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Hands-on with the Apple TV iPhone remote

Ben Drawbaugh

Around Engadget we're always looking for a better way to enjoy our HD home theater experience and a central part of that is the remote control. Now let us tell you, we've been through more programmable remotes then most people know exist and we still have yet to find one we're satisfied with. All that being said, we just can't believe that it's been well over a full year since capacitive touch screen devices have been readily available to consumers and no one other than Apple seems to understand the potential. As cool as touch screen interfaces look, for the most part they down right stink at controlling anything in a home theater. The root of the problem is that most require you to look at 'em, instead of the HDTV. This is such a bad idea on so many levels, but most of all, it doesn't work because just drawing a regular remote with buttons on a screen really defeats the entire point. Apple has shown it understands this in the past and with the latest update to its Apple TV/iTunes remote app it has stepped up its game a notch.

The beauty of the original Apple TV iPhone/iPod Touch remote is that it gives you a way to access the content on your Apple TV or Mac in a way that makes sense on a portable device. What we mean is that instead of giving you the same generic up, down, right and left buttons; you control it like it was an iPod. The problem however with this approach is that while it made it really easy to access the content, you still needed the regular IR remote to do other things like configure settings or search the online movie database.

To handle the rest of these duties Apple could've just as easily drawn the little IR remote on the screen and had you tap around to navigate the screen. The problem as we mentioned earlier is that you would've had to look down to find the virtual button -- can't feel for it after all -- then up to see what to select. So yeah, a receipt for nausea. So instead when you select the control button at the bottom of the screen, it takes you to a gesture area.

Now instead of looking down, you just flick your finger in the direction you want the cursor to move. You tap to select and drag and hold to scroll through a list. This not only works much better than the original remote, but it's intuitive and even adds new ways to control the Apple TV. For example, you can use the keyboard on the touch screen to type in a search query, and while watching video you can swipe down to change the scrub bar and now swiping right or left takes you to the next tick on the bar. On another note, there is also now a 10 second skip back button on the now playing screen that makes it easy to replay a segment -- although we wish there was also a 30 second skip forward button for those pesky ads.

The problem of course is that this application is limited to controlling the Apple TV and iTunes and obviously most of the content we enjoy on our HDTV isn't from either of those sources. So in other words we still wait for someone else to apply these concepts to a real universal remote. But hey, at least someone gets it.

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