There has been a lot of chatter recently regarding the assumed upgrade of Apple TV. A lot of the discussion and conjecture has been about price ($99), OS (iOS), hardware (smaller form factor, no physical hard drive), and release date (September). What interests me (naturally, as an interaction designer) is the interface, and how it will be controlled.
Using iOS for the new Apple TV is not a trivial task. Moving from a touch based UI (iPhone, iPad) to a focus based, 10-foot interface does not offer a direct translation. Thankfully, they are both “low resolution” interfaces (as opposed to a cursor based OS, which is high resolution. Apple’s recently unveiled patents on this are interesting). Android has kind of solved this, albeit jankily, on devices that contain a touch screen and a rollerball nub.
That being said, I do believe the interface for the new Apple TV will retain the focus based interaction it currently has. So the question becomes, how do you improve the experience of controlling it?
John Gruber and Dan Benjamin (on The Talk Show, episode 4) brought up a good point about remotes: although it may be possible to control the Apple TV with an iPhone or iPad, that can’t be the only way. I agree that Apple would never require a user to have an iPhone / iPad in order to use their Apple TV.
I think ultimately, Apple TV will be able to be controlled in a variety of ways. Keep in mind this is pure conjecture.
Default: Apple Remote
Every new Apple TV will come packaged with a simple, cheap remote. Very similar to the current Apple Remote, with one key distinction: the 5-way directional pad is replaced with the classic iPod scroll wheel. I believe this would improve the remote tremendously, and am a little surprised it hasn’t been this way all along. Scrolling long lists would be a breeze, as opposed to the tap-tap-tapping required on the old remote. Plus, it’s an interface hundreds of millions of people are already familiar with. Another added advantage of the scroll wheel is it makes seeking / scrubbing through videos infinitely easier. One minor change: the track advance forward/backwards buttons on the right and left sides of the scroll wheel would be replaced with left and right arrows (for navigating horizontal options). Lastly, the remote should connect with Bluetooth, not IR. If the Apple TV does in fact have a smaller form factor, people will be more inclined to tuck it out of visible sight.
Option 1: Bluetooth Keyboard and Trackpad
This is kind of an oddball option, but interesting nonetheless. I personally think the Magic Trackpad is a little weird to use on a desktop machine, but it could turn in to a killer remote. A lot of the gestures translate well, like swiping to scroll and tapping to select. Other gestures have potential as well. When an item is highlighted, the user could pinch outward to reveal details about the item, for example.
In this scenario, a bluetooth keyboard could be connected as well. Nothing is more excruciating than attempted to enter text with a traditional tv remote, and the physical keyboard would ease the pain.
Option 2: iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad
The no brainer option is to use a preexisting iOS device. Using an iPhone as a remote is not a novel concept: Boxee has a remote app for controlling their media center, and of course Apple has their own Remote app for controlling iTunes. These two apps take different approaches. Boxee attempts to mimic a traditional remote by offering a touch version of the 5-way directional pad, while Apple’s Remote app translates the program’s (in this case iTunes) interface to the screen of the device. Both of these solutions have their merits, but I am more partial to the later. Why use one device to select something on a different device when the manipulation is able to occur directly on the original device? Sounds kind of like, using a mouse to select something on a screen instead of just tapping the object on the screen directly.
Using an iOS device as a remote also opens up some pretty awesome “interactive tv” options. Kevin Rose touched on that a bit on his blog.
Option 3: Game Controller
This one is the least realistic (for Apple at least) but the most fascinating. Apple was able to elbow its way into the mobile gaming market, why not console gaming? Having an App Store on my tv with a huge selection of inexpensive, indie games is a very exciting prospect, but the problem is, all of the above remote options make horrible game controllers. iPhones and iPads are great in some contexts (like for storing Scrabble tiles, or being used like a Wii remote), but they break down as a traditional controller. The lack of tactile feedback is its undoing. So, why not an Apple made, bluetooth game controller? Can’t say they haven’t been there before:
Update: It appears that the current Apple Remote App is already capable of controlling the current Apple TV. It looks like it essentially turns the iPhone into a touchpad. More details here. Thanks to reader Dov for the heads up.
August 24, 2010 / 108 notes