The modern Apple TV features a very controversial remote. The Apple TV and Apple TV 4K use a trackpad-centric input method that inspires joy and causes frustration alike.
Whether you like it or hate it, what you might not know is there are actually many different ways to control the Apple TV. So if you don’t like the Siri Remote, one of these options might make you happy.
If you hate the Siri Remote because you find it hard to select things, these tips may help. The Siri remote has four buttons and a trackpad. Typically, you swipe on the trackpad to move between items and then click to select.
For more fine-grained control, you can tap (not click) the extreme top, left, bottom, and right edges to move one item in that direction. This mimics a D-Pad on a typical TV remote. If you don’t like the swiping, just tap, tap, tap, click.
(In most apps, you can skip back or forward fifteen seconds by clicking at the far-left or far-right of the trackpad while watching a video. You can also scroll quickly — more than just swiping — by running your finger up and down the right edge of the trackpad.)
You can also adjust the sensitivity of the remote’s trackpad in Settings. Go to Settings -> Remotes & Devices -> Touch Surface Tracking to change between Slow, Medium, and Fast modes which may make it easier for you to precisely navigate around the tvOS interface.
Also, the dictation capabilities of the Apple TV remote are decent. Rather than fight with the on-screen keyboard, just hold down the microphone button and say what you want to type. For password entry, you can speak a single character at a time. Outside of text input, you can use your voice to launch apps, check the weather, and search for something to watch using Universal Search.
Apple Infrared Remote
A remote option that is often overlooked is the ‘old’ Apple TV Remote, which Apple still sells for only $19. This remote relies on physical buttons so there’s no trackpad frustration possible. Use the arrow keys in the ring to move around and then click the center button to select.
The Apple Remote also includes a MENU button to go back and a Play/Pause toggle. Unlike the Siri Remote, you do not get volume control, a TV button, or Siri microphone input. The remote uses a cell battery rather than charging via Lightning. And because it uses Infrared rather than Bluetooth, you’ll need line of sight to the Apple TV to use it.
Any Infrared Remote
The Apple IR Remote just works with the fourth- and fifth-generation Apple TVs because it uses Apple’s default IR codes. However, you can actually make pretty much any IR remote control your Apple TV as tvOS includes a feature that lets it learn the IR sequences of any arbitrary remote.
To do this, open the Settings app and go to Remotes and Devices -> Learn Remote. The Apple TV will walk you through setting up each button in turn. Then, it will remember those settings and you can freely control the Apple TV interface. If you have an IR-based universal remote, or an old remote that you no longer use with a device, then this is the way to go.
Some companies are marketing third-party Apple TV remotes like this one from Salt, or a very similar model from Function. These remotes use the IR capabilities of the Apple TV to operate and have the same limitations: primarily line of sight required and the lack of microphone for voice input.
This is a very niche path. High-end universal remotes from Savant, and a few other manufacturers, now feature native HomeKit integration. This lets them control a nearby Apple TV over the network, not using Infrared. This protocol also supports audio, so if you have a remote with a microphone, that can work too.
Despite this program being announced many years ago, there are still only a handful of options on the market and they are quite expensive. Unless you already have a compatible HomeKit remote that you use to manage your smart home, this route isn’t really viable.
You can actually pair a Bluetooth keyboard with your Apple TV. It’s not just for entering text. You can navigate the entire Apple TV interface using the arrow keys and the Return key. When a text field is focused, just type like normal to quickly search for something.
To pair a Bluetooth keyboard, go to the Bluetooth pane in the Settings app and put your keyboard into pairing mode. It should automatically appear in the nearby devices list. Just click to connect.
Similar to using a Bluetooth keyboard, you can use a game controller with the Apple TV for more than playing games. The up-down-left-right navigation maps to the D-Pad and analog sticks of any connected game controller.
Apple has supported licensed MFi game controllers for many years. With tvOS 13, Apple added support for PlayStation DualShock 4 and Xbox Wireless controllers. Unfortunately, the embedded mics do not work.
iPhone or iPad Control Center Remote
Perhaps most conveniently, your iPhone and iPad include a virtual Apple TV remote as part of the operating system. Find it in Control Center. If you can’t see it, go to Settings -> Control Center and add the Apple TV Remote.
With the virtual remote, you can swipe around the touch screen as if it was the Siri Remote’s trackpad. The usual array of buttons appear as tappable on-screen controls. When you focus on a text field, the iOS device will present a keyboard and you can type to enter text.
When you are done, you can swipe up to dismiss the full-screen Apple TV Remote interface. If you leave the Remote visible and put the phone to sleep, it will conveniently still be there next time you wake the device — rather than showing the lock screen.
Will a future Apple TV include a redesigned remote?
Enough people are frustrated and annoyed by the current Apple TV remote to warrant changes. Personally, I think it would be a shame to abandon the trackpad altogether. It is very useful to be able to quickly flick through a long list, something that you notice even more when you switch to an alternative control method where you have to repeatedly press a button for every single item. If the remote was larger, the trackpad could be inset and surrounded by physical arrow buttons, almost like a square iPod click-wheel. Something like that could appease everyone.
As far as rumors are concerned, we are expecting a hardware refresh for the Apple TV sometime soon, featuring a more modern processor. However, it is currently expected to be a minor spec bump rather than a product overhaul, which suggests the Siri Remote will be sticking around for some time yet.
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