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Remotes are incredibly hard to design. My company builds Smart TV Apps we have just about every remote imaginable and that Samsung one you chose "just works" its like the Nokia 3310 of remotes. You can pick it up and use it without thinking about it.

Show me a remote that works better then that one and I can probably tell you why it sucks.

That was my first-cut search and so it's certainly not the worst example, but in software if I put buttons like "T.Link" and "DMA" and 4 unlabeled colored buttons right on the main home-screen of a consumer-oriented UI I'd be laughed out of the room.

Buttons like that are an artifact of the days when TVs didn't have on-screen UIs. The remote should not be designed for the 1% of users that fiddle with such things.

Do heatmaps and find out which buttons are actually used frequently give those big clear buttons with unabbreviated labels, and move everything else into the menus.

And the menus themselves - you have a whole screenful of space, you can actually describe to the user what each option does in helpful detail.

Apple remote comes to mind: http://support.apple.com/kb/ht3176

I would like to hear you opinion.

The Apple Remote is solid similar to the Samsung but with out all the keys.

Roku's first remote was very similar but had the same problem - no back button. If you're going to do interactive apps on your TV you need a back button and an exit or "home" button - they're two different things. The Apple remote assumes very limited input almost zero text input so no numbers or extraneous keys like the color keys.

My favorite remote close to the apple one was the Boxee 1 remote (it too needs an explicit back button). But the slim, pared down front side design with the full keyboard on the back was very slick and usable.


That's interesting: the remote was one of the two reasons I ditched my Boxee (the second being that the UI was painful). Initially, the keyboard was a major selling point for me over my AppleTV remote but grey text on black rubber buttons? No backlight? Trying to use the keyboard functionality of the remote in anything other than full lighting was an exercise in futility.

To be fair: UI (virtual and physical) is hard. Thus far, the AppleTV is my favorite but it's a "lesser of two evils" scenario.

I like this one:


It's purely meant as a mouse-and-keyboard thing, and in that vein it has some failures (the mouse-buttons are face-buttons instead of console-style triggers, and the keyboard lacks a way to use the F function keys)... but in general? I used its predecessor (the N9501 instead of N9502) and found the design lovely.

I could navigate my set-top PC easily with the trackball and mouse buttons, and when I needed to do text-entry I could hold it like a thumb keyboard. I even got pretty far in Cipher Prime's Auditorium with the trackball - it was quite pleasant for low-stress mouse-only games (as long as they only need click, not drag). The problem with my old version was that the trackball was not user-servicable (trackballs get dirty, fast) and it wasn't backlit.

The new one uses a touchpad and has backlighting.

I bought the predecessor as well and you're absolutely right: the design is lovely. While I'd say it's more of a full-featured HID than a remote it's well designed and comfortable to use. I didn't know about the new one and I'll keep an eye out for it.

A problem I see is that the tasks of set-top-boxes and displays are relatively constrained, so having a reduced input device seems like a good idea. But how to support free-text searching without a full keyboard (on-screen menus are painful) or having to deal with limited battery life due to a touchscreen?

I lucked into a N5901 -- note that it's N5901 and N5902 -- when I picked up a used Lenovo IdeaCentre Q150, which included one. It beats a wireless keyboard for controlling a set-top PC. I use a IOGEAR wireless compact keyboard on the other set-top PC, but will probably pick up another M5901/N5902 at some point.

Apple remote is great for the target audience, but unusable for a mass market product.

For many consumers, any feature not accessible with a single button won't exist. It will be a major pain point. Having it be accessible as a sequence of actions or through a menu won't work.

Try doing usability testing with a few grumpy 65 year olds or people who have trouble operating a microwave. They are a larger market than you think.

> For many consumers, any feature not accessible with a single button won't exist. It will be a major pain point. Having it be accessible as a sequence of actions or through a menu won't work.

Then those features don't exist, and that's fine. Is our hypothetical Luddite going to be switching audio streams to SAP? Playing with the picture-in-picture feature? Is he going to know what TTX/MIX means? DMA? E.MODE?

No. Undocumented features are also non-existent features. And for most users, the instruction-manual doesn't count.

It's a TV.

Give basic menu-nav buttons - 4 arrows, OK, Back, show/hide menu.

Give the basic TV tuner buttons - the 0-9 buttons, channel up/down, "Guide" menu button. There's the entirety of your TV facility. Guide needs arrow keys, but our main menu nav already provides that. We don't even really need a "Guide" button, "Guide" can be just be the default view of "Menu".

Volume control, input-selector for its functions as a monitor.

That's it. Notice something? None of those require horrifying abbreviations. We already have standard symbols for all of them. No unlabeled colored buttons. Most of those buttons don't even require words because they're so common we have symbols for them. We just covered all of Grandpa's uses - he wants to change channels and change the volume. We're done. Everything else? Your crazy abbreviated buttons are even more user-hostile than the menu, because at least entries in the menu have vowels.

You could easily cut 6 rows off the Samsung I used as an example and Grandpa would still be happy. Happier even because he's no longer confused about all these crazy weird tiny illegible buttons on his remote. You could even make a large-print version for him and it would be smaller than a dinner-plate.

> No unlabeled colored buttons

The red button in particular is used in the UK for lots of TV services. It's not unusual to hear the phrase 'push the red button for X' on TV.

X is usually alternative video feeds of live/sporting events, or different sporting commentary

You can also use the red button for other information such as news headlines, the weather, sport scores. Grandpa uses this, youngsters have their phones and the internet

That is a good point - there can be a good middle ground that's much less complicated than the current 'standard' remotes, but not so extreme as the Apple remote shown above.

On that note, I somehow recall seeing TVs shipped with 2 remotes - the 'full one' and a simple one like you describe, with the expectation that people will choose which they prefer, and members of the same family might have opposite preferences.

Well, part of the difference is that the Apple TV device isn't going to be changing channels, so it doesn't need the whole list of buttons I just mentioned related to channel-surfing. It's basically just the Guide without the numbers. So we're down to just pure menu-nav and the volume-control.

So really, the Apple TV remote isn't that extreme. It's just a remote for an Apple TV set-top box and not a television.

The Apple remote is exactly the remote that came to my mind when I think simplicity. That's what most people use. up, down, left, right, center(for enter/go/confirm) and a menu (for options, back).

Thats 99% of a remote usage, the rest is handled by any GUI.

Except when you have nearly 100+ channels, and remember the 3 digit code for most of the ones you care about - then you want a numeric keypad rather than fiddling around moving up and down in a menu.

I'd never want to be stuck with just an Apple remote.

Layers upon layers of broken systems built upon broken systems.

You only have a few channels you like, and should be able to simply switch between them with a D-pad. But the cable industry's broken business model requires you to subscribe to an order of magnitude more than you want. Clunky set-top box UIs have you constantly paging up and down massive lists. A "favorites" system is nestled deep within some unintuitive menu, and never displays anyway when you go to the channel guide, always requiring more button presses followed by high-latency screen redraws. And thus, you're stuck dialing in a numeric code like it's 1968.

I'm sure you'd be ecstatic to be stuck with an Apple remote, if only the entire rest of the TV experience were up to speed with it.

Car-stereos are another rant on their own (a particularly nasty one since we're going straight from '80s crap to toushcreens and skipping right over sensible car-appropriate UIs), but interesting car-stereo manufacturers always provide presets and don't require you to surf to find the content you want.

1) As another poster pointed out, almost nobody _wants_ 100+ channels.

2) Good God, nobody wants to enter "3-digit codes". Your 100+ channels fit into a regular grid, with, you know, pictures. So I can actually see what's what, without remembering that "124" is "shitty shopping channel #16".

Said grid can be navigated quite quickly with a d-pad. If it was just a regular grid of, say, 12x12 entries, you can reach any entry in 12 clicks. (Assuming your UI does the smart thing and wraps)

3) If you had a better interface, like e.g. categorization, you could do with less than 12 clicks. Optimally utilizing the 4 directions, 4 clicks would do. You'll probably need one or two more, but it's fairly straightforward

4) If the UI designers had paid any attention to decent UIs, they'd be aware of such nifty inventions as "Favorites" and "Recently visited", which means even less key strokes.

5) Can we already ditch the "dedicated remote" nonsense, even the Apple one, and admit pretty much every household has some sort of Wifi enabled touch screen in their home? E.g. a much better device for your UI?

That was my though too. But to do that you have to control both software and hardware which Apple can.

As does every other TV and player manufacturer. We're not talking about PCs here, or 3rd-party remote manufacturers. We're talking about Sony, Samsung, and LG and the baked-in TV software.

They control the screen, the software, and the controller, same as Apple. They're just not as good at it as Apple.

I don't like Apple - I don't like the horrifying complete lock-in of hardware/software/media. But I admit something: Apple wins because they're the best. Period.

Actually that's not necessary. I have XBMC installed into an old Macbook that uses the Apple Remote perfectly. Their usage fits into A.R. layout and buttons.

The LG Magic Remote is by far the best remote I have ever used, particularly for "smart" content, browsing, using apps such as NetFlix, etc. It's almost as natural and simple as using a mouse and hands down beats other TV type input methods I've seen (game controllers, Apple remote, etc.).

Shame LG seem intent on ruining it with the spying, I hope they have a change of approach and resolve this.

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