Posts tagged TV’s

The Apple TV’s Supposed New Touchpad Is A Terrible Idea

Apple’s rumored touchpad in its upcoming Apple TV remote control sounds like a horrendous idea. And yet, citing an anonymous source, the New York Times contends that the touch-friendly hardware will make its way into the handhelds joining the new streaming set-top box this summer.

The Times noted that the original version’s minimalistic design, which stripped away every button except for the bare functional necessities, exemplified the company’s approach to easy usability. But with the new addition, Apple could bring the remote in line with its other input products, namely its wireless Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad, both of which offer touch input.

See also: Apple TV Will Reportedly Get Siri And Apps—But There’s More In Store

On paper, it makes some sense. In real life? Maybe not so much.

Force Touching In The Dark

Here’s the problem: The Apple TV’s remote won’t head for desktop use. We grip the units with one hand, sometimes in the dark. Adding a touchpad or trackpad into that equation sounds like a recipe for frustration.

There’s also no word on what people are supposed to use touch pad for. Does Apple really, really want us to “Force Touch” our way through TV apps?

Speaking of features, the source made no mention of rumored Siri features, which are also supposed to land on the Apple set-top. Assuming the reports are true, we could be looking at a mess of inputs that together could pose some big problems for Apple’s living room play.

It Doesn’t Track

We tend to think of remote controls as dispensable and trivial. They can be, if you’re willing to reprogram a universal remote to support a standard issue model. The current generation Apple TV supports third-party remotes, for instance. But if Apple’s planning to slap specialized hardware in its new version, it’s not at all clear if the updated remote will follow suit.

That forces a reexamination of that humble remote. Turns out, those candy bar-shaped accessories aren’t so inconsequential after all. They’re the primary conduit between the TV or set-top and its users, and how well they work will inform a large part of the experience.

Consider this: When we binge-watch The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt or tune into Transparent, we often reach for our remotes quickly and grab without looking. A trackpad on a device that people fumble around with just begs for accidental finger flubs. Then whammo, you’re suddenly and inexplicably watching Love, Actually.

See also: Here Are The Best Ways To Watch HBO—Ahem, “Game Of Thrones”—Online

People who use their iPhones as touch-friendly TV remote controls already know this irritation, and gingerly handle their mobiles accordingly. Apple’s new remote might account for that by, say, activating the trackpad via a button trigger. But that would introduce complication, and might even require two-handed use—on a device people prefer to manage with one hand.

For Apple, whose push into the living room—and possibly the whole smart home—seems to hinge on its Apple TV, the stakes can get pretty high for that single accessory. It can’t afford to clutter that up.

The Horror Of Remotes

Not that remote controls aren’t in sore need of changes. Companies have tried for years. The simple devices our parents used have morphed into monstrosities riddled with dozens and dozens of keys and complex features that require programming.

But even Logitech, maker of some of the most advanced remote controls on the market, largely bypasses touchpads. Instead, most products come with a touchscreen, which can sleep when not in use.

The only touchpad or trackpad Logitech offers, in fact, is in the massive QWERTY Harmony Smart Keyboard, whose expansive control over computers, smart home appliances and televisions may justify its beastliness.

Talk To Me Instead

Features like Siri, Google Now and Cortana have infiltrated our phones, smartwatches, computers, homes and cars. Even Logitech, with its penchant for keys and touch, just joined the chorus. In March, the company linked up with smart home companies Ubi and Ivee to give its Harmony remotes the ability to understand your spoken smart home commands.

Nuance, a leader in voice technology, may be known commercially for its Dragon Dictation software, but it also powers Apple’s Siri, voice for Intel PCs and other systems. Now, thanks to the juice it has gotten in recent years, it’s turning its eyes toward security using voice biometrics. Imagine a smart home that unlocks your door for you because it recognizes your voice, or even a television that can switch parental profiles on or off depending on who’s talking to it. 

For basic functions, like search, talking to our TVs has become a popular trend now. Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Xbox One, Samsung Smart TVs and Android TV’s latest Nexus Player now all train customers to chat up their televisions.

The reason: the dreaded remote control search. Standard remotes were built for channel surfing, not pecking out search terms one character at a time. It’s no coincidence that voice’s rise among TV and set-top makers follows the fast growth of streaming OTT (or “over-the-top”) services.

TV apps have been hitting the scene in big waves, with even traditional cable providers, broadcasters and premium channels, like HBO, invading the space once occupied primarily by Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and others. With so many choices, navigating the options more easily isn’t just a feature—it has become a fundamental necessity.

It’s Not Remotely Easy

Not that voice is perfect. Even when systems can understand that you’re saying, most tend to have limitations that don’t let you search every title or fully command your TV or set-top box. But the technology is improving. And when it works, it makes couch surfing feel positively futuristic. Compared to that, a trackpad would come off like a relic. 

Apple may not have to choose. Rumors run high that its TV product, too, will get voice support via Siri integration. The NYT report mentions a possibly fatter remote. It might be large enough to house both a trackpad and a microphone, though the source didn’t mention that at all. But it’s very unlikely that the iPhone maker, which has trumpeted Siri since its inception, will ignore voice features. 

What we’d wind up with, then, is a single remote that foists no less than three different ways of interacting with the set-top box—via microphone, trackpad or the physical keys. It would be an odd move for a company known for criticizing the complexity of traditional remote controls.

Sure, Apple might find a way to make its new variation work, but it won’t be as easy as its current metal three-button remote. And it probably won’t be as much fun as commanding your television by talking to it. 

So much for simplicity. 

Photos by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite

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Cable TV’s Core Business Is No Longer Cable—It’s Broadband

For the first time, the leading cable TV operators’ broadband business edged out its TV figures last quarter, says a new report from the Leichtman Research Group

On the surface, the difference looks tiny—49,915,000 Internet subscribers versus 49,910,000 TV customers—but it’s a significant and definitive tipping point. Those Internet pipes are sure to become even more important as time goes on, much to the relief of cable providers watching streaming services chip away at their core service.

See also: With Time Warner, Comcast Wants Total Control Of The Internet Pipes

And what a secondary business online service has turned out to be. You’d be hard-pressed these days to find anyone who doubts that the future runs on Internet. Something has to feed all those streaming boxes, gaming consoles, smart home gadgets and laptops, after all. And cable companies are right there to control those pipes (for a healthy fee, of course).

Recode points out that broadband may be the real reason Comcast wants to buy Time Warner Cable. The former argues that the deal would only put 30% of the nation’s cable business under its control—not significant enough to raise concerns. What should is that the deal would lump together a bigger share of the broadband market—as much as 40%. Comcast, of course, tries to downplay that, saying in June that it’s more like 35%.

Either way, traditional TV entertainment just got definitively upstaged. We brace ourselves now, waiting to see how the cable giants turn more of their attention to the bigger business of controlling our data pipes. 

Lead photo courtesy of Shutterstock

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