Monday, November 18, 2013

The Apple TV remote has a terrible UX

The Apple TV remote looks pretty but has an irritating UX:

  • The up/down/left/right control is a single continuous circular ring. Thus, there is no tactile feedback as to when you've moved from e.g the 'up' region to the 'right' region. If I try to move too quickly between directions, I often end up pressing the wrong button.
  • Compounding this problem, there is a button which occupies the entire center of the up/down/left/right ring whose function is 'select'. There is zero bevel separating the outer ring from this center button, so again, no tactile feedback whatsoever, and I routinely (accidentally) select something when I'm really trying to move up/down/left/right. This is irritating in a First World Problems sort of way, especially since there's a noticeable delay in opening the (accidentally selected) next screen, and in navigating back. (And for some reason, the back button is labeled 'menu', but let's ignore that for now.)

To compensate, one has to either be overly deliberate or look down at the remote, which makes using the device more of an awkward, tiptoeing experience, rather than a natural extension of my hand. And if you've ever used the remote, now that I'm pointing it out, you're probably realizing you've had the same problem.

Unlike a trackpad, a remote like this is fundamentally a discrete input device, like a keyboard, which have bevels on the home keys for good reason. Making the remote feel smooth and continuous is inappropriate and hurts usability.

We can debate how best to fix this particular product. But I have a more fundamental question--how did this get into production? I made the above observations after about 2 minutes of using the device. I am quite sure the geniuses at Apple could have designed an equally pretty remote without these usability problems. (Personally, I'd remove the center button and add a bevel or channel separating the up/down/left/right regions.) Form has to follow function at some point. Was this just a case of brainlessly following some design rules ("prefer smooth to bevels") without actually thinking about the consequences for the user?

In many ways, good design is not hard. All you have to do is pay a modicum of attention.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more. Thanks for finally saying it out loud.