone has the best remote functionality for the Apple TV over all of these presented here.

If you have an Apple TV HD, don't bother buying the new Siri Remote outright. You're far better off putting the $59 towards the cost of a new Apple TV 4K that also has the remote, as that will put you a third of the way to a bigger overall upgrade.
Graeme000
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 29
    Nice article. I don’t think we should downplay just how awful the trackpad was. As much as I love Apple, I viscerally hate that remote. 
    I’m not alone in this, this is common for cyclists using Zwift. If you had the smallest bit of sweat on your thumb, no play. It in fact astonishes me that they sold it for so long. I don’t think it’s unfair to say this was a poor move. 
    As a side, ah Apple TV & TV setup is probably the cheapest yet most immersive Zwift setup. Similar price to an iPad I guess but much better. If you’re a cyclist, give it a go!
    mariowincowilliamlondoncornchipBeatsgilly33pscooter63GeorgeBMacelijahg
  • Reply 2 of 29
    The second generation Siri looks like a huge improvement. I can second how frustrating the trackpad was, including how oversensitive it was especially when handling the remote by its edges. The mute button is also a no-brainer, but I can't say I will spring for the new version. I finally broke down and got a $12 GE universal remote so I can use my AppleTV and my TV itself on the same remote. What a concept. While it is somewhat less elegant and not perfect, it's vastly more convenient. The only thing I miss is using voice commands for searches on various apps, but the original Siri remote can be kept nearby for that. 
    Sometimes, in its quest for minimalist design, Apple has a tendency to sweep away useful functions you actually want and need. I think that's the story of the remote. With all of their thoughtful design, there's nobody who asks the simple question, "What do people need to do with this thing?"
    twokatmew
  • Reply 3 of 29
    auxioauxio Posts: 2,343member
    Agreed on the 1st gen Siri remote being awful.  Slips out of your hand far too easily.  Once they put the remote app on the iPhone I never used it again.  I'm looking forward to trying out the new remote.

    I finally broke down and got a $12 GE universal remote so I can use my AppleTV and my TV itself on the same remote. What a concept.
    Yeah, I had a Logitech Harmony remote for years for the same reason.  But ever since I cut the cord on cable TV, and switched to a home theatre setup for my sound, I find that the only thing I really need to do on my TV these days is switch HDMI connections.  And even then, I have it down to two connections now, with the Apple TV being the connection I use the vast majority of the time.  If I keep my TV on the Apple TV connection, then the TV will turn on automatically when I wake the Apple TV (and turn off when it does).
    twokatmew
  • Reply 4 of 29
    crowleycrowley Posts: 8,816member
    I still have one of the white plastic ones around somewhere.  It came with the iMac G5, which seems like a weird inclusion now.  Back when Front Row was a thing.
    patchythepiratellamaStrangeDays
  • Reply 5 of 29
    imagladryimagladry Posts: 96member
    A few points of consider that I believe in to some degree.

    Confusion with too many releases of remote: iPad/iPhone/Macs have annual releases and few complain about confusion. Apple updates the OSes every year and few complain about confusion.

    Revenue? Not that it would be significant dent Apple revenue but with an annual release of the remote there are some people would pay the money to have the latest and greatest.


    Find My - The remote really needs a Find My or even a beeper so it could sound off for Find My. Externally. there would be an extra hole for the sound to better resonate.

    For a while I was using using ATV weekly. I would lose the remote. I had to use the iPhone remote. I would find the remote deep in the couch or under a stack of something. Eventually, the remote got scooped up in a pile of something, So, the remote is no more,

    gilly33
  • Reply 6 of 29
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 3,304member
     Not all changes to the Apple Remote were necessarily positive. While the first remote used a pop-out tray for the battery to be replaced, Apple instead had a circular door on the rear accessible using a coin for CR2032 battery changes.” How is that not a positive? Apple made the battery more easily accessible and easier to change. Are you that worked up about a round door on the back of the remote? You’re falling into Apple’s trap of worrying more about how something looks than how it functions.

    Unlike the remote you use with your TV, Apple errs to using as few buttons as possible” - this was one of the major flaws. While too many buttons causes problems, having too few can be equally problematic; if you have to remember and distinguish between multiple functions for a single button it paradoxically adds complexity. There’s a happy medium to be had. I think Apple probably hit it with either the Siri remote or the latest version.

    The touchpad was a vast improvement for entering text with the onscreen keyboard, but like others I found that convenience to be completely negated by the continual frustration of inadvertent touches and swipes. It was also fragile, breaking if dropped on a hard surface.

    Overall, the remotes are a great study in aesthetics interfering with function. The remotes looked nice but they were too small, thin and slippery meaning they continually slid between the cushions. We had one ruined when it slid down and got mashed by the recliner mechanism. They were also too small to comfortably hold in your hand and the Siri remotes were impossible to orient without actually looking at them. I’ve seen several people suggest getting a silicone case for the remotes which helps, but if a device requires an accessory to make it easy to use then it’s a design failure, IMO.

    I need to get a new AppleTV to replace the old 3rd gen ATV we currently have. I’ll see if the new remote is any better but I may end up doing like others and getting a universal remote.
    elijahg
  • Reply 7 of 29
    EberhartEberhart Posts: 3unconfirmed, member
    I love the article so fun!!

    The top photo kind-of implies the white circle Siri remote came before the older Siri remote, though the story corrects it. :-)
    sdw2001WgkruegerGraeme000
  • Reply 8 of 29
    sdw2001sdw2001 Posts: 17,714member
    I have used all of these remotes to varying degrees.  Given that my Apple TV 4K remote seems to have crapped out just last week, I think I may be in the market.  And agreed on the Siri remote and even the 2017 redesign being awful.  I'm constantly overshooting a selection, picking it up backwards, dropping it, etc.  It also falls into my couch constantly.  
  • Reply 9 of 29
    Good article!  We are going to really miss the Siri remote with the touchpad.  Best remote ever. We’re sorry that some people have had so much trouble using it, but we love it. Only remote we use.
    emoellerBeatsgilly33Graeme000
  • Reply 10 of 29
    JapheyJaphey Posts: 905member
    imagladry said:
    Revenue? Not that it would be significant dent Apple revenue but with an annual release of the remote there are some people would pay the money to have the latest and greatest.

    I agree. It might drive wider adoption of the Apple TV if they could find a way to accessorize it. Upgraded remotes, FaceTime camera add-ons, game controllers, fitness devices.  Maybe not annually, but definitely more often than the ATV itself gets upgraded. 
    Beats
  • Reply 11 of 29
    emoelleremoeller Posts: 529member
    I've had every TV and the last two remote  versions worked very well for me.   Sensitivity could be adjusted in Preferences and, like all things Apple, once I became used to its functionality it just worked!   I currently have three of them (two 4K and one HD), but only one 4k tv at this point.    I'll be getting the new 4k TV 64Gb once my remodel is completed when I get a new 4k (or 8k?) TV.



    pscooter63Graeme000StrangeDays
  • Reply 12 of 29
    BeatsBeats Posts: 2,550member
    HUGE downgrade with this new remote. I don’t get why they couldn’t keep the clickwheel but still cover the top of the remote with a black touch box. This would have made the remote look a lot nicer.

    We never had a problem with the Siri touchpad and the remote was just a BEAUTY. I was at the time living with family and the kids were 5 and 8 and they had ZERO problems so it strikes me as odd that adults are having trouble with it. We still use this remote to this day and it’s the best remote ever made.

    One time I was house sitting for a friend and she had a Roku. I was so spoiled by the touchpad and reality slammed me to the ground when I used the horrendous buttons on her Roku to enter text. A phrase that would take 30 seconds to type took about 3 minutes on the Roku (think YouTube specific videos like “cat jumps over a picket fence”).

    emoeller said:
    I've had every TV and the last two remote  versions worked very well for me.   Sensitivity could be adjusted in Preferences and, like all things Apple, once I became used to its functionality it just worked!   I currently have three of them (two 4K and one HD), but only one 4k tv at this point.    I'll be getting the new 4k TV 64Gb once my remodel is completed when I get a new 4k (or 8k?) TV.




    Not only that, a $1 case fixes most user problems people complain about while still looking beautiful.



    These were glow in the dark, offered protection and fixed orientation confusion.

    Also Apple could have fixed sensitivity issues with a software update(if low sensitivity wasn’t low enough and fix this side-touch problem I heard about). Instead we get this ugly, thicker remote with less functionality. I just hope Apple keeps it on the market because it they don’t I can see the prices skyrocketing on EBay.
    edited May 3 pscooter63Graeme000StrangeDays
  • Reply 13 of 29
    ratmat2000ratmat2000 Posts: 12member
    It would have been nice if Apple could have simply admitted their design flaws with the 1st generation Siri remote and replaced it in the following iteration cycle. Making us live with it for 4 years was an abomination. I can't count how many times I picked the remote up by the wrong end or accidentally swiped some set of gestures and buttons that landed me back to the home screen instead of my intended action. Trying to jog shuttle (fast forward/rewind) with any kind of precision was impossible. I think Apple has finally admitted that with some devices, tactile controls and feedback are more important than the allure of glass and smooth aluminum.

    One final piece of feedback: "Apple definitely clarify whether the new Siri remote has some kind of Where the $%^& is My Remote feature." If it does, just tell us. If it doesn't, what could you possibly have been thinking given the simultaneous launch of AirTags? If it does not, please take the current remote control design team to the woodshed. They have wasted too many years our lives.  
    edited May 3
  • Reply 14 of 29
    pscooter63pscooter63 Posts: 1,058member
    I’m with Beats on this one.  Nothing wrong with the remote that a cheapie silicone case couldn’t solve.  I love mine, not so in love with the aesthetic of the new one (though all of them owe a little to Bang & Olufsen).
    Graeme000dewme
  • Reply 15 of 29
    I’m with Beats on this one.  Nothing wrong with the remote that a cheapie silicone case couldn’t solve.  I love mine, not so in love with the aesthetic of the new one (though all of them owe a little to Bang & Olufsen).
    So you love it as long as it has a rubber case to make it usable? Also, you're find with the precision for fast forward and rewind?
    muthuk_vanalingamdocno42
  • Reply 16 of 29
    Graeme000Graeme000 Posts: 12member
    I have also really loved the Siri remote and never had an issue with the touchpad. Scrolling through things quickly is so easy. And using Siri instead of typing something in, then using the touch to adjust it if necessary, really has never been a problem. So much easier than using buttons on a remote. 
    StrangeDays
  • Reply 17 of 29
    tomasulutomasulu Posts: 51member
    This is what’s so frustrating about Apple. They’re the worst victim of their reality distortion field. Even a terrible design like the Apple TV remote escaped improvement or change for years. That remote is so terrible it’s borderline defective. 
    edited May 4 docno42
  • Reply 18 of 29
    chasmchasm Posts: 2,399member
    For the record, I’ve not had any trouble at all with the 4K remote. It’s not genius, but it works fine for me. I appreciate the simplicity of it, and the touchpad.

    But I’ll likely get the new remote (or possibly just buy the new AppleTV and sell my present one) because of the one and ONLY thing I hate about the 4K remote:

    NO MUTE BUTTON!! Grrrrr …
  • Reply 19 of 29
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 10,441member
    chasm said:
    For the record, I’ve not had any trouble at all with the 4K remote. It’s not genius, but it works fine for me. I appreciate the simplicity of it, and the touchpad.

    But I’ll likely get the new remote (or possibly just buy the new AppleTV and sell my present one) because of the one and ONLY thing I hate about the 4K remote:

    NO MUTE BUTTON!! Grrrrr …

    I am of the opposite opinion.
    The touchpad feels clunky and inaccurate.  On a DVD I'll often use fast forward or backward but that is much more difficult to hit the right spot using the touchpad remote.
    And, the simplicity comes from removing buttons.   But I find that only makes it LOOK simple.  In practice it makes it more complex because either they end up giving a button multiple purposes ("double tap to...",  "Tap and hold to....") which I don't want to be bothered to memorize  or the function just isn't available at all.   While I find that my DVD has too many buttons (why would I want to tilt the image?) the Apple remote errs by having too few.
    docno42
  • Reply 20 of 29
    neilmneilm Posts: 912member
    I’m amazed at how little care some of you commenters seem to take of your stuff. Losing the remote inside your couch or under a stack of stuff, crunching it in a recliner mechanism, etc. Don’t you have a place to keep these things, or are you planning an appearance on that TV show about hoarders?
    GeorgeBMacStrangeDays
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