Goddamn you Jony Ive: How to improve the usability of a new TV remote

Don’t get me wrong, I like the new TV a lot. I’ve owned every single version of the Apple TV going back to the very first one I reviewed…

Goddamn you Jony Ive: How to improve the usability of a new TV remote

Don’t get me wrong, I like the new TV a lot. I’ve owned every single version of the Apple TV going back to the very first one I reviewed on PVRblog. The latest version is in fact the best of the bunch and Apple is really hitting a stride with not only powerful set top boxes, but with an App Store behind it giving the device more flexibility in terms of what it can do, and with the Games available, it’s turning into a lightweight, impressive but less capable version of a Nintendo Wii. There are a ton more upsides to the latest version of TV, but I want to share my fix for one of the downsides to it.

There are a few bad aspects of the device and software. The UI requiring horizontal search via its touch remote drives me bonkers since it’s frustrating to type in good, secure passwords (or even when you’re searching for show titles or actor names). The scroll direction on the touch remote often feels backwards compared to my laptop and desktop. And finally, and most obviously, the design of the smooth symmetric remote control is the fucking pits.

In the first month of use the remote has several problems. You can’t find it in the dark and it gets lost very easily. If you wire it up to all your other devices, when you step on it or bump the remote, it’ll fire up your TV, home theater system, and speakers ready to play a movie. But the biggest flaw is that you can’t tell which end is which easily, especially in a dark room. I don’t know if Apple tested this device under real world conditions but turns out people’s living rooms are frequently dark when watching movies. I constantly grab it from the wrong end and either exit a movie, fast forward it accidentally by a half hour, or I invoke Siri.

The best early solution I saw to this came from Jared Sinclair, who used one of those tiny but fat rubber bands that come with bunches of Asparagus.

My approach

I haven’t had any asparagus in the last few weeks so instead I came up with a different idea to let me know which end was the lower end of the remote by feel.

Now if I had a laser etching setup like Adafruit used to (I once had my laptop etched by Phil Torrone himself at Adafruit), I would put a bunch of horizontal grooves into the bottom half of the remote, on both the aluminum back and the plastic front of it. My TiVo Roamio remote has tiny grooved “stripes” on the bottom of the remote and it works wonders in the dark for knowing you’re holding it correctly without having to look.

Instead I got the simple idea of applying grip tape (like from a skateboard) to the remote to make it obvious in the dark which end was the bottom of it. I also decided to put different amounts on front and back of the remote, to know which is the face of the remote with buttons and which is the back of it without having to look, and in the dark.

I didn’t have any spare grip tape from any skate decks (because I haven’t put grip tape on my own skate decks in probably >10 years), so instead I ordered from a 15 foot roll of it from Amazon (as safety tape for ladders and steps) even though I only needed a few inches of the stuff.

I cut a couple pieces the right width and two slightly different lengths and notched the corners.

Lastly, it’s just peel and stick, and you’re done. So far in a few minutes of testing it works as I thought it would, I can tell which end is which and the one with the “longer” grip tape chunk is the back.

It’s kind of crazy a more elegant solution wasn’t found by Apple’s design team before the launch of the device, and I’m not super happy with the awful look of this tape on such a previously fine looking object, but if you own a new TV and want to improve it with common supplies, grip tape works pretty well for this shortcoming.