Editorial: Using iOS Devices As Television Controllers

The long-rumored Apple television set has been talked about at length recently, with sources for the WSJ suggesting that the new television would potentially have some novel functionality that would perhaps be inherited from the current generation Apple TV. Some notable new features would be the inclusion of Siri, voice and gesture based controls and streaming content from the cloud.

One of the key features would be a TV ‘that would be controlled by Apple mobile devices in order to be easier to use and more personalized’. Now, that is a very interesting statement and it opens up a range of questions as to how Apple would see this type of interaction taking place. Is it as simple as using an iOS device as a remote control? Probably not.

While iOS control sounds like a good idea for an Apple Television, it’s really not. For one, you currently have to unlock your iOS device before you do anything with it, so imagine you have to do that every time you want to do something simple like changing the channel (use your iPod with your current gen Apple TV and you’ll get the idea). A physical remote control will probably always be required for functions like this, unless you want your iPad or iPod battery drained pretty quickly with an ‘always-in’ approach.

However, thinking deeper into this ‘more personalized’ approach could bring up the concept of a more complex mirroring interface with the iPad and the Apple Television. An example of the most simple mirroring concept is that of streaming a movie from the iPad to the Apple Television but it could potentially be more complicated than this. If the Apple Television were to have the ability to run ‘apps’ while paired with an iPad, then you start to see the potential for a dedicated control interface displayed on the iPad with the app itself displayed on the television. It would almost bring touchscreen potential to a television set without having to touch it. Imagine THAT potential.

Of course, I could be reading too much into this but it would be exciting to see what Apple could do with a powerful and fully integrated iPad-Apple Television interface, rather than the simple iPod Classic style menus that are used in the current Apple TV interface.


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  • Anonymous

    can’t agree that the need to unlock your iPad is a real issue at all for using it as a remote control. first, you’re probably multitasking anyway. second, if not, leavening it on for an extended period with no activity does not eat up much battery. and if Apple enables voice activation, as it well might, it will get even easier.

    and what is not mentioned is how many STB’s now have iPad apps for remote controls – TiVo and Xfinity (Comcast), for very good example. 

    so all Apple TV really needs are some HDMI inputs, to allow input selection to be made on its home screen which will also automatically launch that input’s own remote app to use from that point on.

    of course you can also use screen mirroring instead, which puts any app directly on to your TV screen too. mirroring Safari, for example, provides the by far the best on-screen web browser ever, period. and try Bloomberg’s iPad app to see how the two screens can then be used independently – video on the HDTV and other content on the iPad. 

    so i don’t know why Apple needs to make an HDTV. all it needs is to perfect its existing iOS hardware/software.

    (you can also use an IR app with emitter dongle for more complicated A/V setups. i use the Re app, loaded on my old 2G iPhone, and it works great, altho setup took some effort.) 

    • Prof. Peabody

      Speaking as someone who has used their iOS devices to control the TV a lot, you are wrong about this and the author is right.  

      If you sit in the living room with your phone on the arm of the chair to control the Apple TV as if it was any other remote you see immediately that it doesn’t really work.  It’s *better* for things like jumping around within the movie and entering search text in the iTunes store, but decidedly worse at everything else.  

      The reason is that it goes to sleep usually in five seconds or so.  So you have to pick up your phone, swipe it open, and then even if the remote app is still the active app, you have to wait for it to “reconnect” (two seconds?) each time.  So if you ever stop what you are doing for more than five seconds, you have four more to wait before you can even do something simple like flip to the next track or video.  

      It’s not impossible to fix this, but currently, the iOS remote is more of a toy than a truly useable thing. 

      • Anonymous

        well, my opinion is based on my actual experience too, as i wrote, unlike the author. the Re IR app/dongle works great. yes, it goes to sleep after 5 minutes (the max) and i have to wake it up after that. but that is just not a big deal in actual use. we all use our remotes in bursts of multiple inputs most of the time as we change/adjust/activate various things on our A/V setups. i only notice a delay when i simply want to Mute. but getting rid of three other big clumsy remotes is worth that. i also use Apple’s Remote app to control ATV, but it sucks and so is not a good example to debate the merits of the general approach.

        and Apple could always add a few basic ATV controls to the lock screen too – volume/mute at least. it’s just not an issue of the importance this author asserts.

  • Gotrob

    I am already using Siri to watch tv… We have been using an iPhone as a remote hooked up to a mini for 2 years now, and we watch all our shows on the Internet. Since getting the 4s we use the voice recognition added with Siri to locate shows and go to websites with the air mouse pro app. It used to be a hassle to type in a long URL or tv show title in Netflix or Hulu, but now we just say the name and hit return. Works 99% of the time without a problem. The little keyboard is not really used much anymore.

  • Jim

    Apple TV can already be fully controlled by an iPad or iPhone via Apple’s “Remote” app.  It works wonderfully and is no hassle at all.  It stays active and doesn’t log you out until you close the app.  I use it almost exclusively to run my Apple TV and I am assuming that iTV would not be much different with the exception of added features.

    • Anonymous

      yes, but the Remote app is crummy. it is mostly just a trackpad to move the ATV cursor on the TV screen. it should instead present all the options as buttons with pull down menus for direct finger action.

      i expect a totally new version soon, probably with ATV 3 … when?