Although the Apple TV 4K is a great streaming box, its remote control is—to put it lightly—polarizing.
The symmetrical design is too easy to hold upside down, and it’s so thin that it often slips between couch cushions. Meanwhile, the touchpad at the top rejects your feeble attempts at precision; you often over- or undershoot whatever on-screen icon you were attempting to press.
Now, a leading maker of remote controls for cable companies is stepping in to fix the remote itself. Universal Electronics’s Apple TV remote has a proper directional pad instead of a touchpad, along with dedicated buttons for pause, fast forward, and rewind. It also looks a lot heftier than Apple’s remote, so it has less of a chance of getting lost inside the couch. (The news was first reported by Matthew Keys of The Desk.)
Universal Electronics isn’t offering the remote to existing Apple TV users, though. Instead, the company plans to sell branded versions of the remote to cable companies, some of which have started distributing Apple TVs to their customers instead of cable boxes. (Spectrum, for instance, now offers its streaming video services on Apple TV and allows customers to pay for the $180 box in 24 monthly installments.)
To that end, Universal Electronics has added some extra buttons not found on the regular Apple TV remote. There’s a button for bringing up the TV provider’s channel guide, buttons for flipping between channels, and a dedicated mute key. The remote also includes backlighting and uses an ambient light sensor to illuminate the buttons when someone picks up the remote in a dark room.
This isn’t the only third-party attempt at building a better Apple TV. You can easily find others with dedicated directional pads, mute buttons, and playback controls, such as this $25 remote from a company called One for All. But those other remotes all communicate with the Apple TV via infrared, which is less reliable than Bluetooth and requires line of sight to the box. They also lack a Siri button for voice commands.
By contrast, the Universal Electronics remote is certified under Apple’s MFi program and supports both Bluetooth control and Siri. It appears to be the first one of its kind.
Personally, I don’t mind the regular Apple TV remote—or at least, I recognize that the touchpad has its advantages for scrolling through menus—but as someone who writes a lot about cord cutting, I’ve talked to a lot of folks who despise it. In general, the minimalist remotes of streaming devices can be a turn-off to people who’ve spent decades controlling a cable box, and the Apple TV remote is as minimalist as they get.
It’s all the more disappointing, then, that Universal Electronics’s remote will be sold to cable companies instead of consumers. But with a new Apple TV rumored for next year, we can at least hope Apple’s taking notes.